GOP Senators Seek Answers as Biden's DoJ Reveals Formation of New Domestic Terrorism Unit
A top FBI official revealed on Tuesday that the agency has assessed racially- or ethnically-motivated violent extremism and violent anti-government extremism as the most "lethal" terrorist threats facing the US. Senators questioned the official on many fronts, including a purported FBI involvement in the deadly US Capitol riot.
Matthew G. Olsen
, the head of the US Department of Justice's National Security Division, revealed in opening remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee
that the department would form a new Domestic Terrorism Unit to assist in combating a growing security threat.
The DoJ official detailed that the new unit would "augment our existing approach" established by National Security Division attorneys tasked with both international and domestic cases.
"The attacks in recent years underscore the threat that domestic terrorism continues to pose to our citizens, to law enforcement officers and elected officials, and to our democratic institutions," he said.
Olsen highlighted that DoJ-affiliated authorities have arrested and charged over 725 people—with 325 of those facing felony counts—for their roles in the deadly US Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.
"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," Olsen noted.
Additionally, the FBI is seeking to identify and arrest an additional 200 suspects
linked to the Jan 6, 2021, Capitol building breach, according to Jill Sanborn
, executive director of the FBI's National Security Branch.
Word of the unit's formation comes just days after the one-year commemoration of the violent and deadly attack by supporters of then-US President Donald Trump against the US Capitol building and its inhabitants.
Olson also made reference to the 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, which was carried out by a lone gunman and resulted in 23 deaths. Most of the victims were LatinX.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), the senate majority whip and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, opened the hearing with a video compilation that included live footage and news reporting of the deadly insurrection, which took place shortly after then-US President Donald Trump's "Stop the Steal" rally, protesting the results of the 2020 presidential election.
"They are normalizing the use of violence to achieve political goals," Durbin pointed out.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) responded to Durbin by showing a video of unrest in Portland, Oregon, and other parts of the US following the police killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd.
"Those anti-police riots rocked our nation for seven full months," Grassley suggested, adding his claim that the "riots caused terrible damages: nearly 2 billion dollars’ worth."
Sanborn highlighted during the hearing that the FBI has opened over 800 cases related to the summer 2020 riots cited by Grassley. More than 250 arrests have been made since.
When asked whether any confidential informants of FBI agents participated in the January 6, 2021, riot, Sanborn told Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) that she would not "go into the specifics of sources and methods."
The security official also declined to answer whether any agents or informants "committed crimes of violence" on January 6, 2021, or "actively encourage and incite crimes of violence."
"Who is Ray Epps?" Cruz asked, as he presented visuals of a person reportedly named Ray Epps, a former Marine, who took part in the insurrection and has become the focal point of conspiratorial claims linking federal agents to the attack on the US Capitol building.
Sanborn refused to answer the question, as well as several others posed by Cruz about Epps.
"On the night of January 5th, 2021, Epps wandered around the crowd that had gathered and there is video out there of him chanting 'tomorrow, we need to get into the Capitol,'" Cruz alleged. "This behavior was so strange that the crowd began chanting, 'Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed, Fed.' Ms. Sanborn, was Ray Epps a Fed?"
Epps, an Arizona resident, has not been charged with a crime in connection with the January 6, 2021, riot.
The Texas senator went on to claim that Epps was one of several individuals the FBI was seeking information on in a January 8, 2021, memo
. Cruz used another visual aid to point out that Epps was later removed from the FBI list, without reason.
One gray area identified during the hearing related to the definition of a domestic terrorist.
"While there is no single federal crime labelled 'domestic terrorism,' the criminal code does define 'domestic terrorism,'" Olsen noted in his opening remarks. "This definition provides us with expanded authorities, including enhanced sentencing for terrorism offenses."
The FBI's Sanborn noted that there were four domestic terror attacks conducted by domestic violent extremists last year, resulting in 13 deaths. The FBI official did not specify the events referenced.