Katko opens domestic terror hearing: Nation must confront, ‘be honest’ about homegrown extremists

Editor’s note: The following are remarks made by U.S. Rep. John Katko, R-Camillus, on Thursday following opening statements at a full-committee hearing entitled “Examining the Domestic Terrorism Threat in the Wake of the Attack on the U.S. Capitol.” Katko is the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

I am honored to serve with you and all of our colleagues in the 117th Congress and recognize how timely and necessary today’s hearing is. This year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks: the very tragedy that necessitated the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and this Committee. In the days and months following the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Americans of all views came together to unify against the threat of foreign terrorists. Like so many challenges in our nation’s history, we emerged stronger.

To confront the emerging threats to our homeland today, we can’t play politics with national security. That’s why, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate your partnership as we’ve set out to ensure that this committee remains above the fray and focused on solving problems.

Today, we sit here just shy of 20 years after 9/11 to examine the increasingly prevalent and troubling threat from violent extremists — not from some distant land — but from here at home. The threat posed by domestic violent extremists may be new to many of us, but it is not new for our country.

In the 1960s and ‘70s, left-wing extremists known as the Weather Underground carried out dozens of bombings, including one right here inside the U.S. Capitol. In fact, in an 18-month period between 1971 and 1972 extremist groups conducted over 2,500 bombings here in the United States.

Three decades later, an anti-government extremist planned and carried out the deadliest homegrown terrorist attack in United States history, killing 168 people with a truck bomb at a federal building in Oklahoma City.

The sad reality is that there will always be those who use ideology and politics as an excuse to commit violence. It is our responsibility to see to it that they are not successful. Over the past 12 months, we have seen a marked increase in the activity of domestic violent extremists. In July, amid nationwide protests, extremists in Portland set fire to police stations and attacked a federal courthouse. In December, a man in Nashville detonated a bomb planted in a recreational vehicle, killing himself, injuring eight others, and disabling a critical telecommunications facility.  

And just last month, right-wing extremists attacked the United States Capitol. Five people died that on that dark day, including a Capitol police officer who was laid to rest this week. Just like 9/11, we will never forget. We will never forget the assault on the heart of our democracy on Jan. 6.  It was a very difficult thing to watch unfold.

While, our nation’s law enforcement and national security agencies are better prepared to combat emerging threats like domestic extremism than in previous years, much more needs to be done to bolster information sharing among federal, state, and local partners.  While investigations are ongoing, I am concerned that our counterterrorism efforts continue to be hindered by bureaucratic silos and failures to share necessary intelligence and then to act on that intelligence.  The Department of Homeland Security is central to our nation’s effort to protect against terrorist and extremist violence here at home, and it is imperative we ensure it is well equipped for that mission.

It also is our job, here at the Committee on Homeland Security, to better understand what motivates these extremists and ultimately how to stop them. Radicalization of all sorts leading to any violence should be unacceptable across the board.

With that in mind I want to encourage all of my colleagues to rise above partisan politics and work together to examine these issues and find solutions. We must do the job our constituents sent us here to do by being honest about the challenges facing our country from violent extremism — even when it may not be politically expedient to do so. It is our solemn responsibility, especially on this Committee, to be sober minded in our efforts to secure our homeland.  

That is why I cosponsored legislation championed by Ranking Member Davis on the House Administration Committee to establish a National Commission on the Domestic Terrorist Attack upon the U.S. Capitol.  Similar to the 9/11 Commission, which helped create the Homeland Security Enterprise we have today, this important, bipartisan Commission would provide Congress with real answers to our questions and solutions to close critical homeland security gaps.  This legislation, referred solely to our Committee, has the support of a dozen Republican members of the committee, and I urge my majority colleagues to join us and move this bill through Congress.

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