President Joe Biden has ordered an intelligence assessment to uncover the “origins and roots” of violent white nationalism in the wake of the attack on the US Capitol, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice told reporters on Tuesday.
"We have seen and it’s been plain for all Americans on their television sets just how serious a problem we face from nationalists and white supremacists who have demonstrated a willingness to resort to violence in some instances," she said.
A “comprehensive assessment of the nature of this threat and challenge” will help determine policy to address it, she said.
The National Security Council will also focus on domestic violent extremism, and intelligence agencies and administration officials will coordinate efforts to “craft and implement policies that will address this,” she said.
“We’re taking it quite seriously,” she said.
The former United Nations ambassador and National Security Adviser under Barack Obama’s administration outlined a series of forthcoming actions from the president to address systemic injustice, including directing the Justice Department to end its use of private prisons and the Department of Housing and Urban Development "to take steps necessary to redress racially discriminatory federal housing policies."
Mr Biden has “committed the whole of our government to advancing racial justice and equity for all Americans,” she said.
“For too many American families, systemic racism and inequality in our economy, laws and institutions still put the American Dream far out of reach,” she said.
The administration’s aggressive approach to combatting rising domestic threats from white nationalist groups follows a deadly riot inside the halls of Congress on 6 January, as far-right insurrectionists sought to break into House and Senate chambers to disrupt the president’s formal vote count after Donald Trump falsely claimed the 2020 election was “stolen” from his supporters.
Federal law enforcement has testified to Congress and circulated reports about the rising threats from white supremacist groups in the months leading up to the election and Mr Biden’s inauguration.
Several lawmakers have called for stronger domestic terror laws to prosecute rioters and target would-be threats.
Last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the "assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we have long known … The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat. The Biden administration will approach this threat with the necessary resources and resolve.”
The president has also ordered the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to conduct the national threat assessment with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
He also has tapped Russ Travers, the former head of the National Counterterrorism Center who was ousted by the Trump administration, to join the National Security Council effort.
But dozens of civil rights groups, legal scholars and progressive lawmakers have argued that the nation’s already-extensive national security apparatus and existing criminal statutes are well-equipped to combat acts of domestic terrorism.
Introducing new domestic terror laws – echoing fears over the Patriot Act and strong-arm Justice Department policies – could compromise Americans’ civil rights, they argue.
US House Rep Rashida Tlaib and at least nine other House Democrats have urged congressional leadership to “resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be."
The group has called on leadership to identify white nationalist and QAnon threats “and take action to combat them through existing laws, powers and regulations," and recognise that “the reason that the threat posed by these groups hasn’t already been adequately addressed is because of a deeply ingrained unwillingness and/or hesitancy to act against these groups” within federal law enforcement, “not the result of insufficient domestic national security and/or surveillance powers.”