For more than two decades, some federal law enforcement agents have sounded alarms about the threat of right-wing extremists in the U.S. The FBI, the lead agency on domestic terrorism, has issued a steady stream of confidential warnings to state and local law enforcement. Yet the government, under Democratic and Republican administrations, has repeatedly underestimated or failed to recognize the threat posted by right-wing extremists, USA Today reports. Federal authorities have prioritized international terrorism, particularly Islamic militants, even as deaths linked to domestic terrorism have mounted while threats from abroad receded. Washington failed to create a national strategy to counter right-wing extremism until the siege of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 triggered an urgent reassessment. One year after the assault on the Capitol, many critics question whether Washington is up to the task of containing a problem that has embedded itself deeply.
The Justice Department maintains that a cadre of prosecutors and FBI agents have worked throughout the nation's 94 federal districts and within about 200 joint terrorism task forces for years to combat the rising extremist threat to racial minorities, law enforcement, government targets and others. Officials credited that effort with helping to thwart a series of plots, from a plan to bomb a Kansas apartment complex housing Muslim immigrants in 2016, to the breakup of a kidnapping scheme targeting Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer led by anti-government extremists in 2020. Two years ago, the FBI elevated the domestic threat to the same level of concern as the Islamic State international terrorist group. Some lawmakers and current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials, said Washington should have done much more, much sooner.