The Trump Administration has focused its attention almost exclusively on jihadist threats despite the alarming rise of white-identity extremist domestic terrorism. So complete is that focus that new information shows the White House has actually weakened efforts to fight domestic terror.
A CNN exclusive report highlighted a year-long battle between the Department of Homeland Security and the White House over the role of domestic terrorism in the country’s national security strategy. Ultimately, the National Counterterrorism Strategy from last fall, for instance, contained only one paragraph about domestic terror, a paragraph a CNN source described as “a throw-away line.”
“Homeland Security officials battled the White House for more than a year to get them to focus more on domestic terrorism,” said one of CNN’s sources. “The White House wanted to focus only on the jihadist threat which, while serious, ignored the reality that racial supremacist violence was rising fast here at home. They had major ideological blinders on.”
Last year, nearly all domestic terrorism came in the form of right-wing ideological extremism. That trend looks likely to continue in 2019, especially in light of the ideology behind last weekend’s shooting in El Paso. In fact, most domestic terror arrests made this year by the FBI have been related to white supremacy. It also reflects a global trend toward extremist right-wing ideology and potent strains of white nationalism as shown in the Christchurch mosque shooting earlier this year.
As a matter of editorial policy, Grit Post does not name terrorists in an effort to deny them personal notoriety and we encourage our peers to adopt similar policies.
The high-profile attacks in places like Pennsylvania, New Zealand and even Canada have inspired other attacks. The Christchurch shooting was specifically cited by the El Paso shooter’s manifesto, for instance.
“Too many people still think of these attacks as single events, rather than interconnected actions carried out by domestic terrorists,” wrote historian Kathleen Belew, an expert on white nationalist ideology. “It is not enough to dismiss mass shootings as horror beyond our comprehension. It is our duty to understand their meaning and confront the movement that relies upon them.”
And in that duty, the White House has been negligent. Despite the abundance of evidence, President Trump stated that he did not think white-identity violence was a rising threat in the wake of the Christchurch shootings, and that lack of belief has had a tangible effect on policy. It’s worth a mention that the Christchurch shooter saw Trump as a champion of white-identity ideology. Similarly, the connection between Trump and the El Paso shooting has been laid out by current Presidential contenders and very clearly drawn by former President Barack Obama.
FBI Director Christopher Wray has stated that the bureau does not investigate the motivating ideology of a violent incident, only the violence itself. Though this may be part of a perception problem for the FBI — reportedly agents are hesitant to investigate white supremacists because they don’t want to appear to be opening investigations into Trump supporters.
“There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base,” said former FBI agent David Gomez. “It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor.”
Those concerns appear founded, as sources in counterterrorism told CNN that a general reticence to act against white nationalists is part of a broad overlay on counterterrorism conversations with the president.
“You know it will trigger the boss,” the source said. “Instinctively you know he’s going to be averse to mentioning that.”
The source drew attention to the fact that the president’s condemnation of white supremacy following El Paso came in the form of prepared remarks read from a prompter, and that his extemporaneous remarks never speak ill of those extremists. Infamously, the president even said there were “very fine people” among white supremacists that marched in Charlottesville early in his administration.
“DHS is surging resources to the [domestic terrorism] issue, but they’re behind the curve because of lack of support from the White House,” said one CNN source. “There’s some legislative and appropriations work happening, but the reality is there won’t be a FY20 budget for the department so they will have to make do.”
So the National Counterterrorism Strategy was contorted, the source told CNN, so that it would focus on Islamic terrorism and drug dealers — not based on real threats but based on what would please President Trump.
(Featured image: PBS/Fair Use)
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.