The Justice Department Refocuses on Domestic Terrorism

A committee that hasn't met since 9/11 reconvenes to focus on domestic threats.

National Journal

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department is reconvening a committee focused on addressing domestic terrorism threats that has not met in more than a decade.

The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee was created almost 20 years ago in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing to promote coordination between different elements of the Justice Department, but it was dissolved after the September 11, 2001, attacks, when the country's attention turned to threats from outside the U.S.

The committee will include U.S. attorneys, members of the National Security Division, and members of the FBI. The government will continue to address threats from al-Qaida and other extremist groups abroad. "But we also must concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from antigovernment animus to racial prejudice," Holder said.

The American Civil Liberties Union told Reuters that it will work with the Justice Department to ensure that new policies do not result in profiling of suspects based on race or other protected characteristics. "Attorney General Holder's announcement that the new task force will focus on evidence of antigovernment animus and racial intolerance raises concerns that it could be a sweeping mandate to monitor and collect controversial speech," said Lee Rowland, a staff attorney at the ACLU.

At the same time, a renewed emphasis on domestic terrorism could upset some on the right who are mistrustful of Obama administration policies. In 2009, then-Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano presided over an intelligence assessment that proposed closer scrutiny of "right-wing extremism," including some antiabortion and anti-immigration groups, gun owners, and recent war veterans. The report angered many conservatives when it was released.

The move refocuses the Justice Department on domestic threats in the wake of events such as the shooting at a Jewish Community Center in Kansas City, Mo., in April.