Minnesota groups press ahead despite debates
MINNEAPOLIS» Domestic efforts to curb homegrown terrorism are under fresh scrutiny from the Trump administration and Congress, placing Minneapolis at the center of a new national debate over whether they are working — or should even continue.
Early signals from Washington point to a greater emphasis on law enforcement, with some elected officials saying the federal government should use its core anti-extremism program to expand intelligence gathering in immigrant and refugee communities.
At a recent hearing of the U.S. House Oversight Committee, Chairman Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., singled out Minneapolis’ Somali community and called the city “ground zero for terrorist recruitment.” DeSantis, who visited Minnesota in December, railed against existing federal policy for not properly focusing on “radical Islamic extremism.”
But that philosophy has outraged community leaders who work directly with Somali and Muslim youths. In the Twin Cities, some local groups have backed away from Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, a $10 million grant program administered by the Department of Homeland Security. Minneapolis’ Ka Joog, a Somali nonprofit, rejected a nearly $500,000 grant after President Donald Trump signed his controversial travel ban last winter. Another local nonprofit, Youthprise, vowed to avoid money “from sources focused on the anti-radicalization” of Somali youths, citing “heightened community concerns.”
Some terrorism researchers have echoed those concerns. The House hearing perpetuated “the false notion that Muslims present a singular terrorist threat,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Scholars there cited research showing that nearly three-quarters of all deadly terror attacks since 9/11 were authored by farright domestic extremists — a question raised again by Saturday’s bombing at the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington.
One result of this clash is that CVE now enjoys few “built-in advocates,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
“On one side of the political spectrum … CVE is seen as thought-policing and stigmatizing,” Hughes testified at the July 27 hearing. “On the other side, it is considered too soft.”
One beneficiary of the administration’s approach is the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. It missed the cut when CVE grants were first announced in January but will now receive $347,600 for “terrorism prevention training and engagement.”
In a recent interview, Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said he welcomed the new administration’s aim at “securitizing” CVE. “Law enforcement has a role to play in community outreach,” Stanek said. “Even at a traffic stop, a relationship is being built. And that’s securitizing. The Trump administration saw it for what it is.”