On June 6-7, the U.S. Department of State’s (State) Bureau of Counterterrorism (CT) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) held the second meeting of the Counterterrorism Law Enforcement Forum (CTLEF), which focused on racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism (REMVE). The Government of Norway co-hosted the meeting in Oslo, with Norwegian Minister of Justice and Public Security Emilie Enger Mehl providing opening remarks. The U.S. delegation was led by DOJ Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen, DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General Bruce Swartz, and CT Deputy Coordinator Ian Moss.
The CTLEF meeting brought together over 100 criminal justice practitioners along with policymakers and independent experts from over 40 countries and institutions in Europe and North and South America, as well as specialists from INTERPOL, Europol, and the International Institute for Justice and the Rule of Law (IIJ). Other officials from State, DOJ, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury also participated in the forum.
CT Deputy Coordinator Moss highlighted in his remarks that countering REMVE in the U.S. and abroad remains a top priority for the Biden-Harris Administration. He noted that just a few weeks prior to the CTLEF meeting, President Biden said we all need to stand up to “the poison of white supremacy,” calling it the “most dangerous terrorist threat to [the U.S.] homeland.” U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission to Norway Sharon Hudson-Dean delivered remarks at the CTLEF, stating, “The growing transnational nature of extremism requires a coordinated global response. It is crucial for like-minded governments and organizations to continue to track the online trends of REMVE actors, and connect the dots between anti-government groups, conspiracy theorists, and violent right-wing and REMVE extremists.”
Throughout the forum, participants emphasized that the transnational nature of the REMVE threat is increasing. In the last year alone, deadly REMVE attacks have occurred in Brazil, Germany, Slovakia, and the United States, among other locales. Participants noted that many REMVE attacks are carried out by lone actors without formal ties to groups. REMVE actors communicate, recruit, and share tactical training, both online and in-person, across borders. There was also discussion about the role of emerging technologies, including REMVE actors’ use of virtual assets and cryptocurrencies to raise funds.
CTLEF participants highlighted the dangerous role that Russia plays by supporting REMVE actors. They noted that Russia has promoted a false narrative for years that Ukraine is a Nazi hotbed, and baselessly claims “de-Nazification” as one of the primary reasons for its full-scale invasion. CT Deputy Coordinator Moss announced that CT is awarding $2 million to fund new projects designed to counter Russia’s disinformation about Ukraine and Ukrainian citizens who have sought refuge from Russia’s war of aggression.
Participants also shared information about recent governmental actions to disrupt REMVE activity, underscoring how and why criminal justice tools and approaches are critical to countering REMVE. Officials spoke about lessons learned from recent REMVE attacks. They noted that REMVE actors are being inspired by previous REMVE attacks, including by writing manifestos that mirror those left behind by the perpetrators in the 2018 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania attack and the 2019 Christchurch, New Zealand attack.
Additionally, CTLEF participants emphasized the insider threat posed by REMVE actors within the public sector, particularly the security services. Officials from several countries highlighted how members of the military, law enforcement, and other current and former security service personnel engaged in REMVE activity, which can be potentially more lethal and degrade society’s trust in security institutions.
CTLEF participants emphasized the increased need to work together to use the full range of tools to counter REMVE activity. They noted a need to share information between and among all levels of local, state, and national governments, across borders, and with civil society organizations. The CTLEF will convene again in the spring of 2024.
About the Author: Alisha Deluty is a Senior Strategist in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Counterterrorism.