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House Lawmakers To Call Out Trump Administration On White Supremacist Violence


For the past two years, the Trump administration has downplayed the threat of white supremacist violence, even cut funding for programs that keep track of it. Today, lawmakers will demand answers from FBI and Homeland Security officials about why it is taking so long to acknowledge that far-right militancy is now the deadliest form of domestic extremism. NPR's Hannah Allam reports.

HANNAH ALLAM, BYLINE: In 2014, the Islamic State's online recruiting of Americans was in full swing. An alarmed White House went into overdrive. And within a year, there was a security task force, more training for local law enforcement and a new Homeland Security office to fight ISIS messaging inside the United States. George Selim was the director of that office.

GEORGE SELIM: We began to really look inward to say, what can we do to prevent radicalization and recruitment here in the homeland?

ALLAM: Today, extremism trackers say far-right militants, not ISIS, present the most active and lethal threat in the U.S. Like Islamist extremists, white supremacists are masters of social media, giving them a global reach. The FBI and Homeland Security know this. Two years ago, they warned in an intelligence bulletin first reported by Foreign Policy that white supremacists had carried out more attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 than any other extremist, and they warned more attacks were coming. But this time, there's been no urgent White House response. As George Selim says...

SELIM: There is no overarching policy that guides and directs this type of threat within this administration at any level.

ALLAM: Not only is there no top-down policy on white supremacist violence, the Trump administration has played down the threat and stripped funding and personnel from offices that track it. For example, George Selim's old office has lost nearly 90% of its budget and about half its staff. He is now with the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish advocacy group that monitors extremism.

SELIM: The past two fiscal years of this administration, there's been a reduction in the amount of money that's been requested to work on this issue. That's a fact. That's not political commentary. That's not analysis. That's fact.

ALLAM: Selim is among several former counter-extremism officials who are speaking out about the administration's lack of response to the far-right threat. Concern is also growing among lawmakers. House committees have held at least three hearings on the issue in the past couple of months. Another is scheduled for today. The Democrats' critique is embedded in its title - "Confronting Violent White Supremacy: Adequacy Of The Federal Response" (ph).

MARY MCCORD: I know there are good people in the government - I spent most of my career there - who really take this seriously, including people at the FBI, and really want to show leadership on the subject. But we don't - they don't have the same mandate from the highest-level leadership.

ALLAM: That's Mary McCord, a career federal prosecutor who's now a law professor at Georgetown. At the Justice Department, McCord supervised all terrorism-related investigations, including cases involving ISIS. She said the tactics used to disrupt Muslim extremists could be used just as effectively against white nationalists.

MCCORD: Get in those chat rooms. See what people are talking about. See who is talking about acquiring AR-15s in order to commit acts of domestic terrorism, who's talking about acquiring the precursors to a weapon of mass destruction. And use sting operations and the same operations, which I know can be controversial - use those same operations to combat the domestic extremist threat.

ALLAM: The Department of Homeland Security declined to make anyone available to discuss the issue. Spokespeople direct reporters to counter-extremism programs listed on the website, but none of them puts the far-right threat on an equal plane with Islamist extremism. Most don't mention it at all.

Hannah Allam, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF OLDTWIG'S "DUNES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hannah Allam is a Washington-based national security correspondent for NPR, focusing on homegrown extremism. Before joining NPR, she was a national correspondent at BuzzFeed News, covering U.S. Muslims and other issues of race, religion and culture. Allam previously reported for McClatchy, spending a decade overseas as bureau chief in Baghdad during the Iraq war and in Cairo during the Arab Spring rebellions. She moved to Washington in 2012 to cover foreign policy, then in 2015 began a yearlong series documenting rising hostility toward Islam in America. Her coverage of Islam in the United States won three national religion reporting awards in 2018 and 2019. Allam was part of McClatchy teams that won an Overseas Press Club award for exposing death squads in Iraq and a Polk Award for reporting on the Syrian conflict. She was a 2009 Nieman fellow at Harvard and currently serves on the board of the International Women's Media Foundation.