DHS Commits to Addressing White Supremacist Violence

October 10, 2019

On September 20, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) unveiled the Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence at an event co-hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the Brookings Institution. There, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan spoke about DHS’s approach to “an evolving threat environment” which seeks “to incite violence in our nation’s youth, disenfranchised, and disaffected, in order to attack their fellow citizens and fray at the seams of our diverse social fabric.” The event marked the first time a cabinet level official of the Trump Administration addressed the threat of white supremacist terrorism. DHS’s new Strategic Framework is a useful first step toward addressing this evolving threat to our national security.

In the document, DHS outlined four goals: 

  • Develop and implement specialized knowledge of the threat environment
  • Prevent terrorists and other hostile actors from entering the U.S.
  • Prevent terrorism and targeted violence
  • Enhance U.S. infrastructure protections and community preparedness

The Strategic Framework also included a homeland security threat assessment tool and a call for community partnerships. In his address at Brookings, Acting Secretary McAlaneen said, “The continued menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population, and the core values of both our society and our department. It has no place in the United States of America, and we will work to defeat it.”

A Strategic Framework is necessary to address resurgent white supremacy. In recent years, federal agencies have explicitly acknowledged it as a growing threat. In 2006, the FBI circulated an internal memo that detailed the threat of white supremacists infiltrating law enforcement. In 2009, DHS published an intelligence study warning of the “resurgence” of “rightwing extremism.” In 2017, the FBI and DHS published a joint intelligence bulletin warning of the growing threat from white supremacists. While the President continues to ignore and downplay the threat of white supremacy, Acting Sec. McAleenan’s speech acknowledged the threat and the need to combat it.

In the same years those federal reports were published, the FBI and DOJ focused a disproportionate amount of their agencies’ attention on “homegrown violent extremist” terrorism despite a global rise in white supremacist terrorist violence. The vast majority of “homegrown violent extremist” investigations effectively securitize the American Muslim community by over-policing American Muslims and abusing tools like surveillance, wiretapping and sting operations. 

The new Strategic Framework analyzes “white supremacist violent extremism” as merely one form of domestic terrorism. However, the growing connections between white supremacists in America and around the world prove that white supremacy is a transnational threat. Conflating white supremacist terrorism with domestic terrorism only serves to racialize the criminal justice system in the United States.

The threat of white supremacist terrorism is felt by the broader society, and it impacts all communities beyond where they congregate, so DHS’s response to white supremacist terrorism must also go beyond the safety and security of houses of worship. The plans proposed in the Strategic Framework suggest that DHS recognizes the scope of this threat. 

This past August, we released our white paper titled “The White Supremacist Threat to America.” The paper offers five recommendations for federal agencies responding to white supremacist terrorism, including mandates for greater internal research and oversight of FBI and DOJ practice. We are committed to ensuring that the recommendations in the paper are part of any federal response to white supremacist terrorism. 

We have also been working to ensure mosque safety and security through our presence on the interfaith task force convened by Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz and the DHS Task Force on the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Houses of Worship. Through these engagements, we are committed to making sure that policies and practices at the federal, state and local levels take into account concerns of American Muslim communities. 



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