WASHINGTON (CNN) —Domestic terror groups pose a greater threat to America than ISIS or al Qaeda, a Justice Department official said Wednesday.
To help combat them, the department has created a new counsel that will coordinate the investigation and prosecution of anti-government and hate groups.
Assistant Attorney General John Carlin, who oversees national security at the Justice Department, announced the new position — the Domestic Terrorism Counsel — following a number of violent attacks or plots against the U.S. that he said were motivated by “anti-government views, racism, bigotry and anarchy, and other despicable beliefs.”
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More Americans have died at the hands of domestic terror than the international terror groups that federal law enforcement focuses so much attention on, Carlin said, pointing to such high-profile attacks as the racially motivated Charleston church shooting in June or the murder of two Las Vegas police officers by anti-government extremists last year.
“Looking back over the past few years, it is clear that domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists remain a real and present danger to the United States,” he said. “We recognize that, over the past few years, more people have died in this country in attacks by domestic extremists than in attacks associated with international terrorist groups.”
While many similarities exist between domestic and international terror groups, such as recruitment and reach on social media, one difference lies in the way the Justice Department is able to prosecute them.
Groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda, who are inspired by religious extremism, are designated by our federal government as terror organizations, which makes it illegal to support or assist them. But no such statute exist to prosecute white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan or anti-government extremists, forcing federal law enforcement to find more concrete charges to lock them up.
“What causes some confusion is that ‘domestic terrorism’ is not an offense or a charge,” Carlin said. Therefore, domestic terror groups or actors must be prosecuted with firearms or explosives offenses, hate crimes or murder.