“These are mostly still lone actors who are expressing interest in violent acts, either racially motivated or acts that are anti-government, anti-institutional acts,” said Biden’s homeland security adviser, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.
Nor is there the kind of “top-down, very leader-mobilized” action that characterized many foreign terrorist operations since Sept. 11 2001, said Sherwood-Randall.
Her description of the evolving threat came weeks after Biden issued a national strategy for countering domestic terrorism, reflecting the conclusion of intelligence officials that the country faces a worsening home-grown threat. And before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced on Thursday the creation of a Jan. 6 select committee to study the events surrounding the deadly riot.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray testified before Congress in March that a significant number of white nationalists participated in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol aimed at disrupting Biden’s election.
As president, Biden has largely accepted former president Donald Trump’s rewrite of national security policy to emphasize so-called “great power competition” rivalries with Russia and, especially, China, over post-9/11 anti-terrorist counter-insurgency.
But the inward focus on home-grown extremist violence — particularly of a right-wing, anti-government nature, or racially and ethnically motivated — marks a break from the Republican’s approach. And some conservatives argue that a focus on such violent actors is politically motivated, despite confirmation from Wray, who was appointed by Trump.
As in the so-called “war on terrorism,” U.S. officials worry about so-called “lone wolf” actors — people not necessarily formally tied to a group — becoming radicalized to carry out attacks, often but not always over the Internet.
And as it has for two decades, Washington has sought to partner with Big Tech to try to curb extremist propaganda, recruitment, incitement and plotting across digital platforms. The social media platforms are under a harsh spotlight in Washington right now for their role in spreading disinformation.
“They see their own platforms, often, well. In some ways, they may see their platforms better than we see them, because they see them from the back end,” a senior administration official said on the condition of anonymity.
“But we see things across platforms, and how terrorist recruiters use connections among and across platforms to stay ahead of company responses to keep their following intact,” the official said. “We also see the connections between online recruitment materials and what sometimes can become violence in the physical world.”
Unlike foreign extremists who might find inspiration for violence in online sermons or manifestos, their domestic cousins egg each other on in online exchanges that are “more fluid, more conversational,” the official said.
“It’s less one or a small set of dominant voices who are followed and more a fluid, free-flowing conversation,” the official said, adding that can be “more dangerous” because the interactive nature can be energizing.
Perhaps mindful that abuses in the name of keeping America safe are a sadly bipartisan tradition, the Biden strategy and top national security officials who have testified before Congress emphasize they focus on actual plots and actions, not mere speech.
“We have tried to stay laser-focused on the violence and the threat of violence,” the official said. “We want to leave wide latitude for political expression.”
The definition of domestic violent extremists is “U.S.-based actors who conduct or threaten activities that are dangerous to human life in violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state; appearing to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; and influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
And “[m]ere advocacy of political or social positions, political activism, use of strong rhetoric, or generalized philosophic embrace of violent tactics may not constitute violent extremism, and may be constitutionally protected.”
One other difference between the post-9/11 era and today is that America’s extremists don’t find much inspiration abroad.
Instead, the United States is more exporter than importer of ideologies that give rise to violence.
There is “some, maybe limited, but some transnational connectivity” the anonymous official said. “The form that it takes is primarily online conversation, recruitment, mobilization with some limited travel.”
Sherwood-Randall said there is not “a robust nexus between domestic terrorists and foreign actors,” calling it “an inside-out problem, not an outside-in problem” though white supremacists “have the most persistent transnational connections.”
In late April, John T. Godfrey, the State Department’s acting coordinator for counterterrorism, told the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence and Counterterrorism some American extremists are going overseas to hone their skills but “the numbers are not terribly large.”
“They typically come back more radicalized than when they left, would be one point to make,” Godfrey said. “And the other would be that they do have hard skills that they are able to, in some cases, use in attacking targets domestically.”
More and more, however, the United States is hearing “increased concern from partners abroad about the U.S. racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist cohort being a net exporter of ideology and pernicious thought,” he said.
“There is often the perception that American actors at home … white-identity terrorist actors, are more influenced by foreign actors than the other way around,” Godfrey said. “And what we're increasingly seeing evidence of is concern about the flow going the other way.”
What’s happening now
Pelosi announced a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. The announcement comes a month after Senate Republicans blocked an effort to form an independent, bipartisan commission, Felicia Sonmez and Karoun Demirjian report. “The select committee — which will require a majority vote in the Democratic-led House to be formed — is a signal that Pelosi wants to centralize those investigations in one body that will be equipped with subpoena power and tasked with publishing its findings. But a select committee is all but guaranteed to be a more partisan forum than an independent commission would have been.”
One person is dead and at least 51 people are unaccounted for after a condo building partially collapsed in Miami-Dade. The large condo building, along the beachfront in Surfiside, Fla., partially collapsed early this morning, prompting a mass search-and-rescue response. More than 80 units from Miami-Dade Fire Rescue rushed to the scene, Tim Elfrink, Timothy Bella and Derek Hawkins report. Thirty-five occupants were pulled from the building and two were recovered from the rubble, authorities said. Two people were hospitalized, including the person who died, he added.
To start your day with a full political briefing, sign up for our Power Up newsletter.
Lunchtime reads from The Post
- “Inside the ‘shadow reality world’ promoting the lie that the presidential election was stolen,” by Rosalind Helderman, Emma Brown, Tom Hamburger and Josh Dawsey: “‘The Deep Rig,’ a film financed by former Overstock.com chief executive Patrick Byrne for $750,000, is set to be released online this weekend — the latest production by a loosely affiliated network of figures who have harnessed right-wing media outlets, podcasts and the social media platform Telegram to promote the falsehood that the 2020 election was rigged. The baseless assertion, backed by millions of dollars from wealthy individuals, is reverberating across this alternative media ecosphere... While largely unnoticed by Americans who have accepted the fact of Biden’s victory, the deluge of content has captured the attention of many who think the election was rigged, a belief that is an animating force inside the Republican Party.”
- “Inside the extraordinary effort to save Trump from covid-19,” by Damian Paletta and Yasmeen Abutaleb, in an excerpt from their new book “Nightmare Scenario.” “Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar’s phone rang with an urgent request: Could he help someone at the White House obtain an experimental coronavirus treatment, known as a monoclonal antibody? ... The Food and Drug Administration would have to make a ‘compassionate use’ exception for its use since it was not yet available to the public. Only about 10 people so far had used it outside of those trials. Azar said of course he would help. Azar wasn’t told who the drug was for but would later connect the dots. The patient was one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers: Hope Hicks. A short time later, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn received a request from a top White House official for a separate case, this time with even greater urgency: Could he get the FDA to sign off on a compassionate-use authorization for a monoclonal antibody right away? ... The White House wanted Hahn to say yes within hours. Hahn, who still did not know who the application was for, consulted career officials. ... When Hahn later learned the effort was on behalf of the president, he was stunned. For God’s sake, he thought, it’s the president who’s sick, and you want us to bend the rules?"
… and beyond
- “California’s yoga, wellness and spirituality community has a QAnon problem,” by the Los Angeles Times’s Laura J. Nelson: “More commonly associated with right-wing groups, the conspiracy theory is spreading through yoga, meditation and other wellness circles. Friends and colleagues have watched with alarm as Instagram influencers and their New Age peers — yogis, energy healers, sound bathers, crystal practitioners, psychics, quantum magicians — embraced QAnon’s conspiratorial worldview and sprayed it across social media. The health, wellness and spirituality world has always been primed for that worldview, followers say. Though largely filled with well-meaning people seeking spiritual or physical comfort, the $1.5-trillion industry can also be a hotbed for conspiracies.”
- “Unvaccinated Missourians fuel COVID: ‘We will be the canary,’” by the AP’s Heather Hollingsworth: “While over 53% of all Americans have received at least one shot, according to the CDC, most southern and northern Missouri counties are well short of 40%. One county is at just 13%. ... Lagging rates — especially among young adults — are becoming an increasing source of concern elsewhere around the country, as is the delta variant. ... Missouri Health Department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said the agency is encouraging people to get vaccinated, but confessed: ‘This is the Show-Me State and Missourians are skeptical.’”
The Biden agenda
A bipartisan infrastructure deal is here, and Biden will meet with its organizers today.
- “Multiple senators leaving an evening negotiating session at the Capitol said the group — which included five Democrats, five Republicans and top White House officials — had reached a framework of a deal. They said senators would go to the White House on Thursday to brief Biden personally on the details,” Seung Min Kim reports. “‘There’s a framework of agreement on a bipartisan infrastructure package,’ Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said as she left the meeting. ‘There’s still details to be worked out.’ ”
- “Senators declined to disclose details of their agreement but stressed that the group had agreed not just on the spending levels for various infrastructure projects but also on how to pay for the package. ... One official directly familiar with the framework said the revised level was $559 billion in new spending because senators planned to repurpose roughly $20 billion that had been allocated to broadband projects, although others close to the negotiations disputed how that figure was tabulated.”
- “Other tasks that remain for the bipartisan group of Senate negotiators include briefing their leadership and their respective caucuses. But, Collins said, ‘I’m optimistic that we’ve had a breakthrough.’”
- “White House officials huddled with Democratic leaders immediately after the negotiations concluded Wednesday night on Capitol Hill, a sign they were already plotting next steps. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that ‘we support the concepts that we heard about,’ but he deferred further comment until the agreement was officially announced. It is less clear whether GOP leaders will sign off on the package.”
- “Although the agreement could amount to one of the most significant investments in infrastructure in recent years, the tentative bipartisan deal still falls far short of Biden’s initial $2.2 trillion vision that he outlined in what he called the American Jobs Plan earlier this year. In that plan, Biden proposed paying for new spending by raising the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent. ... Democratic leaders have long said Biden’s expansive infrastructure agenda could pass through multiple tracks.”
- “Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with administration officials Wednesday night on Capitol Hill to begin mapping out both legislative strategies for the president’s plan..”
- “Details were not clear Wednesday night on how exactly the group plans to pay for its package. More information was expected Thursday after the senators finished briefing Biden at the White House.”
- The group of 21 senators behind the new plan now must sell it to their colleagues. “That deal has 20 votes – not 60,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) told CNN.
After weeks of gridlock, Democrats are jaded.
- “Efforts to forge a bipartisan gun control deal in the Senate have fallen apart. A sweeping Democratic elections reform bill has failed. A self-imposed White House deadline for a police reform bill has come and gone,” writes Politico’s David Siders. “Five months into the post-Trump era, the promise of Democrat-occupied Washington is crashing into reality.”
- “The number of Democrats who say things broadly are heading in the wrong direction is ticking up. The percentage of Americans who believe the country is off on the wrong track hit 57 percent in a Monmouth University poll last week, and that includes nearly a third of Democrats.”
- “Progressive Democrats have become increasingly vocal in recent weeks, popping off at Biden for relying too heavily on negotiations with Republicans to pass infrastructure spending or for making too little use of his bully pulpit to support elections reform. ... ‘A lot of people are jaded.' desperate to see Washington 'actually start to move some stuff,’ said Yvette Simpson, chief executive of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America.”
Quote of the day
“Let’s face it, the problem is going to be like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and a couple other folks,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a former chair of the Progressive Caucus when noting that, while many progressives are getting frustrated with Congress’s slow pace, it’s not all Biden’s fault. “I am sure he’s having all sorts of conversations, and I have found so far that I don’t have to second guess what Joe Biden’s doing behind the scenes because he’s doing the right thing.”
Biden nominated Cindy McCain to be U.S. ambassador to the U.N.’s Agencies for Food and Agriculture.
- “If confirmed by the Senate, McCain — the widow of longtime Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, whose relationship with the President spanned decades — will represent the US in a specialized UN role focused on ending global hunger and expanding access to quality foods worldwide,” CNN’s Paul LeBlanc reports.
The Biden administration removed Rodney Scott as head of the Border Patrol.
- The move clears a “path for a leadership overhaul at an agency strained by a 20-year high in illegal border crossings, and whose top officials were broadly sympathetic to Trump,” Nick Miroff reports. “Scott, a 29-year veteran, published a statement on social media Wednesday saying he had received a letter offering him the option to resign, retire or relocate. He said the notice did not provide a rationale for his removal, describing it a pro forma notice ‘so the new administration can place the person they want in the position.’”
Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on Biden nominee to lead ATF.
- The move sets "up a procedural hurdle for Democrats to overcome before he is confirmed. Republicans oppose David Chipman for the job because of his advocacy for stricter gun laws, including serving as a policy adviser for Giffords, an organization led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords that works to reduce gun violence,” Colby Itkowitz reports. "The split vote on Chipman means Schumer will need to hold a full Senate vote to discharge the nomination from committee.”
- “The panel also voted 11-10, along party lines, to confirm Ur Mendoza Jaddou, Biden’s nominee to lead the Homeland Security Department’s Citizenship and Immigration Services, with one Republican senator abstaining.”
The future of the GOP
Trumpworld is betting big on critical race theory.
- “Former top aides to Trump have begun an aggressive push to combat the teaching of critical race theory and capitalize on the issue politically, confident that a backlash will vault them back into power,” Politico’s Theodoric Meyer, Maggie Severns and Meridith McGraw report. “These officials, including Trump’s former campaign chief and two former budget advisers, have poured money and organizational muscle into the fight. They’ve aided activists who are pushing back against the concept that racism has been systemic to American society and institutions after centuries of slavery and Jim Crow. And some of them have begun working with members of Congress to bar the military from holding diversity trainings and to withhold federal funds from schools and colleges that promote anything that can be packaged as critical race theory.”
- “The immediate goal, two Trump alumni said, is to get legislative language included in a must-pass bill. The larger one is to harness a national movement that could unseat Democrats.”
The partisan war over critical race theory is stoking tensions in U.S. schools.
- “From school boards and parent activists to governors and lawmakers, they say tenets of the theory — popularly known as CRT — are being used to indoctrinate children that America is a racist country,” Reuters’s James Oliphant and Gabriella Borter report.
- “For an example of what some states are doing, look to Georgia, where the state Board of Education earlier this month passed a non-binding resolution forbidding the teaching of concepts ‘that the country is racist, one race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex’ or that ‘an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive.’ Cobb County, an affluent, predominately white suburb northeast of Atlanta, soon followed with its own resolution banning the teaching of CRT.”
- “A member of the school board who abstained from voting on the CRT resolution, Jaha Howard, said he is worried teachers are ‘going to have to operate under a banner of fear’ and will hesitate to talk about race issues or dark parts of U.S. history. ‘What supports white supremacy more than making rules to say you can’t talk about racism or white supremacy?’ he said.”
- In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) mandated a survey of students’ beliefs two weeks after banning public schools from teaching “critical race theory.” “DeSantis says he is concerned about the free flow of ideas on campus and whether higher education stifles free speech from conservatives,” Caroline Anders reports.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, pushed back against suggestions that the military was becoming too “woke.”
- Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin II were testifying before the House Armed Services Committee when Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) questioned them about anti-extremism efforts and critical race theory curriculums at military academies, singling out a seminar called “Understanding Whiteness and White Rage.” Waltz suggested that such classes were “divisive.” Milley said such suggestion was “offensive,” the New York Times’s Jennifer Steinhauer reports.
- “Milley, who is white, defended both the seminar and the broader practice of teaching service members controversial or uncomfortable ideas.” “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white,” Milley said.
- “ ‘What is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America?’ he continued. ‘What is wrong with having some situational understanding about the country we are here to defend?’ ”
Hot on the left
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) in a tweet suggested that Democrats should defund the FBI. Then he deleted the message. The FBI is the very same agency that is investigating the congressman for sex trafficking. “If Democrats want to defund the police, they should start with the FBI,” Gaetz wrote, before deleting it almost immediately. Per ProPublica’s Politiwoops — which tracks politicians’ deleted tweets — the message was only up for one minute.
Hot on the right
Republicans who demanded that Vice President Harris visit the U.S-Mexico border are now upset she’s doing that, the Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona writes. Trump, for example, claimed that Harris is only going to the border because he is going there next week with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “If Governor Abbott and I weren’t going there next week, she would have never gone!” Trump said in a statement.
“Fox News White House correspondent Peter Doocy, meanwhile, changed course from his months-long grilling of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki over the vice president’s non-presence at the border, wondering on Wednesday why Harris felt the need to go now. ‘Why is the vice president visiting the border this week when earlier this month she dismissed a trip like that, saying it would be a grand gesture?’ Doocy asked.”
And Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who earlier this month complained that Harris “hasn’t even visited the border,” went to Twitter to post this:
Universities mandating vaccines, visualized
More than 500 colleges and universities plan to require coronavirus vaccination for at least some of their students and employees, according to data as of Tuesday from the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Today in Washington
Biden and Harris are meeting with the bipartisan group of senators behind the new infrastructure deal. At 2 p.m., Biden will head to North Carolina, where he will visit a mobile vaccination unit in Raleigh and deliver remarks on the importance of getting vaccinated at 5:15 p.m. He will return to D.C. tonight.
At 4:15 p.m., Harris will meet virtually with organizations partnering with the administration to promote vaccinations.
Bill Clinton explained to Seth Meyers why the filibuster has got to go: