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Encrypted planning, high-power firearms make extremist threat in US unique: DOJ official

(WASHINGTON) — The United States is facing the most “complex” threat landscape in quite some time, a top Justice Department official told a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday.

Lone-wolf actors, and their access to high-capacity firearms — like what allegedly occurred in Buffalo, New York — are very difficult for law enforcement to combat, Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Matthew Olsen told attendees at the George Washington University Program on Extremism symposium.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced hate crime charges Wednesday morning against the alleged shooter accused of storming a Tops grocery store on May 14 and gunning down 10 people, all of whom were Black.

“Once these individuals decide to carry out an act of violence, once they’ve moved on that path from being radicalized to being mobilized to violence, they pose significant challenges to law enforcement,” Olsen said.

Encrypted planning communications and access to high-capacity firearms are two of the most pertinent issues that work against law enforcement, he said.

“There are fewer opportunities for us to detect and disrupt their plots before they happen,” Olsen explained. “The ability to gain access to military-grade weapons makes the job of law enforcement very hard when it comes to violent extremists.”

The threat of domestic violent extremists is not new: the Biden administration has focused on combatting DVEs by establishing a unit at the DOJ and providing grant money through the Department of Homeland Security.

The assistant attorney general said it is “beyond dispute” that the ability to get military-grade weapons gives DVEs the ability to “carry out attacks on a scale that they couldn’t otherwise carry out and that we don’t see in other countries.”

Olsen said his newly established domestic violent extremist unit at the Justice Department, which he announced in January and was stood up a month ago, will not only be prosecuting domestic violent extremist cases, but also training others in identifying DVEs.

“This unit can be a critical safeguard because domestic terrorism cases raise issues about First Amendment and some difficult legal judgements and policy judgements,” Olsen said.

Olsen said attorneys have come in from around the country to work on the unit.

He said the DOJ is well-versed in prosecuting extremist cases given their experience in fighting the war on terror.

 

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