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Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen Delivers Opening Remarks Before U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared

Thank you, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley and Members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today about the work of the Department of Justice.

The threat posed by domestic terrorism is on the rise. The number of FBI investigations of suspected domestic violent extremists has more than doubled since the spring of 2020. Communities across the country have been the victims of acts of domestic terror and hate in recent years: In El Paso, 23 people, most of whom were Latino, were killed at a shopping center. In Pittsburgh, 11 worshipers were killed at their synagogue. In Alexandria, Virginia, a lone gunman wounded four people at a congressional baseball practice. In Charleston, nine people were killed by a white supremacist at their church.

Last week, we marked the one-year anniversary of the violent attack on the Capitol on January 6. In the wake of that attack, DOJ has undertaken an effort – unprecedented in its scope and complexity – to hold accountable all who engaged in criminal acts. As the Attorney General described last week, we have arrested and charged more than 725 individuals, including more than 325 defendants charged with felonies, for their roles in the January 6th attack. We continue to methodically gather and review the evidence and we will follow the facts wherever they lead.

The attacks in recent years underscore the threat that domestic terrorism continues to pose to our citizens, to law enforcement officers and elected officials, and to our democratic institutions.

Based on the assessment of the Intelligence Community, we face an elevated threat from domestic violent extremists — that is, individuals in the United States who seek to commit violent criminal acts in furtherance of domestic social or political goals. Domestic violent extremists are often motivated by a mix of ideologies and personal grievances. We have seen a growing threat from those who are motivated by racial animus, as well as those who ascribe to extremist anti-government and anti-authority ideologies. We also remain vigilant to the persistent threat from international terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaida and ISIS.

As the Attorney General has observed, combatting the threat of domestic terrorism has been a core mission for the Department of Justice since its founding more than 150 years ago, when the newly-formed department pursued the KKK to protect the rights of Black Americans under the Constitution.

Today, investigating and prosecuting domestic violent extremists is among our highest priorities. On the front lines of this effort are our 94 U.S. Attorneys’ Offices. These federal prosecutors work in close partnership with FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces, which have the lead in all terrorism investigations.

At Main Justice, the National Security Division was created in 2006 to integrate the department’s national security work nationwide. In any case with a nexus to domestic terrorism, we provide support to manage, coordinate and assist in those prosecutions.

Within the National Security Division, we have a team of counterterrorism attorneys, all of whom are equipped to work on both domestic and international terrorism prosecutions. In addition, I have decided to establish a Domestic Terrorism Unit to augment our existing approach – this group of dedicated attorneys will focus on the domestic terrorism threat, helping to ensure that these cases are properly handled and effectively coordinated across DOJ and around the country.

The National Security Division also works closely with other components of the department, especially the Civil Rights Division, which has led the prosecution of some of the most heinous attacks in recent years under federal hate crime statutes.

Similar to our efforts to combat international terrorism, the department uses all of the legal tools in our arsenal to prevent, disrupt and prosecute acts of domestic terrorism. In cases where state charges are more appropriate, we support our state and local law enforcement partners. While there is no single federal crime labelled “domestic terrorism,” the criminal code does define “domestic terrorism.” This definition provides us with expanded authorities, including enhanced sentencing for terrorism offenses.

Finally, in all our efforts to combat domestic terrorism, the Justice Department is bound by our commitment to protecting civil liberties and our duty to ensure equal and impartial justice. We prosecute individuals for engaging in violence and other criminal conduct, not for their beliefs or associations. But we will not hesitate to prosecute those who commit acts of violence in violation of federal law.

I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these issues today, and I look forward to answering your questions.

Domestic Terrorism
National Security
Updated May 18, 2022