Donald Trump ran a campaign that emboldened right-wing extremists while focusing on policing Islamic radicalism. Now some groups claim that Trump has brought that approach to the Department of Homeland Security.
Late last week, DHS released a list of organizations receiving a total of $10 million in grants for countering violent extremism (CVE) programs. Grant recipients had initially been selected just days before the end of Barack Obama’s tenure in office; but those funds were frozen and the program placed under review after Trump took office. The revised list excludes several organizations previously approved for grants, essentially stripping them of funding they had been promised under the Obama administration.
It’s another indication the Trump administration is turning away from efforts to combat far-right violence, and refocusing the CVE program to focus more on Islamic extremism.
Life After Hate is one of several organizations focusing on right-wing and white supremacist violence that was approved for funding under the Obama administration but removed from the current list of grantees.
The nonprofit has seen requests for assistance skyrocket since last year, says Angela King, who helped found Life After Hate in 2011. Their $400,000 grant was intended to fund a project aimed at preventing online radicalization among those at risk for both Islamic and white supremacist extremism. DHS has not responded to their requests for information about the criteria now used to award grants.
“It’s not completely unexpected, but it is very unfortunate,” said King. As a teenager, King became heavily involved in neo-Nazi activities in the 1990s and served years in federal prison for her role in a hate crime. Since her release, she has devoted much of her career to helping others walk away from extremism.
King said she had read reports back in February that the new administration would no longer allot CVE resources for the fight against right-wing violent extremism and would focus instead only on Islamic extremism, but had hoped this wouldn’t prove to be a lasting change. “We were hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.”
Life After Hate has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help make up for the sudden shortfall.
In an email, DHS spokesperson Lucia Martinez said the priority given to law enforcement is stated on their website, adding that 16 out of the 26 selected projects “address all forms of violent extremism, including domestic political violent extremism and white supremacist violent extremism.”
The Muslim Public Affairs Council is another organization that received a grant in the final weeks of the Obama administration, only to see that funding now stripped. In a June 23 statement, the council said that its funding was taken away because it did not work closely with law enforcement, citing the notification letter it had received, and calling the move a “dramatic and worrying change in approach.”
While Islamic extremism in the United States tends to receive more media coverage, attacks motivated by right-wing extremism have killed almost as many Americans as Islamist-inspired violence since the September 11 terrorist attacks, according to an April 2017 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
It’s not yet fully clear “if this is an intentional effort to narrow federal government CVE attention to only Islamist-affiliated terrorism,” said Matthew Levitt, director of the counterterrorism program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, in an interview with Foreign Policy.
“It would be a shame if that were to be the case,” Levitt continued, “because we do face threats from multiple types of violent ideologies, and we should as a government and a society be committed to fighting all of these violent ideologies equally.”
Countering violent extremism is intended to prevent radicalization in the first place, and to intervene in cases in which individuals with extremist views have not yet turned to violence. This distinguishes it from counterterrorism, a traditional focus of law enforcement, which targets potential plots and investigates acts of violence that have already been carried out.
“Law enforcement work is more akin to counterterrorism than CVE,” said a congressional staffer with knowledge of the matter. “These grants were supposed to resource a critical gap — NGOs and private partners who are best equipped to do this work, but who don’t directly qualify for other Homeland Security grant programs.”
“The focus on law enforcement is ripe for abuse,” said the staffer. “I think we should be asking who will be producing the training materials for the law enforcement entities that receive these grants.”
Government trainers have previously come under scrutiny for patently discriminatory content. In 2016, top White House advisor Sebastian Gorka was terminated from his FBI role providing counter-terrorism training to law enforcement officials after he made sweeping anti-Muslim statements.
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