The Washington, D.C., Homeland Security director and terror analysts warned lawmakers Thursday that the threat posed by domestic extremists, manifested last month by the deadly Capitol attack, is likely to persist for more than a decade.
“We must be prepared for a long fight,” Christopher Rodriguez, chief of the district’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, told the House Homeland Security Committee.
Rodriguez said the Capitol attack exposed a long-simmering threat in the “starkest terms,” adding that radical violent extremism has “rapidly become part of the cultural mainstream.”
Jan. 6 called ‘most predictable terror attack in US history’
Rodriguez, who participated in the security preparations for what had been billed as demonstration against Congress’ certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, acknowledged that the FBI had shared information before the event that included the potential for violence.
At least some of the information was received as early as mid-December, Rodriguez said.
In a series of meetings before Jan. 6, Rodriguez said the intelligence was shared with law enforcement partners, including the U.S. Capitol Police.
“The issue was the inability or the unwillingness to act on the intelligence,” Rodriguez said.
Last week, the acting Capitol Police chief apologized to lawmakers for the agency’s failures to repel the rioters and said the department was not prepared for the “terrorist attack.” The riot left five dead, including Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick, who was eulogized Wednesday at a Capitol ceremony.
“What happened at the U.S. Capitol was the most predictable terror attack in U.S. history,” Anti-Defamation League Executive Director Jonathan Greenblatt told the House panel Thursday, describing a “terrifying resurgence of right-wing extremism.”
Greenblatt called the Capitol assault a “watershed moment” particularly for the white supremacist movement that is likely to leverage the riots for recruiting like-minded extremists.
Experts say response should rival post-9/11 action
Elizabeth Neumann, a former assistant secretary for counterterrorism and threat prevention at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, characterized the threat as especially daunting, suggesting that it would linger for “10 to 20 years.”
Neumann and others called on the government to respond in the same way it had after the 9/11 attacks.
She urged the formation of a national commission to chart a strategy to confront the threat just as the George W. Bush administration had done to deal with international terror threat posed by al-Qaeda and other groups.
Neumann said the mix of extremist groups represented at the Jan. 6 riots view the assault as “a rallying point.”
“Some view this as a huge success,” she said. “The concern I have is that we see more mainstreaming of this fringe ideology.”
Brian Jenkins, a terror analyst and senior adviser at the Rand Corp., also cautioned that the Capitol assault would pose “long-term” challenges for lawmakers and law enforcement.
Because of the increased scrutiny after the attacks, Jenkins said extremists could “transition” from mass protests to “clandestine” acts.
The hearing comes on the eve of the Senate impeachment trial for former President Donald Trump, accused of inciting the deadly insurrection with baseless claims that the election had been stolen.
“The irrefutable fact is that the threat of right-wing and more specifically, white nationalist terrorism has been growing for years,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said. “The previous administration failed to address this threat appropriately, and on Jan. 6 we saw the result right here at the U.S. Capitol.”