On May 11-12, the U.S. Department of State’s (State) Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) launched the Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum (CTLEF) in Berlin. The CTLEF focuses on countering racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE) globally. DOJ Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen, DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, and State CT Deputy Coordinator Ian Moss led the U.S. delegation at this kick-off event, which was co-hosted by the Government of Germany.
Law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and other criminal justice practitioners from almost forty countries in Europe, North and South America, and the Indo-Pacific, as well as specialists from INTERPOL, Europol, other European Union bodies, the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and other multilateral organizations attended the two-day meeting. The U.S. delegation also included other officials from State, DOJ, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
While the alleged REMVE-inspired attack in Buffalo, New York on May 14 took place after the Berlin event concluded, it illustrates why REMVE must be taken serious as a rising counterterrorism and law enforcement priority. As Deputy Coordinator Moss highlighted in his remarks, REMVE is an increasing threat, both globally and at home. Deadly REMVE attacks have occurred in recent years in the United States, Norway, New Zealand, Germany, France, Sweden, Canada, and the United Kingdom, among other countries. Further, CTLEF participants agreed that transnational linkages between foreign REMVE threats are increasing, with individuals and groups communicating, recruiting and radicalizing others to violence, and sharing tactical training online and in-person. Deputy Coordinator Moss noted that with these growing international REMVE connections, State’s role is becoming more critical in this space. Deputy Coordinator Moss highlighted the State Department’s numerous lines of efforts in this area, including international information sharing, designations, watch listing, capacity building, tech sector engagement, and preventing and countering all forms of violent extremism.
CTLEF participants also discussed how REMVE individuals and groups are advancing terrorist plotting, communicating with one another, providing training and drawing in new recruits, and financing their operations. CTLEF participants highlighted that REMVE attacks are often carried out by lone actors without formal ties to larger groups, making them particularly challenging to identify, counter, and disrupt. While the connections are often loose, copycat attacks remain a serious issue, with the Christchurch and Oslo attackers’ manifestos continuing to circulate online and among potential REMVE actors and inspiring those attracted to hateful REMVE ideology.
At the same time, CTLEF participants noted that REMVE actors are also adept at exploiting social media platforms, online gaming platforms, and encrypted chat applications to recruit new followers and disseminate materials that contribute to radicalization to violence. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an ideal environment for the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation, particularly online, benefiting REMVE actors seeking to recruit new adherents. Attendees agreed that governments will need to adapt quickly and frequently to keep pace with this evolving threat landscape.
Participants also shared recent governmental law enforcement actions to disrupt REMVE activity, underscoring how and why criminal justice tools and approaches are critical to countering REMVE. The recently released IIJ Criminal Justice Practitioners’ Guide for Addressing REMVE was cited as a valuable manual for countries to consult as they develop their new strategies, laws, and approaches to counter REMVE. Additionally, police investigators and prosecutors shared lessons learned from recent, major REMVE attacks, including those in New Zealand, Norway, and Germany.
U.S. Ambassador to Germany Amy Gutmann highlighted to CTLEF participants the importance of the forum. “I’m so encouraged to see so many law enforcement and criminal justice practitioners here today,” she said. “Combating violent extremism is a truly global topic, and we are truly stronger when we work together.”
The bottom line is that no country or multilateral entity can take on the REMVE threat on its own. While there has been more focus on REMVE in recent years, participants noted that there still is no routine international information sharing about REMVE actors similar to that already taking place regarding threats posed by other terrorist groups, such as ISIS and al-Qa’ida. CTLEF participants emphasized that enhanced cooperation and information sharing is more important than ever before to counter REMVE globally, and there is a need for greater collaboration among governments and civil society.
The CTLEF represents a collaborative effort among various U.S. Government departments and agencies, in conjunction with our trusted foreign partners, to develop more robust information-sharing protocols and to better collectively organize to combat the transnational REMVE threat. The CTLEF will convene again in the spring of 2023.
About the Author: Alisha Deluty is a Strategist in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.