Feature 07.01.2021 5 minutes

The War Comes Home

The War Comes Home

The Biden Administration’s Domestic Terrorism Strategy is practically designed for overreach.

Editors’ Note

This analysis is adapted from The Global Guerrillas Report, a reader-supported research service that covers the intersection of warfare, technology, and politics.

The White House has published its Strategy for fighting domestic terrorism, defined in terms laid out by the Patriot Act but augmented by a slurry of new jargon: there are now Domestic Violent Extremists (DVEs), Racially Motivated Violent Extremists (RMVEs), and Militia Violent Extremists (MVEs). All this based on a broad claim that extremist violence is a growing and escalating threat. This Strategy calls for the government:

  • To expand data collection and analysis dedicated to domestic terrorism. This means new measures for sharing information across government agencies and industry partners, and increased efforts to combat foreign connections to domestic groups—from disinformation (Russia) and financing methods (Bitcoin) to communications between extremist groups.
  • To train and fund a cross-community network that identifies and reports domestic extremism early. This means partnerships with online platforms to radically expand surveillance, data collection, and censorship capabilities (globally).
  • To expand and fund law enforcement and prosecutorial capabilities dedicated to domestic terrorism (the funding is already in motion). This means expanded legal powers to arrest, prosecute, and jail domestic extremists, as well as screening and monitoring Department of Defense, civil service, and civilian infrastructure employees for ties to domestic extremism (early efforts include monitoring social media use of individual employees).

The Sprawl

As envisioned, this effort is almost designed to sprawl. The Capitol Event (alternatively described as a riot, insurrection, or coup attempt) has become the equivalent of 9/11. This event, in combination with online and media claims of a rapid rise in domestic extremism, is being used as the critical justification of this war—even though, according to the Anti-Defamation League, deaths from extremist violence are at the lowest level since 2004.

Driven by political and online factors and without a basis in hard-eyed analysis, this effort will seek to justify itself by expanding its definition of extremism to include incidents and actions far less dramatic than deadly violence.

The result will be a perpetual war. This Strategy explicitly claims that extremist (specifically right-wing) violence has plagued the U.S. for centuries. That means the Strategy is built on an unattainable goal: eliminate domestic extremism, no matter how long it takes.

Since the Capitol Event is the justification for this effort, it will continue to focus on right-wing extremism. However, it will inevitably sprawl to include political speech that might contribute to right-wing extremism. This speech includes everything from anti-immigration arguments, to speculations about election fraud, to anti-vaccination advocacy, to anti-Critical Race Theory efforts.

Supporters of political candidates that engage in that speech will now explicitly be made targets of tribal political warfare. It is worth noting that, like many tools designed for such warfare, the report can be wielded by whoever is in power. We could see a very different set of targets (Antifa, BLM, etc.) and speech limitations (anti-climate change, pro-CRT, etc.) if political power changes hands. Think President DeSantis: Florida’s anti-riot law makes for a good preview of what we might see nationally if DeSantis decided to use Biden’s Strategy for his own ends.

What it Means

To fight this war, it’s very likely the U.S. government will soon get the same prosecutorial powers it used to fight foreign terror.

For example: if this new expanded legislation were in place, the 521 (as of this writing) rioters charged in the Capitol Event would be facing charges of domestic terrorism rather than trespassing. A few others would be classified as enemy combatants, forfeiting their rights as citizens. Furthermore, these new powers will become so broad that actions and speech considered merely objectionable today will become punishable as a form of or support for extremist terrorism.

The FBI’s recent experience with corporations, private groups, and individuals gathering and analyzing footage from the Capitol Event (including the use of facial recognition), reporting on people involved, and providing support for aggressive prosecution will become the basis for a more formal network of informants.

This network will identify, gather information, and report individuals with extremist views to law enforcement or its corporate representatives. Many of the participants in this network will be tribally partisan groups who will pay for the staff and technology needed to hack, gather, and analyze information on target groups at scale.

Public lists of extremists and data dumps of private data will radically expand beyond what is available today. These lists will be used by direct action groups for vigilante action, from harassment to worse, on a national scale.

Anti-Extremism Infrastructure

The vast scale of this effort, the expansive nature of what would be considered extremism, and the efforts currently underway to create networks will drive the development, with the help of tech companies, of a systemic counter-extremism solution.

This system will automate many of the tasks involved—from finding extremists, to censoring extremist triggers (e.g., disinformation), to punishing infractions (e.g., temporary or permanent disconnection from all online services), to tracking extremists offline.

Since this social A.I. will be built almost entirely with the support of tech companies, it may be impossible to turn it off or alter its function—i.e., if the government changes hands politically, it may not be possible to change the extremist target from the Oath Keepers to Antifa.

Moreover, once it is in motion, this system will evolve and grow far faster (potentially at a global scale) than its government mandate. Many, if not most, of the actions taken by this corporate-run system are extra-legal and outside the bounds of Constitutional protections.

This should tell you all you need to know about the goals of the Strategy’s authors.

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Suggested reading from the editors
Minority Report

Minority Report

The Biden Administration’s domestic terrorism strategy threatens to criminalize conservative speech and thought.

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