After Capitol Insurrection, Lawmakers Look At How To Stop A Future Attack : Consider This from NPR Just because the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump is done, it doesn't mean the story of what happened on Jan. 6 at the U.S. Capitol is over.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to set up a commission, similar to the one created after the Sept. 11 attacks, to investigate what happened that day and what measures might prevent a future attack. That's not so easy in this moment, when Congress is often gridlocked over the most basic things. And when lawmakers themselves are also witnesses to the attack — and make partisan arguments about what motivated the Trump extremists who were involved.

NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam was at the Capitol the day it was attacked. She shares how her beat and coverage of domestic extremism has changed over the years, from when she was a teenager living in Oklahoma City during the 1995 bombing to present day. You can follow more of her work here.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

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The Challenge To Stop The Next Outbreak Of Homegrown, Extremist Violence In The U.S.

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The Challenge To Stop The Next Outbreak Of Homegrown, Extremist Violence In The U.S.

The Challenge To Stop The Next Outbreak Of Homegrown, Extremist Violence In The U.S.

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/970242868/971564241" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Just because the impeachment trial is done, it doesn't mean the story of what happened on January 6 in the nation's Capitol is over.

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THOMAS KEAN: You can't have people invade the nation's Capitol and not find out what happened.

CORNISH: That's Thomas Kean. And recently, he had a long chat with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Kean said Pelosi had questions about the 9/11 Commission.

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KEAN: And you set up a commission that has the confidence of the people. And we had to earn that confidence. We didn't get it right away.

CORNISH: Kean, a Republican and former governor of New Jersey, was a co-chair of that group. And the commission's work led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and radically changed airport security, among other things.

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KEAN: If you make the process public - we had public hearings. As we went along and found out things, we told people what we'd found out. We told them where we were in the investigation. We brought everybody along with us, including the Congress and the people. So by the time we got to the end of the investigation, we had some credibility.

CORNISH: Pelosi wants to do something similar, and that's not so easy in this moment when Congress is often gridlocked over the most basic things and when lawmakers themselves are also witnesses to the attack in question and have partisan ideas of what motivated the Trump supporters who were involved. Take this week.

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ROY BLUNT: Why would it take an hour to approve National Guard assistance on your part?

CORNISH: In a joint committee hearing, Republican Senator Roy Blunt was among those who grilled the law enforcement chiefs in charge on January 6. In the coming weeks and months, there will be more hearings like this one, in part because there's a very real concern that something like this could happen again.

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GARY PETERS: I've worked to draw attention to the rising threat of domestic terrorism, including the rise of insidious ideologies of white supremacy, anti-government militias and now QAnon conspiracies.

CORNISH: That's Democrat and Senator Gary Peters. He heads the Senate committee focused on Homeland Security.

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PETERS: These ideologies are intertwined in numerous ways. And on January 6, we saw just how quickly they can shift from online communities to committing organized violent attacks in the real world.

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - the goal of a congressional investigation is to stop the next outbreak of homegrown extremist violence. Our national security correspondent Hannah Allam weighs in on what will make that so challenging. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Thursday, February 25.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. A political commission into what happened on January 6 is not the same as a federal prosecution. That's the attorney general's job, otherwise known as the nation's top cop. And President Biden wants Merrick Garland for that position.

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DICK DURBIN: Judge Garland, will you please stand to be sworn? Do you affirm that the testimony you're about to give...

CORNISH: Now, you've heard a lot about Garland because of the way Senate Republicans refused to take up his nomination to the Supreme Court. You might not have heard as much about why he's qualified for this job.

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MERRICK GARLAND: That the cause of the explosion at the Murrah Building was a bomb that was placed inside a Ryder truck, which was parked inside of the building.

CORNISH: Now, this is the voice of Garland back in 1995, back when he was leading the investigation into the Oklahoma City bombing, a bombing that killed 168 people, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism to this day. Garland's department pursued and got the death penalty for Timothy McVeigh, the far-right, anti-government militant behind it. This week, Merrick Garland drew a direct line from that history to the present day.

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GARLAND: I supervised the prosecution of the perpetrators of the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building who sought to spark a revolution that would topple the federal government. If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on January 6, a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy.

CORNISH: Garland told the senators that battling extremist attacks are, quote, "central to the department's mission."

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CORNISH: In 1995, Hannah Allam was a teenager living in Oklahoma City.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: I was in high school. We felt it that morning in English class.

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TOM BROKAW: A massive car bomb exploded outside of a large federal building in downtown Oklahoma City, shattering that...

ALLAM: That was my first experience with far-right domestic extremism, domestic terrorism - was the Murrah Building and, you know, our high school on lockdown and our parents trapped downtown and the images of the facade of the Murrah Building sheared off by the bomb.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: You know, you hope and you pray that every time you turn a stone, there'll be a survivor somewhere. It hurts deep down.

ALLAM: When I go home to Oklahoma, I drive through Oklahoma City, and there's a building missing in the skyline, you know? That's always there.

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CORNISH: Hannah Allam became a journalist. She moved overseas to cover the war in Iraq and the rise of Islamist extremist groups.

ALLAM: And then I came back here, and I covered it from a foreign policy and domestic national security policy perspective.

CORNISH: But then her focus shifted to what the FBI now acknowledges as the greatest terrorist threat to the U.S. - homegrown far-right extremism, not unlike what she saw as a teenager in Oklahoma City. And it's what she's been covering for NPR the past two years.

ALLAM: I think at first, it was seen as, you know, a pop-up beat. You know, we'll cover some of this stuff for now. But with each month, it sort of became more relevant, more newsy, more topical and, you know, sort of culminating in what we saw January 6.

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CORNISH: Allam was there at the Capitol on January 6, reporting from the crowd outside.

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CORNISH: She was also in Richmond two weeks later for Lobby Day. That's a yearly gun rights rally at the state Capitol building where, Hannah says, in the past, extremist groups have gathered.

ALLAM: And they yell about armed revolution and fighting government tyranny. And the cops kind of look on and, you know, let them blow off some steam, and then everybody goes home. And they don't make arrests. That's typically how it unfolded. I was wondering, just given the tensions and kind of public demands for accountability and the outrage after the Capitol attack, I was like, surely that's not going to happen this time. Something will happen. Something will be different.

CORNISH: Did you think that people would show up - like, an armed mob would show up similar to January 6?

ALLAM: I wasn't sure. I knew the big, more organized groups had pledged to stay home. So that's even a little scarier because it meant that only the seriously militant, the provocateurs might be the only ones showing up.

CORNISH: Who did show up?

ALLAM: Boogaloo Boys and the press.

CORNISH: Remind people who the Boogaloo Boys are, just briefly.

ALLAM: There's really sort of no cohesive ideology. They're known for wearing brightly colored Hawaiian print shirts and carrying big guns. It's more of an aesthetic than an actual group or a movement.

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MIKE DUNN: We're here openly carrying in pure defiance of this unconstitutional city ordinance. We're rocking bags...

ALLAM: One of them, a well-known Boogaloo figure named Mike Dunn, got on the bullhorn and said things like this.

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DUNN: The only answer to our problem, the only answer to this governmental infringement is armed revolt. And I'm proudly guilty of sedition.

ALLAM: Here's Dunn, this guy, calling for a violent armed revolt, armed in defiance of a local ordinance outside a Capitol building not two weeks after the January 6 attack.

CORNISH: And the police - what's the response?

ALLAM: Well, if there was a different playbook for dealing with extremists threatening violence after January 6, Richmond didn't get the memo. They pretty much just did what I've seen them do before, which is, you know, watch closely, sort of just let them march around. They preened for cameras.

Journalists outnumbered militants that day, and that was the other weird dimension. So before January 6, this could be a pretty lonely beat. Only a handful of reporters might show up to an event like that. But on that day, after the Capitol siege, international press came to Richmond. And so that huge media presence for a tiny group of angry young men speaks to the way we can - you know, our work can enlighten and expose but also platform and amplify the violent fringe.

CORNISH: Were there any consequences for holding up their weapons, taunting the police? What happened after that?

ALLAM: No, not that day. We saw them a little later enjoying burgers and beers at a restaurant downtown.

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CORNISH: There was a time when the focus of media organizations, of national security entities, when it came to the idea of terrorism, that that focus was on the Muslim world - right? - after 9/11. That became kind of the dominant narrative. And in recent years, this conversation has started to shift. When did you see that shift?

ALLAM: Some would argue that it hasn't really shifted enough yet. Certainly there were all those years of sort of the Muslim bogeyman. And, you know, Muslims were sort of vilified as a group, and there wasn't a lot of care and distinction between the extremist fringe and life as it's experienced for millions and millions of ordinary Muslims around the world. And it really was - I mean, I would say it's still the primary focus of much of the national security apparatus, is the Islamist threat, the far threat, the overseas threat, the potential for groups like ISIS and al-Qaida to come to the United States and launch attacks. That has been, you know, the whole focus of the national security apparatus, even though the FBI for many years now has said that the far-right threat, the violent right, is the deadliest and the most active threat. That idea of Muslims as terrorists, they sort of had a lock on that term of that - on that label. That persisted and, in some circles, still persists.

CORNISH: What have you learned about whether or not the threat from left-wing groups - essentially, how it compares to what is starting to develop in right-wing extremism?

ALLAM: By any metric, there's just no comparison. I mean, it's a totally lopsided picture. The FBI says the extreme right is the deadliest and most active threat in the United States and has been for some time. In comparison, the leftist threat barely registers in terms of fatality, that kind of thing. You know, that being said, domestic terrorism analysts are worrying that they are going to see a hardening of the left, more groups like these, you know, kind of armed antifascist groups springing up. But as of now, there's just - there's no comparison of the threat.

CORNISH: As you go forward doing this work, can you give me two questions you're going to be asking, two things that you think are worth keeping an eye on as - for people who want to follow this issue?

ALLAM: I think the mainstreaming of extremism is the - is kind of the story. And to me, I'll be looking at how the government, law enforcement and the public sorts people, sorts - you know, how do we think about this threat? Who is an extremist at a time when, you know, a sitting president was deplatformed for promoting hate, violent ideologies, conspiracy theories? That kind of says it. You know, the line between mainstream and fringe has vanished. And so how do you even determine who's an extremist, who's a violent extremist, who should be policed, who shouldn't? I mean, these are all kinds of debates that I think are going to be unfolding as law enforcement does take a harder look at some of these groups and as the public outrage by January 6 starts demanding that law enforcement take a closer look.

CORNISH: That's NPR national security correspondent Hannah Allam. And to follow her work, you can find her Twitter handle in our show notes.

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CORNISH: You're listening to CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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