Another way to measure the severity of the problem is to gauge reaction from groups that address white nationalist terrorism and, more generally, threats to democracies. In the latter category, the international human rights watchdog Freedom House put out an extraordinary statement:
“We are deeply saddened by the terrible events of the past weekend. We must recognize and combat growing white nationalist terrorism in the United States and elsewhere,” said Mike Abramowitz, president of Freedom House. “White nationalist ideology, which is the apparent motive behind the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, threatens the social fabric of this democracy, and of other places around the world where it has found a home.”“President Trump was correct to renounce racism and white supremacy this morning. At the same time, we call on him to refrain from further heated rhetoric about Latinos, immigrants, and members of nonwhite ethnic groups that fans the flames of this hate.”
A Freedom House official told me that rarely does the organization address a U.S. domestic issue. “When we do, it is because we feel like the actions of our leaders are threatening the very fabric of our democracy,” she said. “This is a moment like that.”
In addition, the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, a former Republican New Jersey governor, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, told USA Today that the country would benefit from an independent commission. Nevertheless, “both 9/11 leaders cautioned that the investigation they led benefited enormously from public and political support summoned in the aftermath of a catastrophic strike by foreign-born terrorists–a show of national and sustained unity that has yet to emerge from even the most deadly domestic attacks.”
Meanwhile, the ADL, whose mission is fighting hate groups and prejudice, did not mince words. ADL chief executive and national director Jonathan Greenblatt told MSNBC interviewers, “We are facing something very unique. Every marginalized community in our country is under attack. ... We have never had a moment like this before.” He said without equivocation in a CNN interview that Trump’s rhetoric contains the “staples of white supremacist rhetoric” and that white nationalists have been “emboldened” under this president.
The ADL called for legislative action on two fronts. “ADL is calling on Congress to pass the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019, which would authorize domestic terrorism offices and units in [the Department of Homeland Security], [Justice Department] and the FBI, require federal law enforcement agencies to regularly assess right-wing extremist threats, and provide resources to assist state and local law enforcement to reduce these threats.” It also urged Congress to take up the Domestic Terrorism DATA Act, “which focuses on increasing the coordination, accountability and transparency of the federal government in collecting and recording data on domestic terrorism, and the No Hate Act — which seeks to improve local and state hate crime training, prevention, best practices, and data collection initiatives.”
The only ones not treating this as an urgent matter are Republican lawmakers, who show no sign of returning from summer recess, and the president, who did not in his address to the country call for action on anti-domestic-terrorism bills on gun safety or on fully funding federal law enforcement’s domestic anti-terrorism operations. Ironically, for a president who whips up phony national emergencies (which, not coincidentally, are based on instilling fear of immigrants), he has no capacity to deal with a real one. At a moral and national security inflection point that those well versed in terrorism and democracy understand, the president is AWOL. Worse, he’s a culprit.