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House Panel Will Examine How To Counter Domestic Terrorism Threat

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

How are law enforcement officials across this country facing the threat of domestic violent extremism? A House subcommittee poses that question today after the attack on the Capitol January 6. Democratic member of Congress Elissa Slotkin of Michigan is a former CIA analyst and will chair that hearing. She is on the line from Holly, Michigan. Representative Slotkin, welcome to the program.

ELISSA SLOTKIN: Thanks. Good morning.

INSKEEP: I just got to note, the president who encouraged the attack on January 6 is out of office. But do you regard the threat of extremist attacks as ongoing?

SLOTKIN: I do. And certainly, I'm from Michigan. We've had, you know, our share of problems over the past year with domestic extremism, domestic terrorism and just had some additional arrests this past weekend for the plot to kidnap and kill my governor. So it's definitely ongoing. I think leadership climate is always set at the top, that when leaders who are, you know, visible, are spewing things or sending misinformation out into the world, we shouldn't be surprised when people take that up and, you know, move with it. But I do think it continues. And frankly, I think that it's just gone further underground. And I think...

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about who it is. I wonder if further underground is the way to think of it or, actually, if it's become more mainstream. We've done some reporting, other news organizations have, noting that while there were members of extremist groups in the crowds at the Capitol - the Oath Keepers and so forth - most of those who stormed the Capitol weren't affiliated with any particular extremist group, which suggests a kind of mass radicalization. How does that factor into your thinking?

SLOTKIN: Well, I think you do have to separate out into two groups. I mean, there are folks who, that day, January 6, are - you know, were organized and thoughtful. They had preplanned what they were going to do. They clearly knew they were trying to go into the Capitol that day. And then there were people who were bandwagoning (ph) who never thought that they were going to go into the Capitol that morning when they showed up. And that's how we have to think about it in the normal life. I mean, the vast majority of people who may have strong or extreme views, anti-government views, are not going to become terrorists, are not going to become violent.

Some of them are going to climb the ladder of escalation. And they're going to become terrorists. And it's those folks that we are focusing on. The mainstreaming of it, I think you're right, certainly on the threat of violence. People threaten violence now like it's nothing online, like it's nothing for elected officials to be threatened. And we have to deter that. And we have to break that cycle of normalization. But what we're focused on are those folks who become domestic terrorists.

INSKEEP: Are you among the Democratic lawmakers who fear that there are extremists among your fellow lawmakers in Congress?

SLOTKIN: Certainly, we have some lawmakers who have expressed some extreme views. Frankly, I'm definitely interested in who brought who on tours of the Capitol ahead of the actual attack on January 6. I saw, myself, large groups of people being toured around the Capitol on the 4th and the 5th. And for me, I consider that a law enforcement matter. If you brought someone into the Capitol who may be performing surveillance for an attack a few days later, I consider that something for law enforcement to look into. And I know that they are doing that through D.C. But, you know, I think that there is still freedom of speech. As much as it drives me insane to hear what some of my fellow lawmakers say, they do have freedom of speech. Where we draw the line is the threatening or inciting of violence. That is where your freedom of speech ends. And that is where I have called out some of my colleagues.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note, there are some Republicans who were threatened on that day and who have been threatened since. Do you have some Republican colleagues, as you face this problem, who say, yes, this is an issue, I want to work with you on it?

SLOTKIN: Absolutely. I mean, I co-chair, you know, the subcommittee where we're focusing on domestic terrorism. I co-chair it with a Republican. It's equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans. And we've had very good, classified conversations and briefings about this. And I'm trying to serve as an example and show people that we can still talk, Democrats and Republicans, about substance and threats to American lives like rational people. So we're going to try and do that today.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, does the government need more power to deal with this threat, power such as increased surveillance of civilians?

SLOTKIN: Well, that's what we're looking at is, are there any gaps in the laws right now? You know, for the most part, domestic terrorism is handled by the states. And they have a patchwork of laws. So we're going to look at it. I'm keeping an open mind. There's certainly a lot of issues around civil liberties that a lot of people are concerned about across the political spectrum. But I'm trying to focus on the facts and go from there.

INSKEEP: Representative Elissa Slotkin of Michigan is chairing a hearing on domestic violent extremism today. Thanks so much for your time.

SLOTKIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.