Merrick Garland Ready to Take on Domestic Extremists

The man most famous for getting screwed out of a Supreme Court seat has a more interesting backstory.

Bloomberg (“Garland Pledges to Prosecute ‘Heinous Attack’ on the Capitol“):

Merrick Garland, President Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general, is pledging he’ll take the lead in prosecuting participants in the mob that attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6.

“If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland said in an opening statement prepared for his confirmation hearing on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Garland also signaled he’ll make decisions independently from Biden. “The president nominates the attorney general to be the lawyer — not for any individual, but for the people of the United States,” he said in the brief prepared testimony of less than three pages.


In the testimony released Saturday night, Garland indicated that, if confirmed, he’ll seek to restore policies and practices the department developed before the Trump administration, including those that the nominee said protect the agency “from partisan influence in law enforcement investigations,” those that “strictly regulate” communications with the White House and those that respect the professionalism of career employees.

Just getting a hearing for the cabinet post will be vindication for Garland almost five years after Senate Republicans blocked consideration of his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama. This time, Garland has bipartisan support and is expected to be confirmed.

The Jan. 6 insurrection has only added to a roster of politically charged issues that Garland will be asked about when he finally has his confirmation hearing.

The report covers more from Garland’s responses, which strike me as exactly right for the moment. While it covers social justice and other issues, the “insurrection” and right-wing extremism, especially, are likely the toughest challenge the new Attorney General will face. And Garland is uniquely qualified to take them on.

NYT (“Merrick Garland Faces Resurgent Peril After Years Fighting Extremism“):

Judge Merrick B. Garland always made a point of wearing a coat and tie when he surveyed the wreckage at the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the worst domestic terrorist attack in American history.

He had been dispatched from Washington to oversee the case for the Justice Department, and he told colleagues that he viewed his daily uniform as a gesture of respect for a community left devastated after Timothy J. McVeigh placed a 7,000-pound bomb in a Ryder truck and blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people, including 19 children.

“It really looked like a war zone,” Judge Garland said in recalling the destroyed and still-smoldering building, part of an oral history he participated in for the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum. “The site was lit up like a sun, like the middle of the day.” The worst part, he said, was seeing the demolished day care center. “There was nothing there,” he said. “It was just a big empty concave.” His own daughters were 4 and 2 at the time.

The Oklahoma City case, he later said, was “the most important thing I have ever done in my life.”

When President Biden nominated Judge Garland last month to be attorney general, the news conjured up his ordeal in 2016 as President Barack Obama’s thwarted nominee to the Supreme Court. But Judge Garland’s experience prosecuting domestic terrorism cases in the 1990s was the formative work of his career, from the nuances of federal statutes down to the feeling of broken glass crunching beneath his dress shoes.

The man has now met the moment. At his Senate confirmation hearings starting on Monday, he will almost certainly be asked about the Department of Homeland Security’s warning that the United States faces a growing threat from “violent domestic extremists” and that the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol may not have been an isolated episode. In a strange, or perhaps fateful, turn of events, the news leaked that Judge Garland was Mr. Biden’s pick for attorney general only hours before the deadly riot. Mr. Biden formally nominated him for the position the next day.

“He has seen this hatred up close and in a very personal way,” said Donna Bucella, a former Justice Department investigator who worked with Judge Garland in Oklahoma City. In the oral history, Judge Garland recalled the “stone cold” demeanor of Mr. McVeigh and his chilling absence of emotion. “There was just no indication from him that he had any feelings about what had just happened,” Judge Garland said.

Judge Garland has been a Court of Appeals judge for the District of Columbia Circuit since 1997, and in Washington, he is known as a centrist whose congenial manner places him stylistically at odds with an era that might require more prosecutorial zeal. But friends said no one should mistake his gentleness for softness, and point out that he was part of the Justice Department team that sought the death penalty for Mr. McVeigh, who was executed by lethal injection in Terre Haute, Ind., in 2001.

In addition to Oklahoma City, Judge Garland supervised high-profile cases that included Theodore J. Kaczynski (a.k.a. the Unabomber) and the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. “The militias and the right-wing terrorists whom we encountered in the 1990s were a foreshadowing of the groups you saw storming the Capitol,” said Jamie Gorelick, who as deputy attorney general under President Bill Clinton was Judge Garland’s immediate boss at the Justice Department. “Their literature is the same, their tattoos are similar, and their language is similar.”

Judge Garland will take over what prosecutors are calling the biggest, most complex investigation in Justice Department history, the Capitol assault that led to the second impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. So far there have been at least 230 arrests connected to the riot, but federal officials are investigating as many as 500 people in all. Prosecutors have brought five major cases involving 11 members of the Proud Boys, a far-right nationalist group that was out in force at the Capitol. Nine members of the Oath Keepers militia group have been charged with conspiring to stop the congressional certification of Mr. Biden’s victory.

“There’s an undercurrent in this country that has waxed and waned over the decades with people who do not believe in the federal government,” said Michael Chertoff, a former Justice Department official who served as the secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush. Mr. Chertoff called the nature of today’s threat “strikingly similar” to what Judge Garland confronted, but also distinct. Guns and other weaponry have grown in abundance and sophistication. Social media has allowed for terrorist networks to communicate and expand rapidly.

There’s quite a bit more there but it’s interesting that the 68-year-old longtime judge is essentially going back to his roots, relying on experiences that made his career a quarter-century ago.

When his name was floated for this post, I feared that the Republicans who cynically refused to give him a hearing for the Supreme Court seat five years ago would see the nomination as a poke in the eye. Thankfully, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Democracy, Law and the Courts, Terrorism, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    “Garland Pledges to Prosecute ‘Heinous Attack’ on the Capitol“

    That pledge alone will cost him 30 R votes. After all, these are real Americans and patriots that he says he will prosecute.

    Garland is eminently qualified and has a perspective of the role of the DoJ that is historically consistent with AG over the last 50 years. The exceptions being John Mitchell and Robert Barr.

    He should be overwhelming approved, but he won’t.

  2. Liberal Capitalist says:

    “If confirmed, I will supervise the prosecution of white supremacists and others who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 — a heinous attack that sought to disrupt a cornerstone of our democracy: the peaceful transfer of power to a newly elected government,” Garland said…

    The question that matters: Can you really expect to punish the white supremist and insurrectionists when the state level GOP organizations are making it more than clear that White Supremist and Insurrectionists are core to their belief (as indicated by these who have censured their Senators for voting for impeachment of Trump)?

    The poison of insurrection and racism is living next door, believing that they are right and valid.

    Not until their own “conservative” party rejects and renounces the actions of the final months of the Trump administration will there be the hope of change.

    I fear that the GOP is beyond that and the hope for that to happen has spun away from the orbit of expectations.

    The Trumpists are still grasping at anything that validates their beliefs. Garland doing this will be seen as “cancel culture” by the Trumpists and just another example of how the Dems have lost their way.

    CPAC will reinforce this for them, with Trump taking his victory lap. Be prepared for the beatification of the insurrectionists as patriots justified in their actions.


  3. Gustopher says:

    In addition to Oklahoma City, Judge Garland supervised high-profile cases that included Theodore J. Kaczynski (a.k.a. the Unabomber) and the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996.

    I hope he gets some questions about Richard Jewell — the Atlanta Olympics bombing case was fucked up pretty royally.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: While certainly adjacent, pandering to white nationalists is a whole different thing than plotting acts of violence.

    @Gustopher: My memory is pretty hazy but my recollection is that Jewell was perfectly reasonably a “person of interest” and the issue was mostly the media demonizing him publicly before the investigation was allowed to run its course.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: It does look like Garland acted appropriately.

    WaPo (2016):

    An internal Justice Department report examined complaints surrounding the FBI’s interview of security guard Richard Jewell, whose name was leaked as a potential suspect. And it found that Garland, who was not in charge of the case, repeatedly urged that Jewell be given his Miranda rights and complained to his bosses­ after learning that FBI agents had used a ruse, telling Jewell erroneously that the interview was being taped for training purposes.

    NYT (2010):

    The Olympics investigation was marred by the early intense focus on — and leaking to reporters about — Richard A. Jewell, a security guard who had discovered the bomb. Mr. Jewell was eventually exonerated and Attorney General Janet Reno apologized for the leak.

    But J. Gilmore Childers, a prosecutor who worked alongside Mr. Garland in Oklahoma City and who led the Justice Department’s handling of security issues for the 1996 Olympics, said it was investigators in Atlanta, not Mr. Garland, who bore the blame.

    “It wasn’t a supervisory issue from Washington,” said Mr. Childers, who is now the second-ranking federal prosecutor in New Jersey. “Sometimes that is where screw-ups happen, but it wasn’t in this case.”

  6. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    “It wasn’t a supervisory issue from Washington,” said Mr. Childers, who is now the second-ranking federal prosecutor in New Jersey. “Sometimes that is where screw-ups happen, but it wasn’t in this case.”

    I think there are reasonable questions to ask about how Garland attempted to reign in the investigation, how the FBI handled the situation after the leak, etc.

    If what you’ve quoted is born out larger, then he will do fine and should be confirmed.

    “Overseeing the Centennial Park Bombing” is one of those things that should be a big warning sign to stop and look closely. Not as bad as “oversaw the FBI during the Ruby Ridge standoff” would be but there were definite abuses and missteps.

  7. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Sleeping Dog: That’s my take, too. And, yes, nominating him as AG was a poke in the eye for people who wouldn’t give him a hearing 5 years ago. Add the two together and I end up hoping that I’m wrong.

  8. Bill says:

    Garland wasn’t screwed out of anything- they let him down without having to savage him in hearings, which is much more classy than making up testimony and embarrassing him and his family.
    I wonder if he’ll bother with those who actually cause death and destruction en masse- but aren’t thought to be right wingers, or is this going to be sort of media supported vengeance?

  9. Thomm says:

    @Bill: awww. Did your little drunkie have to face down being told that he was a slime all as a youth? Maybe he has changed his way with women, but he sure showed how petulant he is by nature.
    I dunno. I watched in real time as your ilk broke into congressional offices, tazed themselves in the nuts, beat on cops while waving thin blue line flags, and smeared shit on the walls of the capitol building (good metaphor that). I gotta give you guys a hand though. 5-7 deaths (if you count the captiol police suicides) in two hours or so was a lot more efficient than the ones spread out over the summer.

  10. Liberal Capitslist says:

    @James Joyner: you.

    …pandering to white nationalists is a whole different thing than plotting acts of violence.

    History tends to disagree with you.

    White nationalism leads to violence, lawlessness and murder.

    Uncecked racism leads to genocide.

    The GOP as it stands today is lost.

    Garland, as an outsider of the GOP, will have no impact on the direction of the party no matter what actions he may take if appointed.

    As long as there is a Trump and Trumpists that follow in the GOP, there are no positive changes thst will take place.

    Look to the actions of the party, the laws being proposed at the state level, the commentary of even the more sane right leaning forums…. it is swirling down the drain, and they are looking on with glee and excitement.

    The GOP has become anarchy.

  11. liberal capitalist says:

    I am in purgatory. Please releas eme.

  12. Bill says:

    Comment in violation of site policies deleted.

  13. Thomm says:

    @Bill: sorry…I don’t cry about traitors chocking to death on their own blood, no matter if they are a woman or a vet. Sure as hell slowed down the crowd she was with long enough for congress and the vp to evacuate.
    Guess she should have just complied, amirite?

    So..who exactly do you mean by “violent and criminally inclined people”? I can hear the dogwhistle, I just want to see if you have the courage to say, “what a lot of people think” like the drug addict who likes Dominican hookers did when he was alive.

    Btw. Most terrorist attacks have been from the militia movement over the past few years.

  14. DrDaveT says:


    I wonder if he’ll bother with those who actually cause death and destruction en masse

    You mean the Trump administration? We can only hope.

  15. Gustopher says:


    yeah….5-7 deaths is just foreplay for the antifags/bowel movement crowd.

    I honestly thought you were referring to Westboro Baptist Church for a second there, buddy. We don’t speak wing nut here, so you may want to take a moment to translate your thoughts into English for the normies.

    Also, could you get another name? There was a Bill here a while back that most of us liked, and it’s disappointing to see antifags and shit like that under his name.

  16. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Yeah. For about half a post I wondered if Bill might have gotten a reprieve. By the second post, it was clear that it’s someone else even more vile than the original Bill–who I did not particularly like.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    The creeps are trying to creep back in, JKB, Drew, etc… They were too gutless during the insurrection. Now they think it’s safe. Like slavers after the Civil War, they’re trying to pump air into this latest Lost Cause myth.

    It’s tough when you’re both a member of the Master Race and also a loser. One needs a mythology to excuse one’s own failure. The alternative would be facing reality.

  18. Bill says:

    @Thomm: it’s not pc to actually say what we all know, anyone who denies the sheer violence and criminality of them is just enabling them. The FBI keeps stats on crime, take a gander and then tell us how afraid you really need to be of these so called “white supremacists”.
    And try to remember the body count and damage caused by the “peaceful protesters” during the summer- don’t forget the looting either, or the encouraging words they got from top Democrats.
    Again, I’m glad that you have high expectations of Republicans and feel the need to call the few bad apples , try keeping the same standards with Democrats, it’s not difficult.

  19. cappy ern says:

    he should take on the 45 repugnican domestic extremists occupying the senate