Senate Report Details Failure to Confront ‘Persistent and Lethal’ Threat of White Supremacists

“The federal government has continued to allocate resources disproportionately aligned to international terrorist threats over domestic terrorist threats,” the report reads.

By Julia Conley.  Published 11-29-2022 by Common Dreams

Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Rally, 2017. Photo Anthony Crider/flickr/CC

Despite the fact that federal law enforcement agencies have in recent years acknowledged that white supremacy represents a major threat to public safety in the United States and is fueling domestic terrorist attacks, a new U.S. Senate report reveals that authorities are continuing to pour resources into fighting international threats instead of addressing extremism stateside.

After a three-year investigation, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee this month released a nearly 130-page report detailing how the FBI—part of the Justice Department—and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have “failed to adequately align resources to address the threat from domestic terrorism, despite the agencies highlighting the magnitude of the threat in their annual strategic intelligence assessments.”

“The federal government has continued to allocate resources disproportionately aligned to international terrorist threats over domestic terrorist threats,” reads the report.

The report notes that the agencies have not complied with a congressional requirement to track and report data on domestic terrorism and have failed to adapt to a new era in which social media has played a role “in the radicalization process of perpetrators in over 90% of extremist plots or activities in the United States.”

For example, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS identified “specific threat information” on social media in the days leading up to the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol, but did not report on the threats until two days after the insurrection, an oversight that was partially due to “inexperienced open source collectors who received inadequate training.”

“These groups are incredibly smart, incredibly savvy,” Patrick Riccards, CEO of Life After Hate, a nonprofit group that rehabilitates people who leave extremist movements, told Salon on Monday. “When you look at their skill and abilities with regard to the digital universe, in terms of recruiting, organizing, and executing action, they are a generation or two ahead of where the FBI was.”

The agencies’ failure to adequately respond to extremist movements which they themselves have identified as “the most persistent and lethal domestic violent extremist threat” comes as watchdog groups have recorded a rise in white supremacist attacks.

Last year, data compiled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) showed that right-wing extremists had carried out or plotted 267 attacks and caused 91 deaths since 2015. More than a quarter of the attacks and nearly half the killings had been perpetrated by white supremacists, according to Washington Post analysis.

That analysis was compiled before this year’s mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, after which the shooter reported he was motivated by the “Great Replacement Theory”—a conspiracy-fueled belief that white Americans are being intentionally “replaced” by people of color. The suspect in that shooting, which killed 10 Black people, pleaded guilty on Monday to murder and hate-motivated terrorism charges.

The Great Replacement Theory has been endorsed in recent years by influential right-wing figures including Fox commentator Tucker Carlson, Sen.-elect J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.).

“It’s not just that this material is all over the internet,” Heidi Beirich of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism told Salon. “It’s also that politically powerful people are endorsing and furthering it, so it doesn’t sound like some fringe idea that should be stuck way out on the edges of society. They’re giving it an endorsement.”

The CSIS also recorded 110 domestic terrorist plots and attacks in 2020, compared with 65 in 2019 and 70 in 2017, while a New York Times report this year showed that hate crimes against Black Americans rose by 46% between 2019 and 2020.

The Senate report notes that as the country has seen a rise in domestic terrorist attacks fueled by white supremacy, the FBI has made it more difficult to track the prevalence of such crimes:

FBI in recent years has changed how it categorizes domestic terrorism ideologies. In 2017, FBI created a new category of domestic terrorism ideology called “Black identity extremists,” but has since terminated the use of this category. By 2019, FBI combined all forms of racially motivated extremism, including the preexisting category of “white supremacist violence,” into one category called “racially motivated violent extremists.” This change obscures the full scope of white supremacist terrorist attacks, and it has prevented the federal government from accurately measuring domestic terrorism threats.

The Senate committee’s recommendations include calls for:

  • Congress to require a whole-of-government review of all federal counterterrorism efforts;
  • The establishment of new standards to measure agencies’ counterterrorism work;
  • The creation of standardized domestic terrorism categories to help measure the threat posed by specific ideologies like white supremacy; and
  • The improvement of federal agency guidelines for analyzing social media threats while respecting users’ constitutional rights.

“Federal agencies must do their job as required by law, and take these threats seriously,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who chairs the committee.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)
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