Democratic Senators Criticize Reported White House Plan to Refocus Counter-Terror Program, Ignore Threats from White Supremacists and Other Extremist Groups

Reports indicate that Trump administration is seeking to refocus Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) efforts solely on “Islamic Extremism,” ignoring broader violent extremist threats.
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Source: http://www.booker.senate.gov

WASHINGTON, DC –U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), along with 10 other Democratic Senators, are criticizing a reported Trump administration plan to restructure U.S. government efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE) to instead focus solely on “Islamic Extremism” or “Radical Islamic Extremism,” and no longer target violent white supremacist and other extremist groups that have threatened or carried out attacks in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security currently defines CVE as efforts that aim “to address the root causes of violent extremism by providing resources to communities to build and sustain local prevention efforts and promote the use of counter-narratives to confront violent extremist messaging online.”

Joining Sens. Booker and Schatz on a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and USAID acting Administrator Wade Warren expressing concerns with the reported White House plan are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Carper (D-DE), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Bob Casey (D-PA). 

The Senators write, “Singling out a specific religion as the focus of CVE efforts rather than violent extremism more broadly— while ignoring threats from white supremacist groups— would severely damage our credibility with foreign allies and partners as an honest broker in the fight against violent extremism, and prove divisive in communities across our country.”

The letter continues, “Supporting countering violent extremism programs that take an evidence-based view of what violent extremism really is and how to tackle it increases the U.S. government’s standing as a moral leader, advances American foreign policy objectives, and protects our homeland. We will not allow these U.S. government’s efforts to be tarnished by any move that would overtly single out a specific religious, ethnic, or other identity due to bias instead of evidence.”

The full text of the letter follows:

February 9, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520

 The Honorable John Kelly
Secretary
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
3801 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20528

 The Honorable James Mattis
Secretary
U.S. Department of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301

 The Honorable Wade Warren
Acting Administrator
U.S. Agency for International Development
1300 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20523

Dear Secretaries Tillerson, Kelly, Mattis and Acting Administrator Warren:

We write with deep concerns about reports that the Trump administration plans to restructure U.S. government efforts to counter violent extremism (CVE) to instead focus solely on “Islamic Extremism” or “Radical Islamic Extremism,” no longer targeting violent white supremacist and other extremist groups. As we have witnessed most recently and tragically with the mass shooting of worshippers at a mosque in Quebec this past month, violent extremism is not confined to any single ethnic, religious, or other identity group, but is instead a political and social phenomenon afflicting diverse nations and peoples across the globe. In the United States, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history, the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was perpetrated not by “Islamic extremists” but by an anti-government extremist from New York. Singling out a specific religion as the focus of CVE efforts rather than violent extremism more broadly— while ignoring threats from white supremacist groups— would severely damage our credibility with foreign allies and partners as an honest broker in the fight against violent extremism, and prove divisive in communities across our country.

Bipartisan national security leaders along with numerous former U.S. officials and practitioners recognize the value that CVE programs bring to the fight against extremists and we are eager to continue this critical work. Countering violent extremism programs have proven to decrease the number of communities engaging in extremism. By preventing people from heading down the path to radicalization and recruitment, we can help to stem the spread of extremist ideologies and prevent new individuals from resorting to violent means—thereby reducing the need for the U.S. military to solve violent extremism through use of force alone, an impossible and misguided task.

As national security leaders tasked to protect our country and expand our alliances and partnerships around the world, we know you are aware of the considerable efforts we and our partners across the world have engaged in to prevent violence and the spread of violent ideologies. From the United Arab Emirates’ Hedayah, the International Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, to our own Life After Hate, a group of former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement countering neo-Nazi propaganda, these governments have taken important steps to address radicalization. Refocusing our violent extremism program to focus exclusively on Islamic extremism will, without any doubt, alienate Muslim organizations and individuals in the United States, as well as the governments who have been our closest partners abroad. It will also put U.S. service members, diplomats, development practitioners, and citizens traveling the world at significant risk, and will increase the likelihood of more attacks. We have already seen the effects of this proposed change as Reuters reported that one Michigan-based group led by Lebanese-Americans has already declined a $500,000 CVE grant from the Department of Homeland Security and numerous overseas development partners have expressed that they will no longer work with the United States in the event of such a redefinition. 

In addition to isolating our closest allies in the fight against extremism, both at home and abroad, the administration’s plan to exclusively target Islam raises serious questions over whether such a policy would violate constitutional protections and the rights of American citizens. Specifically, we are concerned that this course of action risks violating both the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, crucial safeguards on the rights of vulnerable citizens.

Supporting countering violent extremism programs that take an evidence-based view of what violent extremism really is and how to tackle it increases the U.S. government’s standing as a moral leader, advances American foreign policy objectives, and protects our homeland. We will not allow these U.S. government’s efforts to be tarnished by any move that would overtly single out a specific religious, ethnic, or other identity due to bias instead of evidence.

Sincerely,

 

_______________________________                                      _______________________________

Cory A. Booker                                                          Brian Schatz

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

_______________________________                                      _______________________________

Richard Blumenthal                                                  Jeffrey A. Merkley

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

 _______________________________                                      _______________________________

Ron Wyden                                                                Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

 _______________________________                                      _______________________________

Tom Carper                                                               Chris Van Hollen

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

 _______________________________                                      _______________________________

Patty Murray                                                             Maria Cantwell

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

 _______________________________                                      _______________________________ 

Sheldon Whitehouse                                                Robert P. Casey Jr.

United States Senator                                               United States Senator

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