The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Trump’s Homeland Security department gives right-wing extremists a pass

A protester holds a sign in Atlanta on Aug. 19. (Erik S. Lesser/European Pressphoto Agency)

IN THE last days of the Obama presidency, the Department of Homeland Security awarded a $400,000 grant to Life After Hate, a nonprofit dedicated to helping right-wing extremists move away from radical ideas. Five months later, the organization learned that the Trump administration had rescinded its funding. In light of the violence in Charlottesville, this decision appears tragically shortsighted. It also underlines the indifference of President Trump and his administration toward the problem of far-right violence.

The Department of Homeland Security initially announced Life After Hate's grant as part of its program on "Countering Violent Extremism," or CVE — an effort to combat terrorism by building community partnerships to help at-risk youths move away from radical ideas, as an alternative to the harsher tactics of law enforcement. After halting all CVE grants for review following Mr. Trump's inauguration, the department pulled funding from both Life After Hate and a project by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to counter propaganda from both militant Islamists and the far right.

This came after the administration floated plans to reshape CVE as "Countering Islamic Extremism," excluding far-right extremists. This rebranding never materialized — the administration is reportedly considering renaming the program as "Terrorism Prevention." But the reallocation of grant funding away from organizations countering far-right violence suggests that the White House is making good on its intention to focus CVE only on Muslims. And the absence of any CVE funding in the administration's proposed 2018 budget, along with the recent resignation of George Selim, the widely respected official heading the Department of Homeland Security's CVE task force, raises questions about the administration's seriousness in taking on even that limited task.

The murder of Heather Heyer, who was mowed down in the aftermath of the far-right gathering in Charlottesville, was a brutal reminder that militant Islamists are not the only violent group in the United States. A recent report by the FBI and Department of Homeland Security emphasized that white- supremacist organizations were responsible for more homicides between 2000 and 2016 than "any other domestic extremist movement."

CVE is far from perfect. It has faced pervasive criticism from both sides of the political spectrum. And even under President Barack Obama, it gave little attention beyond lip service to countering ideologies other than militant Islamism. But the choice to exclude the far right from CVE, together with Mr. Trump’s reluctance to condemn white supremacy following Ms. Heyer’s death, makes a powerful statement about which violence this administration finds worthy of attention and condemnation and which violence it does not.

In response to Charlottesville, Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), along with 23 other senators, has requested information from Homeland Security on its handling of the grant program and its monitoring of far-right violence. Members of the House have made similar calls for both data and hearings on the matter. The department should provide the information they ask for — and the legislative branch should continue to pursue strong oversight of this issue in the absence of moral leadership from the president.

Read more on this topic:

Wajahat Ali: Trump’s double standard for white supremacists and Muslims

Cecillia Wang: Trump’s most recent shout to white supremacists: I’m with you

Catherine Rampell: Trump’s lasting legacy is to embolden an entirely new generation of racists

Nathan Gardels: White supremacy is a lost cause

The Post’s View: Remember Heather Heyer