- President Donald Trump vowed in the wake of this weekend’s two mass shootings to give federal law enforcement “whatever they need” to fight domestic terrorism.
- His comments come as the threat of right-wing extremism continues to grow: The Center for Strategic and International Studies found that attacks by far-right perpetrators more than quadrupled between 2016 and 2017.
- While the president as pledged to counter this problem, the federal government under his watch has cut resources to tackle this issue.
- Instead, the Trump administration has focused its efforts on Islamic extremism.
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President Donald Trump vowed on Monday to give federal law enforcement “whatever they need” to fight domestic terrorism, in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio that left at least 31 dead.
But, following this weekend’s bloodshed, some are sceptical about what is actually being done by the federal government to counter violent threats from white supremacists. Based on statements from prominent lawmakers, recent congressional testimony, and a slate of staff and funding cuts within the Department of Homeland Security, it appears that the government is falling woefully short when it comes to fighting domestic terrorism.
On Monday, in response to the shootings, the two top members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr questioning how the Department of Justice intends to protect citizens from domestic terrorism. It’s a question reverberating across the government, particularly as the threat of right-wing extremism continues to grow: according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, attacks by far-right perpetrators more than quadrupled between 2016 and 2017.
Seth G. Jones, a senior adviser at the Center and author of the report, previously told Business Insider that the rise of far-right extremism is “almost unprecedented.” Other groups have found similar data points, with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism noting that every single extremist killing in 2018 was linked to right-wing extremism. A senior FBI counterterrorism official told CNN in June that the agency has seen a major increase in the number of white supremacist domestic terrorism cases in the last few months.
But, despite a growing threat, resources under the Trump administration appear to be dwindling. During recent congressional testimony, senior FBI officials said they were overseeing around 850 domestic terrorism investigations, compared to about 1,000 investigations the year prior. When Brette Steele, the former regional director of strategic engagement in the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Terrorism and Prevention Partnerships, testified before Congress, she noted major cuts within the agency since 2017.
For instance, while the DHS office handling domestic terrorism “managed $US10 million in grant funding, 16 full-time employees, 25 contractors, and a total budget of approximately $US21 million,” two years ago, today, resources within the office comprise of “no contractors, and no other means of supporting existing programs beyond a team of eight dedicated, full-time employees and an operating budget of $US2.6 million.”
That office, dubbed the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Protection, was announced in April by Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan. But, when NBC News questioned the administration on funding and staffing within the office, the DHS declined to comment, raising concerns among former DHS officials about whether the office will actually be effective.
“You have some very dedicated government employees still at the office dealing with terrorism prevention and just trying to keep the lights on,” Nate Snyder, an Obama administration counterterrorism official, told the Los Angeles Times.
‘The FBI is hamstrung’
In a Sunday night statement, following this weekend’s shootings, FBI Director Christopher Wray said “we will bring the full resources of the FBI to bear in the pursuit of justice for the victims of these crimes.”
But, where are those resources coming from? As Dave Gomez, a former FBI supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases, noted in an interview with the Washington Post, “I believe Christopher A. Wray is an honorable man, but I think in many ways the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white supremacist movement like the old FBI would.”
“There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor,” Gomez added.
Since taking office, the Trump administration has made clear its intentions to focus specifically on Islamic extremism, versus all violent ideologies, with DHS quietly shifting resources away from programs aimed at combatting far-right and white supremacist groups. According to data from the Brennan Center for Justice, within the New York University School of Law, at least 85% of “Countering Violent Extremism” grants explicitly target minority groups, including Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, Black Lives Matter Activists, immigrants, and refugees.
At the same time, organisations that had received grants under Obama to combat extremist ideology in their communities lost funding, and the Trump administration decided earlier this year that it would not be renewing programs to fight domestic terror.
For instance, the White House revoked a federal grant that had been awarded by the previous administration to the nonprofit Life After Hate, which was founded by former extremists to counter violent ideologies and help people leave hate groups. Christian Picciolini, who helped found the group, previously told Business Insider that, at the time, they were the only organisation that had received a federal grant specifically focused on white supremacism. He added that they were never given an official answer as to why the $US400,000 grant was rescinded.
“Government interaction has been limited since the administration changed,” Picciolini said. “We used to have very good connections with people at the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and those connections have become very, very limited.”
Daryl Johnson, a former DHS analyst, told the Washington Post that the government has pulled back grant programs for combating this type of violence at a time when they should be, instead, expanding such efforts.
“We’re in this heightened state of activity where we have mass shootings and bomb plots, and yet there’s no political willpower and everybody seems to be burying their head in the sand rather than try to tackle the issue,” he said.
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, emphasised that point in a Monday statement following Trump’s address on the weekend’s mass shootings.
“Dozens are dead and white supremacist terrorism, for years, is on the rise and is now our top domestic terrorism threat,” Thompson said. “Repugnant anti-immigrant rhetoric and white nationalism simply do not belong here. Those that looked the other way for years – or enabled right-wing extremism for political advantage – are on notice. We must address this very real and present threat. The safety and security of our communities is at stake.”
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