Department of Homeland Security officials reacted with fury to a Daily Beast story Tuesday saying that the agency “has disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism.”
The article renewed fears that the reported action was another Trump administration ploy to downplay violence by white nationalists.
DHS hit back, in writing and by phone, insisting that the story was inaccurate.
The unit has not been disbanded, said David J. Glawe, DHS undersecretary for intelligence and analysis, but restructured to be more efficient.
“I set up the current- and emerging-threat centers to focus online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, looking at the deep Web, the surface Web to identify those threats,” he said during an interview. “And this year alone, I’m up over 40 percent of identifying threats to persons or property from that capability,” which provides leads to law enforcement nationally. “That capability did not exist in the department.”
Glawe said “right-wing extremists are a threat” to the country, but President Trump has minimized the danger. That attitude can have policy consequences and makes otherwise routine bureaucratic moves suspect.
The House Judiciary Committee will examine hate crimes and rising white nationalism at a hearing Tuesday. The hearing follows years of frustration for Democratic lawmakers, who sent letters to Trump officials requesting information on “hate crimes, the targeted surveillance of minority communities, and the growing threat of white supremacy and right wing extremism,” according to the committee. “To date, the administration has provided little or no substantive response.”
Unfortunately for professionals such as Glawe, who has more than 26 years in national security and law enforcement, any changes to the government’s approach to domestic terrorism is framed by Trump’s racism.
The president will forever be shamed by his coddling of a racist, anti-Semitic mob in Charlottesville after the 2017 killing of Heather Heyer. She protested the white supremacists who spewed anti-Jewish chants and supported the traitorous Confederacy. Thirty-five other people were wounded when a neo-Nazi supporter ran them down with his car. Yet Trump said there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
Then, last month, Trump expressed doubts that white nationalismis a growing problem, despite evidence to the contrary, after the massacre of 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand. Asked whether he sees white nationalism as a rising international threat, Trump said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.” A white supremacist who proclaimed his support for Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose” is charged in the shooting.
“Tragically,” said Rep. Robin L. Kelly (D-Ill.) in a statement about domestic terrorism legislation, “this Administration has done nothing but embolden white supremacists and their disgusting ilk.”
Armed with data, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) does not minimize the threat. “We are in a climate where white supremacists are emboldened like never before,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, ADL’s CEO and national director. He accused Trump of using language “right out of the white supremacist playbook.”
ADL’s research tells the tale of rising and deadly right-wing action.
“In 2018 alone, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S., the fourth-deadliest year on record for domestic extremist-related killings since 1970,” an ADL statement said. “The overwhelming majority of those murders were committed by right-wing extremists.”
Between 2009 and 2018, right-wing extremists were responsible for almost 75 percent of the 427 extremism-related killings in the U.S., according to ADL, compared with less than a quarter tied to Islamist extremists.
The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee wonders whether federal law enforcement priorities reflect what the data shows. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the chairman, said the committee will examine whether the government is giving white extremism the attention it deserves. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, did not respond to a request for comment.
Thompson is concerned that Trump’s comments have “lowered the interest” of law enforcement in acts of white nationalist violence “by trying to minimize acts like in Charlottesville and other acts by right-wing groups in this country. So, I think words do matter.”
Evidence for that concern and proof that words matter is the administration’s National Strategy for Counterterrorism, issued in October with a cover letter by Trump. Islamist terrorism is referred to more than two dozen times in 25 pages. The strategy, however, makes no mention at all of white nationalism or right-wing extremism.
Thompson and others worry about the federal Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) program, which Thompson said “is kind of just limping along.”
CVE grants to state and local governments were administered by the DHS Office of Community Partnerships, which has taken a hit under Trump, according to George Selim, a former director of the office. He is now ADL’s senior vice president for programs. During the Obama administration’s last year, Selim’s office had a budget of more than $21 million, and 16 full-time employees and about 25 contractors, said an ADL statement. Under Trump, the budget fell to less than $3 million, with staffing down to eight or fewer full-time employees.
DHS acknowledged that the administration did not request grant funding for fiscal 2018, 2019 and 2020.
A Nov. 27, 2018, letter from Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), now chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, asked DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen about “the scope of existing ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ programs” and changing the program’s focus to Muslims and relabeling it as “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.”
DHS replied with a statement to the Federal Insider that said: “At no time has DHS re-labeled these efforts or changed the purpose of the efforts to focus solely on one type of ideological violence. As previously stated, we believe strongly in supporting programs that address radicalization to violence regardless of ideological drivers.”
Outside experts are not convinced, because of Trump.
What Trump demonstrates is a “complete inability to process the fact that we have a terrorism threat that’s coming from white supremacists and also that it’s a global threat,” said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremists and their organizations.
The government lacks “an intelligence infrastructure outside our borders to consider this threat in that context,” she added, “and we don't seem to have very much willpower inside our borders to think of white supremacist terrorism on a par with Islamic extremism.”
Legislation introduced by Sen. Richard J. Durbin and Rep. Bradley Schneider, both Democrats from Illinois, along with Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.) and Kelly would require federal law enforcement to analyze domestic terrorism cases and assess threats presented by white supremacists.
“Violent white supremacists and other far-right extremists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States today,” Durbin said. “For too long, we have failed to take action to combat the deadly threat in our own backyard.”