The ODNI’s politicized counterterrorism assessment

On March 1, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) issued an unclassified assessment entitled, “Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021.” The report continued to perpetrate a series of unfounded analytical assumptions and politicized conclusions.

The assessment begins by saying that Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs) with “motivations pertaining to biases against minority populations” and “perceived government overreach” will be the primary drivers of domestic terrorism in the coming year.

The language deliberately excludes any potential threat from what the FBI used to call Black Identity Extremists (BIEs) presumably focusing solely on white supremacists.

An assessment that completely ignores any threat of violence from so-called black identity extremists following the 2020 BLM riots cannot be taken seriously.

The BLM riots led to the deaths of dozens of people and caused more than $2 billion in property damage. Leaked FBI assessments from 2018-2019 show that the FBI had previously assessed BIE as a significant threat, only to reverse itself upon overwhelming political criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

Language that emphasizes mere “bias” rather than a documented and understandable comprehensive political ideology of racial supremacy (either black or white) creates a standard so broad as to be effectively meaningless.

In a recent back and forth between Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Department of Justice nominee Vanita Gupta, Gupta doubled down on the assertion that every single American harbored “racial bias.”

Does the Biden DOJ seriously intend to consider every single American a potential domestic violence extremist? Does an assessment which waters down ideological threats to little more than “bias” serve any legitimate purpose?

The ODNI report repeats politicized claims previously made by a controversial DHS assessment that treated concerns about election integrity and COVID lockdowns as de-facto extremism. The DHS assessment, however, included objections to “police use of force” – apparently an oblique nod to BLM violence. The ODNI report eliminated “police use of force” as a potential threat motivation, making it even more one-sided.

The ODNI report also asserts that racially or ethnically motivated Violent Extremists (RMVE) are the most lethal potential threat with “RMVEs most likely to conduct mass-casualty attacks against civilians.”

While white supremacists have in the past engaged in mass-shootings and other attacks likely to produce a high body count, the assessment completely ignores the potential danger of jihadist terrorism.

The report makes no mention of the euphemistic Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVE), which refers to jihadists who do not have a direct connection with a known foreign terrorist group. Those with foreign terror group ties are classified under the rubric of international, and not domestic terrorism, thus further dividing, and minimizing the perceived threat.

The complete drop of any reference to HVEs is significant and worrisome.

While DVE category has arguably been created to reference only domestic ideologies and excludes jihadist ideology, an assessment which does not consider jihadists as significant risks for mass casualty attacks is fatally flawed and of questionable validity.

Determining the significance of terror threats by body counts is fraught with error, as a single incident can rapidly alter perceptions.  In 2016, Omar Mateen, who self-identified as a supporter of the Islamic State, killed 49 people in a single terror attack, outnumbering all previous “right-wing” lethal attacks in the previous 15 years.  Still declining to even include the mention of jihadist HVE terror suggests a rushed and politicized job on the part of the ODNI.

While the ODNI assessment does mention “anarchist violent extremists” – the descriptor used by the government to refer to Antifa and similar groups—among “anti-government/ anti-authority extremists,” the description is embarrassingly imprecise and uncritical. Anarchist Extremists are described as: “DVEs who oppose all forms of capitalism, corporate globalization, and governing institutions, which are perceived as harmful to society.”

Compare that with the description the ODNI uses for “Militia Violent Extremists:”

DVEs who take overt steps to violently resist or facilitate the overthrow of the U.S. Government in support of their belief that the US Government is purposely exceeding its Constitutional authority and is trying to establish a totalitarian regime; oppose many federal and state laws and regulations, particularly those related to firearms ownership.

The ODNI description characterizes anarchists like the Antifa members who have continued to assault Portland’s Hatfield federal courthouse for the past several month as merely perceiving capitalism and governing institutions as “harmful.”

In contrast militia extremists the ODNI assesses seek to “violently resist” or “overthrow” the U.S. government. Leave aside for a moment that there is significant legal distinction between merely preparing to “resist” a tyrannical government versus to “facilitate the overthrow” of the government. Do anarchists not also seek to use violence to overthrow the U.S. Government?

The ODNI statement is at best as profoundly ignorant of the nature of anarchist extremist ideology, and at worst borderline sympathetic. Yet when describing what are ultimately mainstream positions, –such as advocacy of the Second Amendment and opposing potential violations of the U.S. Constitution—it does so in a wholly negative context.

This politicized assessment plays into the very “contentious sociopolitical factors” that ODNI assesses are increasing the likelihood of political violence. The intelligence community must stop releasing poorly prepared and heavily politicized assessments that do not accurately characterize the nature of ideological threats, minimize some threats and characterize opinions held by large percentages of the population as akin to terrorist ideologies.

About Kyle Shideler

Kyle Shideler is the Director and Senior Analyst for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism at the Center for Security Policy. Mr. Shideler specializes in Islamist groups operating in the United States, having spent over a decade researching and writing on their history, doctrine, and impact. Read his complete bio here. Follow Shideler on Twitter at @ShidelerK.