Making the case for a more generous budget Wednesday, government officials labeled white nationalism as the biggest threat to this country’s national security.
WASHINGTON (CN) — White nationalism appeared to dominate Capitol Hill on Wednesday as senators focused on the Justice Department’s budget while House lawmakers held their latest hearing on January’s storming of the U.S. Capitol.
“In 2020 alone, white nationalists and likeminded extremists conducted 66% of terrorist plots and attacks in the United States,” said Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, at a hearing featuring witness testimony from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas.
Lawmakers on both sides appeared distressed about the threat of domestic terrorism, but not all of them had the same potential threats in mind.
Leahy, a Democrat representing Vermont, laid blame for the rise of white nationalist terror squarely on the shoulders of former President Donald Trump. “When asked to denounce white supremacy during an election debate, instead of doing so without equivocation, he told the right-wing Proud Boys to stand back and stand by,” he recounted. “He urged a crowd to fight like hell moments before they did just that, storming the U.S. Capitol.
“You can’t strike a match near gas and then act surprised when it catches fire.”
During his single term, Trump had labeled immigration as the country’s biggest threat. Alabama Senator Richard Shelby pressed the witnesses Wednesday about the shift in priority, quoting reports that some 19,000 unaccompanied minors entered the United States since March 1. The Republican vice chair asked: “What is the plan for these 19,000 illegal immigrants, and how are you planning to track them once they’ve been let into the country?”
When Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, later repeated the question, Mayorkas explained that the Department of Homeland Security had made “dramatic improvement” in safely transferring these individuals from facilities at the Southwest border to the Department of Health and Human Services, which is securing comfortable living situations for them in the U.S.
Another Republican, Maine Senator Susan Collins, asked whether about what resources the Justice Department invested in identifying and prosecuting any violence that occurred last summer during protests over the police killing of George Floyd and other deaths involving unarmed Black Americans.
Garland replied that most of the agency’s resources is being spent on finding those who stormed the Capitol, though, according to U.S. attorneys in Portland and Minneapolis, “I have not heard that insufficient resources are available for those prosecutions.”
Shelby, the vice chair, asked whether the Justice Department would apprehend rioters from last summer’s protests. “In other words, you’re not selectively prosecuting,” he said, “but you’re going after all lawbreakers.”
Garland agreed that the agency would prosecute all threats to national security regardless of ideology, but “I have not seen a more dangerous threat to democracy than the invasion of the Capitol,” he said.
Senator John Kennedy, a Republican from Louisiana, highlighted what he considered a problematic tweet by NBA star Lebron James. After police officers shot and killed 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant in Columbus, Ohio, on April 20, James tweeted a photo of an officer on the scene with the caption “You’re next. #accountability”. The tweet has since been deleted.
“Do you think that contributes to domestic violence in America?” Kennedy asked the witnesses.
Secretary Mayorkas declined to comment on the specific case, but said that he wouldn’t have sent out a similar post himself.
Kennedy went on to ask Garland how the Justice Department intended on tackling violent crime in Chicago, “the world’s largest outdoor shooting range.”
“We are going to put a large amount of money into grants with respect to violent crime, gang violence, Bureau of Justice Assistance grants,” Garland, a Chicago native, replied. He said that the agency spent $8.6 billion in the fiscal year of 2021 on violent crime, and they’ll provide the resources the city needs to combat and prevent it.
Nevertheless, several committee members and the witnesses themselves agreed that right-wing extremist violence was the most pressing issue. “I believe it’s critical to confront domestic violence extremism in all forms,” Chairman Leahy said. “But let’s not ignore the plain fact” that “white supremacist extremists are the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.”
One week before making his pitch to the Senate, Garland met with the House Appropriations subcommittee about why the department needs more budget money to tackle the legal battles stemming from the Capitol siege. “
It includes increases of $45 million for the FBI for domestic terrorism investigations and $40 million for the U.S. attorneys to manage increasing domestic terrorism caseloads,” Garland had said.