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Trump Administration Ignores DHS Employees’ Warnings That Action Needed on Domestic Terrorism

August 26, 2020

Today, Betsy Woodruff Swan from Politico detailed how the Trump administration ignored Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warnings of a rise in white supremacist domestic terrorism, as well as how their inaction led to officials leaving the department out of frustration. Swan notes:

“For Neumann [former DHS assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy] her nightmare scenario of globalized white supremacist terrorism was coming to life. Meanwhile, the U.S. government was doing far too little about its own homegrown extremists — often ‘lone wolves’ radicalized online by white supremacist websites and fueled by hostility toward immigrants and minorities. But White House officials didn’t want to talk about the rising domestic extremist threat or even use the phrase ‘domestic terrorism.’ The administration’s relentless, single-minded focus on immigration enforcement — coupled with nonstop turnover on the National Security Council — constantly pulled senior DHS leadership away from everything else. And her ultimate boss, President Donald Trump, was part of the problem.” 

In the piece, multiple former and current DHS employees speak about the lack of action around domestic terrorism and hate-motivated violence starting with a slew of vandalism incidences at Jewish cemeteries around the country just weeks into the Trump administration, through the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and after. The employees also note that constantly rotating personnel, funding deficiencies, dismantling of a group of analysts focused on domestic terrorism, and an overall lack of motivation to do something substantive on the issue has led to little change during the Trump administration. 

In fact, a recent report released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies concluded that “the most significant terror threat to the U.S. likely comes from white supremacists.” The report found that right-wing extremists were responsible for nearly two-thirds of terror attacks and plots in the U.S. last year, and for over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020. Despite that fact, “one state law enforcement official” told Politico that “the intelligence products DHS sends to its state and local partners emphasize the threat from left-wing extremists significantly more than the threat from right-wing extremists––and disproportionately so.”

Although, as Swan notes, hate-motivated violence is not confined to the United States, the country’s gun laws allow white supremacists easy access to firearms. Hate-motivated mass shootings have continued to happen since the beginning of the Trump administration. The fatal consequence of white supremacy mixed with easy access to firearms resulted in the mass shootings in Pittsburgh, PA in October 2018 and in El Paso, TX in August 2019. In the wake of both shootings, media outlets, advocacy organizations, and community leaders noted that the language the shooter used to justify his attack echoed the language used by President Donald Trump in pushing his administration’s anti-immigrant policies. The number of identified white supremacist groups also continues to rise. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of white nationalist hate groups has increased by 55% since 2017. Last year, they identified 940 hate groups operating in the US—155 of these were white nationalist hate groups.

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