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Civil Rights Groups Criticize Biden Strategy Against Extremism

The nation’s largest civil rights organization is criticizing the Biden administration’s strategy to combat rising domestic extremism and white supremacy, saying the effort relies too heavily on methods that may unnecessarily target and profile Black and Brown communities. On Thursday, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition of more than 200 groups, released a report that calls on the administration to stop broad surveillance of social media accounts, rein in federal terrorist watch lists, oppose new domestic terrorism laws and adopt greater safeguards on information gathering, reports the Washington Post. The recommendations come nearly 18 months after President Biden released the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, the first coordinated public plan by the federal government to monitor and head off homegrown extremism. Leadership Conference officials said a focus on combating domestic extremism is important at a time of rising white nationalism and a spike in hate crimes. Still, there are concerns that the administration is too readily importing strategies from two decades of trying to combat foreign-based terrorism that have disproportionately targeted minority communities. “One of things we’re trying to highlight, without necessarily saying it, is that we do not need a new war on terror,” said the conference's Nadia Aziz.

The White House unveiled the 32-page strategy in June 2021. It calls for new spending at the Justice Department and FBI to hire analysts, investigators and prosecutors; greater information-sharing between the federal government and state and local partners as well as with tech companies; and addressing factors contributing to the problem such as systemic racism. Civil rights groups said the strategy relied “too heavily on law enforcement suspicion, investigation, and policing of beliefs rather than actual conduct." The report faults the federal government as relying on threat-assessment strategies that granted law enforcement agencies “immense discretion" and “enabled law enforcement to baselessly tar entire communities with suspicion.” It cites a government watch list that in recent years topped one million people, and called on the administration to enact due-process safeguards, including a “meaningful notice of the basis for placement” on the list and a hearing before an independent arbiter empowered to remove people from the list. In January, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen announced the formation of a new domestic terrorism unit, noting that the number of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremists had more than doubled since spring 2020. The Leadership Conference report called it “concerning” that the unit is in Justice’s national security division, calling for greater clarification over how that division will coordinate with DOJ’s civil rights division to “prevent abuse of broad counterterrorism authorities.”


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