The Department of Homeland Security was created specifically after the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks to do everything possible to protect the nation from future assaults within our borders by radical terrorists.
Yet, according to an article in The Daily Beast, the DHS has all but abandoned any effort to deal with domestic terrorism, a phenomenon primarily conducted by right-wing extremists, to focus almost exclusively on the issue of illegal immigration, one of President Trump’s signature campaign issues and the source of his relentless fear-mongering at political rallies and on social media.
Yesterday, just days after two of the most frightening instances of domestic terrorism in U.S. history took place — the shooting deaths of eleven people at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the attempted assassination of the senior leadership of the Democratic party with pipe bombs — the DHS’s Homeland Security Advisory Council held a conference call where none of these incidents were even mentioned.
Instead, the call centered exclusively on the supposed imminent threat posed by a caravan of refugees seeking asylum from the deadly violence in their home countries in Central America, violence that was significantly the result of decades of American policy in the region. Some participants in the discussions on the call were flabbergasted by the department’s failure to bring up the more immediate threat posed by white-supremacist and anti-Semitic domestic terrorists.
“In the world of homeland security, the common practice is to focus on those threats that present the greatest risk,” said John Cohen, a Rutgers professor and former senior official in the Department of Homeland Security focused on counterterror. “So it’s disconcerting that in a call with national law enforcement and homeland security experts, the focus would be on the caravan versus the increasing number of mass casualty attacks the country’s experiencing, including by white extremists.”
According to The Daily Beast, “as the country reels from the latest spate of white supremacist murder, nine law-enforcement veterans say that combating violent white supremacy simply isn’t a top focus for the federal agencies mandated to protect Americans from terrorism.” The publication cites five DHS veterans as admitting that the agency has ceded responsibility for domestic terrorism to the FBI which, unlike the DHS, has multiple other priorities to deal with.
Under the Trump administration, the DHS has undermined the operations of the only government interagency task force dedicated to preventing radicalization of domestic terrorists, with white supremacists among its targets.
“What we’ve lost here is the creation of infrastructure to prevent the threats of the future,” said George Selim, a former senior Department of Homeland Security official who ran the task force before retiring last year.
His former colleague at the DHS, John Cohen, expressed his frustration with the current leadership of the agency and their failure to take responsibility for the most pressing and deadly issue facing the nation.
“We know what the problem is, but every time there’s another one of these attacks all we hear is, ‘Oh, this is shocking, this is horrible, our prayers are with the people, who would have imagined this ever would have happened?’ I think that was the exact quote from the president—‘This was unimaginable.’ No, it’s very imaginable because it’s happening on a regular basis in this country. We’re just not doing enough to stop it.”
Cohen’s opinion is backed up by an analysis of Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen’s public statements since she took office last December. Nielsen has mentioned Islamist terrorist groups at least 16 times since assuming her position, but has only discussed white supremacist terror four times, three times in response to Democrats in Congress who had urged her to make right-wing attacks a priority and issue statements condemning them.
An unidentified former intelligence official placed the blame for the DHS’s appalling lack of interest in domestic terrorism squarely at the feet of President Trump.
“It’s not even an issue that you bring up at the White House because right now, when it comes to identifying threats facing the country, if it doesn’t support the agenda to reduce or restrict immigration, then it’s not even a topic to be discussed,” he said.
With the DHS missing in action, the FBI is left to confront the problem of domestic terrorism on its own, but has yet to escalate the issue to the top of its agenda.
“White supremacy is the lowest priority,” said a retired FBI agent with direct knowledge of terrorism investigations. “I would say the threshold to initiate an investigation is much higher for subjects of white supremacy investigations than it is for a Muslim, frankly.”
The FBI defended its priorities, with one former FBI Counterintelligence official, Frank Figliuzzi, blaming the nation’s anti-terrorism laws for its placing white supremacists in a lower category of threat.
“The rules are much harder—but they should be—to open a case on a white supremacist group,” Figliuzzi said. “By definition, a white supremacist may not be a violent actor; by definition, a jihadist is a violent actor.”
“A white supremacist group is by definition a group that thinks whites are better,” Figliuzzi added. “Ok. Where’s the federal law there? If I’m heading a field office, which I have, I’m not putting resources on the thought police; I’m putting resources on somebody who says ‘I’m going to go to heaven if I blow up this building’ and is advocating violence.”
That rationale doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, especially since statistics from the Government Accountability Office last year show that “’far-right extremism’ is responsible for 73 percent of the 85 lethal extremist incidents in the U.S. from the day after 9/11 through 2016, while Islamist extremist violence was responsible for 27 percent.”
Figliuzzi did agree that right-wing extremists are a problem that is expanding rapidly and pointed at the Trump administration’s role in making the problem even worse.
“We have got to get better at this,” he said. “It’s going to get worse. Why is it going to get worse? We have an administration that’s enabling, if not facilitating, these types of people and the speed bumps that used to be there are not there anymore and the access to social media just moves this stuff forward at the speed of light.”
The Trump administration is not going to do anything to change its policies to focus on the radical behavior inspired by the president’s own rantings. it’s up to us to vote the Republicans out of office and create a check on his vile agenda. The midterms are now less than a week away. If you don’t vote, consider yourself complicit in the next tragedy that the radical right brings upon us.
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Original reporting by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman at The Daily Beast.