WASHINGTON - The US has no domestic terrorism statute - and existing tools to prosecute homegrown terrorism have rarely focused on the threat posed by white extremists, writes The Middle East Eye.

In June 2021, the Biden administration released its “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism”.

This apparent prioritisation of the issue came as white supremacist violence was occupying a more central place in the public imagination and the political landscape, both due to the Capitol insurrection and violent clashes in cities across the country during the Trump administration.

A shift in media coverage was certainly part of the explanation, but this new policy focus was also rooted in a distinctly changing reality.

As white nationalist rhetoric has gained steam in mainstream political discourse, extremist violence can no longer be swept under the rug by diverting attention towards the threat of so-called Islamic terrorism. But the Biden administration’s agenda largely ignores the glaring reality that those criminalised by the existing legal structures for combating domestic terrorism have almost exclusively been Black, indigenous and people of colour, especially Muslims. Biden benefits from the perceived newness of both the threat of domestic extremism and efforts to combat it.

This administration has centred the tumultuous political environment of the Trump years, and especially the rise of violence from his supporters in groups such as the Proud Boys. It was during the Obama administration, however, that the US launched its Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programme to facilitate domestic counterterrorism efforts.

While the growing threat posed by white supremacist ideology was largely ignored - despite the fact that its growth has been credibly attributed to a backlash stemming from Obama’s election - CVE has been devastating for Muslim communities.

In his strategy document, Biden seemingly acknowledges this, stating: “This is the domestic terrorism threat America faces today - one with the distinctive imprint of today’s digital age as well as longstanding roots in domestic terrorism challenges throughout our country’s history.

Tackling that threat comprehensively and persistently demands appreciating both its historical lineage and its distinctively modern form.” Biden had an opportunity here to speak to the historical roots of white terrorism, going back to slavery and Jim Crow.

Instead, he seemingly aimed to promote the perception that the historical threat has been replaced with something new and different. White supremacist violence is a threat that has been with us from the founding of the country, and in that sense, Biden was right to invoke history - but his committed attempts to link this particular threat to the Trump era, and his obscure language, point to an unwillingness to address the issue for what it is.