Civil Liberties

Feds Reanimate the Janet Reno–Era 'Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee'

A new focus on the home front


Attorney General Eric Holder has made an announcement:

[T]he threat posed by Islamic extremist satellite groups—from al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen, to al-Shabaab in Somalia—and individuals inspired by their violent ideology remains a significant concern. We must remain vigilant against this threat both here and around the world.

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But we also must concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice. To that end, I am announcing today that the Department of Justice is reconstituting a committee on domestic terrorism that was first established nearly 20 years ago under my predecessor, Attorney General Janet Reno, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing….The revived group—known as the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee—will be comprised of leaders from components within the Department of Justice, and co-chaired by a member of the U.S. Attorney community, the National Security Division, and the FBI.

This committee will coordinate closely with U.S. Attorneys and other key public safety officials across the country to promote information-sharing and ensure an effective, responsive, and organized joint effort.

Contrary to at least one early report, the revived committee's purview will not include incidents like last year's Boston Marathon bombing, since the men accused of that crime appear to have been influenced by foreign groups. The focus will be on purely homegrown activities, according to a spokesman for the Justice Department.

In other words, Washington's terror-hunting apparatus intends to focus more attention on the domestic front. What exactly that will mean in practice remains to be seen, but civil libertarians are wary. Gabriel Rottman, the American Civil Liberties Union's legislative counsel on the First Amendment, has already condemned the committee. "Given the already lenient standards for when the government can launch an investigation," he tells me, "the announced task force is both unnecessary and an invitation to investigate Americans because of the beliefs they hold, not because of any wrongdoing."