The Second Annual Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum occurred on Tuesday June 6th, 2023, which the United States co-hosted. Last year was the inaugural event in Berlin, Germany and the 2023 forum took place in Oslo, Norway. The idea of multiple law enforcement agencies getting together to think tank their way around some of the world’s problems with terrorism, or any crime for that matter, is not that radical. Where things get concerning are when we read between the lines. The DOJ release masqueraded the forum as a meeting of the minds on combating acts of terror, however remarks from the U.S. Assistant Attorney General show a clear focus on “domestic” terrorism.
The Justice Department’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT) and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism (State CT) co-hosted the second annual meeting of the Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum (CTLEF) with the Government of Norway in Oslo from June 6 to 7. The CTLEF, which focuses on countering the global threat of racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE), brought together law enforcement, prosecutors, and other criminal justice practitioners from Europe and North and South America, as well as specialists from INTERPOL, Europol, the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law and other multilateral organizations to discuss how to effectively address and counter REMVE threats.
Drilling down on what REMVEs there are, our Assistant Attorney General, Matthew G. Olsen, did not hold back on discussing his ideas when he delivered the opening remarks for the forum.
Last May, we gathered in Berlin, for our inaugural meeting. I departed the forum daunted by the scale of the problem, but heartened to see the partnership of so many likeminded countries.
I returned to D.C. from Berlin on a Thursday. Two days later, on Saturday afternoon, I received the first alerts from the FBI that there was an active shooter in Buffalo, New York. What we would come to learn over the next hours and days was that an individual espousing white supremacist ideology took a semiautomatic weapon into a grocery store and murdered 10 people.
This tragedy in Buffalo – just over one year ago – is part of an alarming trend.
What’s the alarming trend that Olsen is really talking about? What were some of the threats that Olsen identified in his speech? “In particular, we face an increasing threat from racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist groups, including white supremacists and anti-government groups,” Olsen said. Who are classified as “anti-government groups”? Would people that are critical of the United States Government, in particular overreaching agencies, be considered anti-government?
Doubling down Olsen identified obstacles to being able to effectively police these groups of individuals.
The simple truth is that the ability of violent extremists to acquire military-grade weapons in our country contributes to their ability to kill and inflict harm on a massive scale. A recent article in The Washington Post noted that about a shocking number of Americans – one in 20 adults, or roughly 16 million people – own at least one AR-15 assault rifle.
It is important to be clear, the Department of Justice investigates violent extremists for their criminal acts and not for their beliefs or based on their associations, and regardless of ideology. In the United States, upholding our core values means respecting First Amendment rights and safeguarding the exercise of protected speech, peaceful protests, and political activity. We hold those rights sacred.
Olsen had no problem pairing the roughly 16 million law-abiding citizens with violent extremists, lumping them into the same category of hateful and murderous actors. The numbers should be staggering to Olsen that we do have 16+ million alleged owners of AR variant – not “assault” – rifles, and have such an incredibly small amount of issues with those arms.
The other obstacle naturally is the First Amendment. It’s grand that Olsen says that the DOJ et.al. respects and holds “those rights sacred,” but he really means that for only some people. It’s clear that if there’s an individual or group that does not align with the ideologies of the current swamp, they become an enemy of the state. When there’s “mostly peaceful” acts of extremism, that’s alright as long as it’s the correct flavor of extremism.
Whatever may stand in the way between the government and combating domestic terrorism, Olsen has the solution.
We have to be united in confronting domestic extremism within our countries. Collaboration and information sharing is essential to understanding and countering the threats that terrorist and violent extremist groups pose.
International partnerships are especially important where we observe transnational linkages in domestic violent extremism. We have seen some U.S.-based supporters of domestic terrorism attempt to establish links with likeminded foreign individuals and organizations. In some cases, U.S.-based domestic terrorists have traveled overseas to link up with counterparts who espouse the same beliefs.
These trends are one reason why international forums like this are so valuable. This is an opportunity to hear from foreign partners about the violent extremist groups and networks that are most concerning; where transnational linkages exist; how these actors are raising and moving funds; how groups are recruiting and training new members; how they are communicating and spreading their messages and propaganda; and the sources and drivers of radicalization to violence.
The Assistant Attorney General of the United States stated that in order to combat domestic extremism it’s important to “establish links with,” collaborate with, and find out how groups are “raising and moving funds; how groups are recruiting and training new members; how they are communicating and spreading their messages and propaganda,” from foreign governments. In short, Olsen wants foreign countries to do what our CIA can’t do; spy on Americans. There are no Fourth Amendment protections for American citizens when it’s a foreign entity doing the infringing.
Who all could this reference though? Bad guys, right? Those “anti-government” types. Olsen brought up the events that transpired on January 6th. Regardless of one’s view on what happened during January 6th, what occurred was not as bad as it’s been purported by mainstream media, nor were the actions completely benign.
Olsen spoke extensively about all the arrests and charges that sprung up in the wake of that day, “The January 6 investigation is the largest in the history of the Justice Department. We have arrested and charged more than 1,000 individuals who took part in the Capitol assault. Nearly 500 people have pled guilty or been convicted at trial.”
Olsen further observed concerning January 6th:
We have brought serious charges, including seditious conspiracy against numerous defendants – members of extremist groups who plotted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in our country.
We believe our success in this case serves as a stark warning to those who would seek to violently attack our government and our democracy. It makes clear our determination that the rule of law will prevail.
Not that we needed any confirmation that the DOJ would aggressively go after those that don’t help serve the bigger picture of what’s desired of the Biden-Harris administration, but this is the Assistant Attorney General saying as much in black and white. The “members of extremist groups who plotted to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power in our country” includes a whole lot of people that got arrested, charged and in some cases convicted, for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The issues involving anything January 6th are so multi-faceted, to even bring the date up is flirting with disaster. Do what we say or you’ll end up like them.
On a small scale, Olsen found it problematic that 16+ million people have access to semi-automatic rifles. He clearly pegged that as an obstacle to being able to do the proper police work needed to fight “extremism” or those who are “anti-government.” Olsen further opined that our civil liberties are an issue, as there’s nothing they can do about people expressing their opinions, which the government “respects.” But alas, they found their solution in the form of partnerships with other countries, id.est., having other nations do the spying on the American people.
These events and little get-togethers that American officials attend sure seem like they’re “for the better good.” Really, no one wants extremism or terrorism, domestic or otherwise. However, if we read between the lines, eh, I’m going to say that maybe these trips on the taxpayers’ dime are not in the best interest of the people. Could this be a misread? Sure. But they kind of make it clear that they’ve adopted a Conan approach; “crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.” But, clearly it’s the AR’s that are the problems…