Police officers salute the hearse of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died from injuries suffered in the Jan. 6, 2020, riot at the Capitol. (D.C. Metropolitan Police Department photo)

PERSPECTIVE: Right-Sizing Our Response to the 1/6 Terrorist Attack

The 1/6 terrorist attack was a violent insurrection directed at the very foundation of our government: the Constitution. If not for the resoluteness of our Congress, the attack would have succeeded in disrupting a constitutionally required process — the certification of Electoral College votes determining the next president.

The seriousness of this attack cannot be ignored. In the wake of the assault on democracy that occurred at our nation’s Capitol building on Wednesday, our response to another terrorist event – the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks – provides guidance on how we should respond moving forward.

The FBI defines domestic terrorism as “violent, criminal acts committed by individuals and/or groups to further ideological goals stemming from domestic influences, such as those of a political, religious, social, racial or environmental nature.” Clearly the events at the Capitol on 1/6 meet these criteria just as fully as the 9/11 attacks meet the definition of international terrorism.

Given the comparable gravity of the 1/6 and 9/11 attacks, our response today must be as robust as our response was to al-Qaeda almost 20 years ago.

What did we do then? First, we identified the threat. Then we ensured that any planned follow-up attacks were disrupted. For over a decade we relentlessly pursued, captured and killed the culprits. We built back from the damage to New York and the Pentagon. We thoroughly investigated why the 9/11 attacks were successful and took actions to fix our structural intelligence and security problems. Then we began a long-term effort – which continues to this day – not only to understand the cause of the attacks, but to take steps to prevent any such future attacks.

How do we translate these post-9/11 steps to today’s situation?

First, our domestic intelligence organizations at the FBI, DHS, the National Counterterrorism Center, the FBI-directed network of about 200 Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), the DHS-sponsored but state-run intelligence fusion centers, and the hundreds of federal, state and local law enforcement intelligence outfits should now be laser-focused on right-wing domestic terrorists and the threats they constitute — just as they are on other groups. Only with robust intelligence collection and analysis of these groups and individuals can we expect to capture and punish those responsible for 1/6 and, perhaps more importantly, prevent any future attacks.

Simultaneously, our federal, state and local law enforcement – led by the FBI and their JTTFs – must relentlessly pursue those responsible, both directly and indirectly, for the 1/6 attacks. These domestic enemies will then face justice in the courts. (When dealing with foreign terrorists overseas we tend to use a more direct, kinetic approach.)

Then, we need to take a fresh look at the security of our governmental infrastructure at both the federal and state levels. These facilities need to be both secure and open to the public, an admittedly challenging task. And just as the 9/11 attacks were thoroughly reviewed by a select commission to identify failures and recommend structural and legal improvements, the next president should appoint a high-level 1/6 Commission.

Finally, we need to understand what motivates these right-wing terrorists and develop approaches to prevent radicalization of potential right-wing violent extremist recruits – just as we continue to struggle with preventing radicalization of religious extremists. The only real solution to right-wing terrorism is to understand the mindset and grievances of those violently attacking their own government and implement policies to alleviate those grievances that have merit, while simultaneously punishing any use of violence to the full extent of the law.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected] Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

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Jim Steiner teaches courses in intelligence and homeland security at the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy, University at Albany. From 2006 until 2009 he was Intelligence Advisor to the Director of New York State’s Office of Homeland Security and a consultant to the Chief Intelligence Officer in the Department of Homeland Security. He also was a senior member of the working group that wrote New York’s new Homeland Security Strategy. At the national level, as a senior advisor to the Undersecretary for Intelligence at DHS, he was a strong proponent for intelligence support to State and local governments, especially through massive expansion of classified communications and intelligence dissemination to fusion centers throughout the country. He is a retired senior CIA officer. All statements of fact, opinion, or analysis expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the CIA.

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