Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general of the department’s National Security Division, told a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that, based on the assessment of the Intelligence Community, the United States faces “an elevated threat from domestic violent extremists.”
He described these “extremists” as “individuals in the United States who seek to commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of domestic social or political goals.” He noted that FBI investigations into suspected domestic violent extremists have more than doubled since the spring of 2020.
“We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies,” he added.
Olsen said that investigating and prosecuting domestic violent extremists is among the department’s “highest priorities.” He said federal prosecutors at the 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices work on the front lines in close partnership with FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which have the lead in all terrorism investigations.
“At Main Justice, the National Security Division was created in 2006 to integrate the department’s national security work nationwide … we have a team of counterterrorism attorneys, all of whom are equipped to work on both domestic and international terrorism prosecutions,” Olsen said, adding that he has decided to create a Domestic Terrorism Unit to “augment our existing approach.”
“This group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are properly handled and effectively coordinated across DOJ and around the country,” he said.
The U.S. criminal code defines domestic terrorism as violence intended to coerce or intimidate a civilian population and to influence government policy.
“While there is no single federal crime labeled ‘domestic terrorism,’ the criminal code does define ‘domestic terrorism.’ This definition provides us with expanded authorities, including enhanced sentencing for terrorism offenses,” Olsen said.
Kyle Shideler, director and senior analyst for homeland security and counterterrorism for the Center for Security Policy, told The Epoch Times in an email that he was concerned about the DOJ announcing the unit during a hearing when officials repeatedly declined to answer questions about the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol breach and other matters.
“The increasingly politicization of federal law enforcement and refusal to engage in good faith with legislators charged with their oversight is part of the reason why Rasmussen polls demonstrate that support for the FBI has cratered in recent months,” he said.
“If the FBI and DOJ genuinely want to address terrorism issues they will need the confidence and good will of the general public. They can only reestablish that trust by engaging in full transparency and aggressively resisting efforts by the Biden Administration to politicize counterterrorism.”
Zachary Stieber and the Associated Press contributed to this report.