WASHINGTON - U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced on Wednesday that his department has created a dedicated intelligence unit to focus on domestic violent extremism.
The new branch will "ensure we develop the expertise necessary to combat this threat by using sound, timely intelligence," Mayorkas said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.
In addition, the department has renamed a separate office focused on combating violent extremism to the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships and will beef up its resources.
The congressional hearing came amid concern about the growing threat of domestic terrorism, with law enforcement officials warning that some domestic violent extremists may have been emboldened by the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump.
President Joe Biden has made combating domestic terrorism a top priority of his administration, and in January he directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) to conduct a review of the threat of domestic violent extremism.
In March, ODNI released the intelligence community's assessment of the threat, warning that domestic violent extremists pose "an elevated threat" to the homeland in 2021.
"Newer sociopolitical developments - such as narratives of fraud in the recent general election, the emboldening impact of the violent breach of the US Capitol, conditions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, and conspiracy theories promoting violence - will almost certainly spur some (domestic violent extremists) to try to engage in violence this year," the report said.
The FBI has assessed that "2019 was the deadliest year for domestic violent extremism" since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, Jill Sanborn, the bureau's top counterterrorism official, testified before a House Appropriations subcommittee last month.
Between 2015 and 2020, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists were responsible for most deadly domestic terrorism attacks, Sanborn said. To combat domestic terrorism and violent extremism, the Justice Department has requested an additional $100 million in funding for investigators and prosecutors.