Fewer resources are devoted to combating rising violence from white supremacists and far-right domestic terrorism.WASHINGTON ― The death of 32-year-old anti-racist protester Heather Heyer at the hands of a white supremacist on Saturday was the most recent of at least 65 fatal incidents perpetrated by right-wing extremists in the United States since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The incident in Charlottesville is indicative of how far-right extremist violence has surged in the intervening years, as federal law enforcement efforts have shifted attention toward the threat posed by jihadist terrorism, former counter-terrorism officials and experts say.
Conservative media and Republican politicians who oppose federal crackdowns on far-right extremist ideologues encouraged this shift, and presidents from both parties have acquiesced to the pressure. This process has only accelerated since the inauguration of President Donald Trump, who defended the white nationalist and white supremacist protesters who marched in Virginia, by saying there were some good people among them and equating them with anti-racist counter-protesters.
The president and his aides support gutting efforts to counter violent extremism stemming from white supremacy and other racist ideologies in order to divert funding to anti-jihadist measures. The administration has already cut funding to the group Life After Hate, which works to rehabilitate white supremacists.
“There’s been a clear signal by this administration that they don’t want to spend any money or resources on countering white terrorism,” Daryl Johnson, who led a Department of Homeland Security task force focused on domestic extremism and terrorism from 2004-2010, told HuffPost.
The Trump administration’s effort to de-emphasize the threat of domestic right-wing terrorism is part of a trend: Over the past 16 years, presidents from both parties have redirected law enforcement resources away from monitoring right-wing extremists to focus on groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda.
At the same time, violent incidents, including murders, committed by far-right extremists continued to rise. Studies from the University of Maryland, New America Foundation, Southern Poverty Law Center, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and the Department of Homeland Security highlight the continued danger of right-wing domestic terrorism.
Prior to the attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando, right-wing extremist attacks had killed more Americans than extremist attacks by Muslims in the years since 9/11.
“It’s a major mistake, in my view, to defund programs and efforts which help to expose and reform white supremacists,” said Todd Blodgett, a conservative Republican and former FBI source who worked undercover in white supremacist extremist groups. “It required effort to brainwash these bigots, and effort is needed to get them out of the realm of racist hatred. Having worked for Ronald Reagan and the first President Bush, including in the White House, I know they’d agree.”
But the shift in resources wasn’t entirely attributable to the understandable fear of a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. Right-wing radio, Fox News, and Republican Party lawmakers fought a years-long campaign against efforts by federal law enforcement to monitor right-wing extremists and prevent them from turning violent.
Blodgett points to the reaction and ultimate retraction of a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report on the increasing threat of right-wing extremist terrorism. That report was written by Johnson and his small team at DHS that monitored and countered violent extremism from domestic, non-jihadist sources. The team, constituted during the George W. Bush administration, included individuals monitoring white supremacists, anti-abortion extremists, animal rights activists, environmental terrorists and other domestic groups.
Its 2009 report concluded that the economic collapse and the election of the first African-American president could fuel a surge in recruitment for white supremacist groups and lead to an uptick in violence. The report also warned that right-wing extremist groups sought to recruit returning veterans of the of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But as a result of conservative outrage, DHS gutted Johnson’s team, cut the number of people investigating domestic extremism, canceled briefings for state and local law enforcement and blocked the release of more reports on domestic extremist groups. The department “has never reconstituted that effort,” Johnson told viralnews24.net