Ra­cial hate groups are about to find law­mak­ers ea­ger to scru­ti­nize them

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY WIL­LIAM DOU­GLAS

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

But as of last week, Democrats are in charge of the House.

And that means Rep. Ben­nie Thomp­son, an African Amer­i­can law­maker from Mis­sis­sippi, is in charge of the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee.

He plans to act.

Thomp­son in­tends to hold hear­ings to spot­light what ex­perts say is a growth of deadly right wing ex­trem­ism in Amer­ica, even if the hear­ings could fea­ture mem­bers of white su­prem­a­cist groups.

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

After a woman died in Char­lottesville in 2017 fol­low­ing 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 told re­porters ear­lier the same day “You got some very bad peo­ple on the other side also.”

Hate crimes have spiked dra­mat­i­cally 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, a vet­eran Repub­li­can law­maker, have come un­der fire for in­di­cat­ing sym­pa­thy for white na­tion­al­ists be­fore clar­i­fy­ing they in fact were against hate and big­otry. Sev­eral ter­ror­ism ex­perts say at­ten­tion to the is­sue is long over­due.

They say that the gov­ern­ment has largely ig­nored the growth of a vi­o­lent far right that ex­ploded into the pub­lic con­scious­ness with the deadly ex­plo­sion 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 last week, the House Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee re­peat­edly re­jected calls

by Thomp­son and Democrats for spe­cific probes of do­mes­tic far right ac­tiv­i­ties. Some Repub­li­cans now are wary that Thomp­son’s probe would be con­ducted with a par­ti­san eye.

“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 any po­ten­tial so­lu­tions,” said Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn­syl­va­nia, 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 it (vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism),” he said.

For years, Con­gress and the White House has 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, largely has fo­cused on the for­eign threat or po­ten­tial dan­ger posed by U.S. res­i­dents be­com­ing rad­i­cal­ized by for­eign ter­ror­ist groups.

Rep. Peter King, R-New York, a for­mer com­mit­tee chair, who presided over a se­ries of 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, RNorth Carolina, sug­gested that more of the na­tion’s at­ten­tion and money still needs to be fo­cused on com­bat­ing the in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ist threat.

“I have no prob­lem call (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 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.

And con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans found them­selves dogged by com­ments such as those re­cently by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, 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 GOP lead­ers this week 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-Wyoming, 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

U.S. do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism strat­egy that he be­lieves has fo­cused too heav­ily on the threat of home­grown Mus­lim ter­ror­ism and too lit­tle the rise of far right, white na­tion­al­ist, and anti-Semitic 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 right wing folk in this coun­try.,” he said.

AP file photo

Mis­sis­sippi con­gress­man Ben­nie Thomp­son, cen­ter, talks to re­porters in 2015. Thomp­son plans to hold hear­ings on race-based hate groups. “There are some peo­ple ... who have be­longed to those groups in the past, so there might be an op­por­tu­nity for di­a­logue there,” he said.

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