Karen Gibson, the Senate sergeant-at-arms, said that political rhetoric contributes to the increased threats that continue to be made towards US lawmakers.
In an interview with CNN’s Pamela Brown that aired Sunday, Gibson said there has been a distinct uptick in threats aimed at lawmakers that began in 2020, predating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Brown asked how much political rhetoric has contributed to that rise in threats.
“I think political rhetoric is a key driver of some of the anger that Americans feel, across the political spectrum, towards elected officials,” Gibson said.
She that because that rhetoric continues “there are continued threats, unfortunately, against a number of elected officials.” She did not specify which members of Congress threats are commonly made against.
Gibson also said that while Americans have the right to express anger towards politicians, she is troubled by disinformation and “people who just cannot separate fact from fiction.”
“We all have a right to express our political opinion, and we have a right to express anger and frustration, not in a violent way, to those who’ve been elected to represent us,” she said. “I think what concerns me is a group of Americans that have fallen for some conspiracy theories and just some whacked-out ideas that are not based in fact.”
As Senate sergeant-at-arms, Gibson is the chief law enforcement officer in the Senate.
Gibson, who was appointed to the role in March, is a retired military intelligence officer.
A second member of the far-right extremist Boogaloo Bois group pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a conspiracy charge to provide material support and weapons to what he thought was Hamas, a Palestinian political party and a foreign terrorist organization, as designated by the US.
The FBI’s investigation into the group started back in May 2020.
According to court documents, the FBI began investigating Teeter and Solomon when an undercover confidential source tipped them off, alerting them that the Boogaloo Bois sought to employ themselves as mercenaries for Hamas in order to raise money for a training compound, and later sell specialized weapons to the group.
The source recorded conversations with the two, in which Teeter said that the anti-government group and Hamas shared similar goals, according to the Justice Department. Solomon reportedly exchanged encrypted text messages with Teeter confirming the operation.
A sentencing date has not yet been set; Teeter could face up to 20 years on a felony charge, and now, so could Solomon.
With the undercover agent and an informant, Teeter and Solomon negotiated to sell devices that modify semi-automatic weapons into illegal machine guns, according to DOJ charges.
Teeter and Solomon sold batches of the weapon accessories to the undercover agent and informant, allegedly believing that the eventually modified weapons would be used by Hamas to target Israeli and American military personnel abroad, according to prosecutors.
In September, Hamas publicly denounced the FBI sting on Teeter and Solomon and said that they did not want to be associated with the extreme goals of the Boogaloo Bois.
Teeter and Solomon were part of a sub-division of the Boogaloo Bois who called themselves the “Boojahideen.”
“This case highlights the real threat posed by domestic violent extremists who self-radicalize and threaten to violently attack others opposed to their views, with little or no warning,” Michael Paul, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, said in December.
At a court appearance in December, Teeter acknowledged that he thought the materials would be used by Hamas’ paramilitary group, according to the Minnesota Star Tribune.
“I mean, why would someone buy suppressors if they weren’t going to deliver them to a militant wing?” he said.
In court, Teeter added that he and Solomon hoped Hamas would help them “exit the country and open a training facility” for the Boogaloo Bois.
President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general sounded the alarm Monday on the domestic terrorism threat facing the United States.
“I certainly agree that we are facing a more dangerous period than we did in Oklahoma City at that time,” Judge Merrick Garland, the nominee, told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The 1996 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building killed 168 people, including children. An investigation found that the bombing’s conspirators were radicalized by white nationalist propaganda in the aftermath of the deadly FBI raids at Waco and Ruby Ridge in the early ’90s.
Garland was a principal associate deputy attorney general at the time, and led the Department of Justice’s prosecution of the bomber.
“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6, a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy,” Garland said.
President Joe Biden ordered several intelligence agencies to review domestic terrorism in the US in the wake of the January 6 Capitol siege, however, his plans face a number of obstacles.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, and the Department of Homeland Security will work together to create a domestic terrorism threat assessment that could be used to determine policy, the Associated Press reported.
“The Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol and the tragic deaths and destruction that occurred underscored what we all know: The rise of domestic violent extremism is a serious and growing national security threat,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.
However, experts have said that Biden could face legal, political, and cultural obstacles. The Washington Post reported that even before the January attack, the FBI had warned about rising domestic terror threats, but critics have accused the agency of being “more primed” to focus on international threats over those at home since the 9/11 attacks.
“We have overlooked, not just over the last four years, but much longer than that some of the extremists within this country,” Sean Joyce, a former FBI special agent who served as deputy director from 2011 to 2013, told The Post.
Joyce said white supremacists have become a much greater threat than they were as a result.
John Brennan, who served as CIA director and White House homeland security adviser in the Obama administration, told The Post that similar to extremists during 9/11, white supremacists and those who stormed the Capitol have been radicalized through misinformation and “taught” that violence is an acceptable means to get their desired political outcome.
On January 6, Trump supporters breached the Capitol building and clashed with law enforcement, halting a joint session of Congress as lawmakers met to certify Biden’s victory in the 2020 election. The mob was motivated by unproven claims about mass voter fraud spread by Trump. The riot resulted in the deaths of five people.
While there have been calls to instate new laws that target domestic terrorism, some have expressed opposition, citing concerns that such laws could target minority groups and further erode civil liberties. Rep. Rashida Tlaib is leading a call to not expand the security state.
“The Trump mob’s success in breaching the Capitol was not due to a lack of resources at the disposal of federal law enforcement, and in this moment we must resist the erosion of our civil liberties and Constitutional freedoms, however well-intentioned proposed security reforms may be,” Tlaib, and nine other Democrats, wrote in a letter to Congressional leadership. “We firmly believe that the national security and surveillance powers of the US government are already too broad, undefined, and unaccountable to the people.”
Brennan also told The Post that there may be many legal obstacles in pursuing domestic terrorists.
“How do you uncover these types of incubating threats while at the same time not violating or infringing upon those principles that we’re trying to protect?” Brennan asked. “It was a problem after 9/11. It is even moreso now, because you’re talking about US citizens and persons.”
Additionally, law enforcement cannot surveil citizens based on their political views, even if they are hateful or anti-government. And while federal law defines the concept of domestic terrorism, there isn’t a specific charge for it.
“We really do want to be very careful about criminalizing ideologies, no mater how poisonous and awful,” David Kris, a former senior Justice Department official, told The Post. “You’re entitled to have an opinion and entitled to express that opinion no matter how noxious. But when you cross the line from having or expressing an ideology to acting on it in ways that are violent, you’ve crossed the line.”
The US military will have a larger footprint in the nation’s capital by this weekend than the total number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
There will be up to 25,000 National Guard troops in Washington, DC, for President-elect Joe Biden’s January 20 inauguration. Comparatively, as of January 15 there were roughly 2,500 US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq respectively (about 5,000 total).
There are major concerns about security for inauguration following the pro-Trump Capitol siege on January 6, which led to five deaths and sent shockwaves through the nation.
The fact there will be more troops in DC than the two countries that have in many ways been the primary battlegrounds of the US government’s global war on terror is a stark reminder that homegrown extremism poses a greater threat to the US than foreign terrorism.
In the post-9/11 world, the US government has overwhelmingly treated terrorism abroad as the greatest threat to the homeland, but the country is seemingly shifting in a new direction.
“Foreign terrorist organizations will continue to call for Homeland attacks but probably will remain constrained in their ability to direct such plots over the next year,” the report added.
Law enforcement in the US has increasingly taken this tone in recent years, particularly in the wake of the deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
“A majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacy, but it includes other things as well,” FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said to Congress in July 2019.
And when it comes to jihadism, the threat has also been disproportionately domestic in nature in the years since the 9/11 attacks. As the New America think tank puts it: “Far from being foreign infiltrators, the large majority of jihadist terrorists in the United States have been American citizens or legal residents.”
The events of January 6, which Biden as well as many congressional lawmakers and experts have described as domestic terrorism, could mark an inflection point in terms of how the US approaches extremism.
A mostly white, pro-Trump mob filled with members or sympathizers of far-right extremist groups stormed the US Capitol with apparent intentions of doing harm to lawmakers and even Vice President Mike Pence. It represented a direct assault on American democracy and an unprecedented event in US history.
Congressional lawmakers are now calling for the US to treat domestic terrorism as an existential threat to the country and its political system.
“The post 9/11 era is over. The single greatest national security threat right now is our internal division. The threat of domestic terrorism. The polarization that threatens our democracy. If we don’t reconnect our two Americas, the threats will not have to come from the outside,” Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, said via Twitter following the Capitol siege.