Some US law­mak­ers are ea­ger to scru­ti­nize hate groups

The Jerusalem Post - - NEWS - • By WIL­LIAM DOU­GLAS

WASH­ING­TON – For years, Repub­li­cans have watched white su­prem­a­cists claim the Repub­li­can Party is on their side. And on Capi­tol Hill, Repub­li­can law­mak­ers did lit­tle to crack down on race-based hate groups.

But now Democrats are in charge of the House.

That means Ben­nie Thomp­son, a black Demo­cratic con­gress­man from Mis­sis­sippi, is in charge of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee. And he plans to act. Thomp­son in­tends to hold hear­ings on what ex­perts say is a growth of right-wing ex­trem­ism in Amer­ica.

“There are some peo­ple, I un­der­stand, who have be­longed to those groups in the past, so there might be an op­por­tu­nity for di­a­log there,” Thomp­son said.

After a woman died in Char­lottesville, Va., in 2017 after a rally by white su­prem­a­cists, Con­gress passed a res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing the march. Though Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump signed the mea­sure – and said he op­posed ha­tred, big­otry and racism – he said ear­lier the same day: “You got some very bad peo­ple on the other side also.”

Hate crimes have in­creased sig­nif­i­cantly in re­cent years, but the House last year took no fi­nal ac­tion to help curb the trend. And the White House and Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) have been crit­i­cized for in­di­cat­ing sym­pa­thy for white na­tion­al­ists be­fore clar­i­fy­ing they were against hate and big­otry.

Sev­eral ter­ror­ism ex­perts say at­ten­tion to the is­sue is long over­due.

They say the gov­ern­ment has largely ig­nored the growth of a vi­o­lent far Right, which ex­ploded into the pub­lic con­scious­ness with the bomb­ing of the Al­fred P. Mur­rah Fed­eral Build­ing in Ok­la­homa City on April 19, 1995, by Tim­o­thy McVeigh, an anti-gov­ern­ment ex­trem­ist.

“For all the in­tense fo­cus on prevent­ing ter­ror­ism, there’s a large blind spot about ter­ror­ism from the far Right,” said Michael Ger­man, a for­mer FBI agent and a fel­low at New York Univer­sity’s Bren­nan Cen­ter for Jus­tice.

“The fed­eral gov­ern­ment doesn’t keep ac­cu­rate records de­scrib­ing the na­ture and im­pact of this vi­o­lence. So it’s im­pos­si­ble to de­velop good pol­icy if you don’t have a fac­tual con­cept of the threat,” he said.

UN­DER REPUB­LI­CAN con­trol from 2011 un­til this month, the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee re­peat­edly re­jected calls by Thomp­son and Democrats for spe­cific in­ves­ti­ga­tions of do­mes­tic far-right ac­tiv­i­ties. Some Repub­li­cans are now wary that Thomp­son’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion would be con­ducted with a par­ti­san view.

“I worry that it be­comes com­pletely po­lit­i­cal – a po­lit­i­cal cud­gel and a po­lit­i­cal is­sue – and we don’t fo­cus on the vi­o­lence and the prob­lems we have in so­ci­ety and [on] any po­ten­tial so­lu­tions,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., a mem­ber of the Home Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee and the con­ser­va­tive House Free­dom Cau­cus.

“I just think it would be bet­ter to char­ac­ter­ize it as vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism and look at all of [that ex­trem­ism],” he said.

For years, Con­gress and the White House have looked at ter­ror­ism through the lens of the Septem­ber 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist at­tacks that killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple. The House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, es­tab­lished after those at­tacks, has largely fo­cused on the for­eign threat or po­ten­tial dan­ger posed by US res­i­dents be­com­ing rad­i­cal­ized by for­eign ter­ror­ist groups.

Rep. Peter King (R-NY), a for­mer com­mit­tee chair­man who presided over hear­ings on the threat of rad­i­cal­iza­tion of Amer­i­can Mus­lims, said the panel is not the venue for Thomp­son to ad­dress his con­cern.

“To me, that was the func­tion of the Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee,” King said. “The pur­pose of the Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee was to fight ba­si­cally over­seas ter­ror­ists who have al­lies in the United States. If this was World War II, it would be the Amer­i­can Nazi Party. As far as I know, right-wing groups don’t have for­eign ties.”

Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) sug­gested that more of the na­tion’s at­ten­tion and money needs to be fo­cused on fight­ing the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist threat.

“I have no prob­lem call[ing white supremacy] out for what it is: hate­ful, ig­no­rant pride,” Walker said. “But I want to make sure that we don’t miss where a lot of the ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity is com­ing from. We have a thou­sand ter­ror­ists we are mon­i­tor­ing right now. I don’t know if very many of them [do­mes­tic ter­ror­ists] are con­sid­ered [to be] in that par­tic­u­lar group, but ac­tu­ally more are in­ter­na­tional.

“So do we need to tar­get some of these? Ab­so­lutely,” he said. “But let’s not let that over­whelm our re­sources for the smaller per­cent­age to miss out on the larger groups.” The com­mit­tee has dealt with the sub­ject spo­rad­i­cally, but did lit­tle leg­isla­tively.

CON­GRES­SIONAL REPUB­LI­CANS were dogged by com­ments such as those re­cently by Steve King, who last week told The New York Times: “White na­tion­al­ist, white su­prem­a­cist, Western civ­i­liza­tion – how did that lan­guage be­come of­fen­sive?”

King later is­sued a state­ment say­ing: “I re­ject those la­bels and the evil ide­ol­ogy that they de­fine.”

But Repub­li­can lead­ers were quick to de­nounce King. His com­ments were “ab­hor­rent and racist and should have no place in our na­tional dis­course,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo), the House’s third-rank­ing Repub­li­can.

King has been un­der fire be­fore. Two years ago, he told CNN: “I’d like to see an Amer­ica that’s just so ho­mo­ge­neous that we look a lot the same.” He nar­rowly won re-elec­tion last year.

Thomp­son said his aim is to change the di­a­logue and find a bal­ance in a US do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism strat­egy that he be­lieves has fo­cused too heav­ily on the threat of home­grown Mus­lim ter­ror­ism and too lit­tle on the rise of far-right, white na­tion­al­ist and an­tisemitic groups.

“We want to ba­si­cally kind of change the con­ver­sa­tion so that peo­ple un­der­stand that a big­ger threat on the do­mes­tic side is the rad­i­cal rightwing folk in this coun­try,” he said.

A re­cent spate of in­ci­dents – in­clud­ing the shoot­ing deaths of 11 con­gre­gants at a Pitts­burgh sy­n­a­gogue in Oc­to­ber, the Fe­bru­ary shoot­ing deaths of 17 stu­dents and staff mem­bers at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., and the Au­gust 2017 white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesville – has given Thomp­son and other con­gres­sional Democrats anec­do­tal ev­i­dence of the ex­treme right.

A study by the non­par­ti­san Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice found that vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism was re­spon­si­ble for 85 at­tacks and 225 deaths in the United States from Septem­ber 12, 2001 to De­cem­ber 31, 2016. Of those, 106 deaths were at­trib­uted to far-right vi­o­lence in 22 sep­a­rate in­ci­dents and 119 were at­trib­uted to “rad­i­cal Is­lamist vi­o­lent ex­trem­ists” in 23 in­ci­dents.

From 2008 to 2017, do­mes­tic ex­trem­ists were re­spon­si­ble for 387 killings. Of those, 274 were com­mit­ted by far-right mem­bers of one group or an­other, ac­cord­ing to a 2018 Anti-Defama­tion League study.

THE RISE of the far Right has long been a sen­si­tive sub­ject in Con­gress.

A 2009 Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity re­port warn­ing that the elec­tion of Barack Obama as the na­tion’s first black pres­i­dent, as well as a poor econ­omy, could lead to a resur­gence of far-right ex­trem­ism – and that mil­i­tary veter­ans could be prime re­cruits.

Sev­eral Repub­li­cans called for the fir­ing of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet Napoli­tano; veter­ans or­ga­ni­za­tions de­manded an apol­ogy.

Thomp­son, then Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee chair­man, said the re­port “ap­pears to have blurred the line be­tween vi­o­lent be­lief, which is con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected, and vi­o­lent ac­tion, which is not.”

Napoli­tano apol­o­gized for the re­port. But the po­lit­i­cal back­lash led the Home­land Se­cu­rity Depart­ment DHS to stop track­ing vi­o­lent far-right ex­trem­ism, ac­cord­ing to Daryl John­son, the re­port’s au­thor.

A decade later, John­son calls the re­port pre­scient.

“When I wrote that re­port back in 2009, I thought it was go­ing to be maybe a four, max­i­mum eight-year cy­cle,” said John­son, who now runs an an­a­lyt­ics firm that fo­cuses on do­mes­tic ex­trem­ism in the United States. “And here we are at Year 10 and it’s thriv­ing due to ne­glect at the fed­eral level to rec­og­nize the threat and to do any­thing about it.” (TNS)

(Go Naka­mura/Reuters)

SUP­PORT­ERS OF the Na­tional So­cial­ist Move­ment, a white na­tion­al­ist po­lit­i­cal group, give Nazi salutes while tak­ing part in a swastika burn­ing in April at an undis­closed lo­ca­tion in Ge­or­gia.

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