Homeland Security chief Kirstjen Nielsen repeated President Trump’s position that “both sides” were to blame for the violence during the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August that left dozens of counter-protesters injured and one dead.
“It’s not that one side is right and one side is wrong,” Nielsen told Peter Alexander from NBC News at a national security conference in Colorado on Thursday. “Anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate.”
Alexander had asked Nielsen whether the moral equivalency Trump drew between the white supremacists in Charlottesville and those protesting, which included antifa, made her job harder.
Nielsen was also asked about whether Homeland Security had prioritized the threat of far-right extremism since Charlottesville, and what it had been doing to address it.
“DHS has made a priority to focus on all forms of violence,” Nielsen replied. “We obviously have what we had been traditionally looking at, out of radical Islam. We have the homegrown extremists, whatever camp they fall in. We also have white supremacists or other groups who self-profess that their purpose or motive is violence.”
Nielsen said that, to address extremism across the board, DHS was looking at “counter-messaging” and “off-ramping,” which is the term she uses to get someone off the path of radicalization.
In the year since the Charlottesville rally, some of the white supremacists who carried out violent acts there have been charged and are now facing jail time. Most recently, the Justice Department filed 29 federal hate crime charges against James Alex Fields, the young neo-Nazi accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, leaving one dead and injuring dozens.
Fields is also facing state murder charges for the death of Heather Heyer, a protester. Other participants in the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville may also be looking at jail time for their actions. Two white supremacists were convicted earlier this year on charges linked to the violent beating of DeAndre Harris, a black man, and two more have charges pending.
Cover image: Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen speaks at a news conference attended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on immigration and efforts to contain violent gangs like MS-13 that have spread from Latin America on December 12, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)