The Biden administration launched an inquiry on Monday into how the Department of Homeland Security identifies and addresses white supremacy and extremism in its ranks, part of a larger effort to weed out extremist ideology from the federal government.
The task of identifying extremists throughout the United States, and specifically in government agencies, has come to the top of President Biden’s agenda since the deadly assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, when a pro-Trump mob, which included members of some extremist groups, raided the building and forced lawmakers into a lockdown.
“We recognize that domestic violent extremism and the ideology, the extremist ideologies that spew it, are prevalent,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the secretary of the homeland security, said in an interview with The New York Times. “We have a responsibility given what we do to ensure that that pernicious influence does not exist in our department.”
The internal review of the Department of Homeland Security comes just weeks after the Department of Defense completed a 60-day “stand down” to address extremism after a number of veterans were found to have taken part in Capitol riot.
The review means that the department tasked with preventing domestic terrorism threats will now turn inward to assess if such ideology is coursing through its various agencies, including the Border Patrol, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.
As a part of the review, a team of senior officials at the department will work on updating existing policies for addressing employees who are found to be associated with extremist groups or who have espoused such beliefs either online or while on duty, according to senior homeland security officials. Mr. Mayorkas said the team will also be tasked with developing training and resources for employees, as well as holding listening sessions for officers and agents — similar to a method used by the Defense Department earlier this year.
Mr. Mayorkas said there will be an internal review process for agents found to have committed wrongdoing and that he was “mindful of the constitutional right to free speech.”
“There is a marked difference between that right, and violence in furtherance of extremist ideologies,” Mr. Mayorkas said.
The Biden administration’s early prioritization of domestic extremism comes after two decades of prodding by lawmakers and law enforcement officials to address the threat as seriously as the country deals with terrorism overseas.
Shortly after coming into office, Mr. Biden ordered the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, to work with the F.B.I. and the Homeland Security Department on a comprehensive assessment of how the government combats extremism. The administration followed up with an intelligence report delivered to Congress last month that labeled white supremacists and militia groups within the United States as top national security threats.