Department of Homeland Security is finally, officially recognizing white supremacist terror as a major national security threat in the U.S. — a threat that’s coming from the inside.
Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Friday unveiled the department’s new counterterrorism strategy, which for the first time places major emphasis on countering the threat of white nationalism coming from inside the U.S.
The news will come as some relief for national security and extremism experts, who for years and with increasing urgency have sounded the alarm about the threat of white nationalist terror. After the Christchurch mosque attacks in March, President Donald Trump himself shrugged off the idea that white nationalist terror posed a major security threat. His administration has also defunded and dismantled DHS programs that were designed to counter violent extremism, including far-right extremism. At a House committee hearing earlier this week, experts stressed that the U.S. was woefully ill-equipped to counter the threat.
DHS was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and since then its counterterrorism strategy has been largely focused on the threat posed by foreign groups, like ISIS and al Qaeda. Friday’s announcement and formal recognition of white supremacist terror marks a major turning point for the department.
McAleenan, speaking at a Brookings Institution event, said that after the attack at a synagogue in Poway, California, he organized a subcommittee to explore how to secure faith-based organizations from similar attacks. From there, he said, they started to devise a “strategic framework that would build on our success against foreign organizations and incorporate lessons learned.”
After a white nationalist targeted Hispanics shopping at Walmart in El Paso, Texas, in August, leaving 22 dead, McAleenan said he was even more confident that DHS needed a new counterterrorism strategy.
Many of the priorities listed in the 41-page document align with what extremism and counterterrorism experts have suggested during various recent hearings on domestic terrorism before congress.
For example, the report notes that national-level statistics on terorrism and targeted violence are inadequate, and so the department will work closely with state and local agencies, plus academic and non-governmental organizations, to improve their data collection and analysis.
Other measures include using fusion centers — intelligence hubs for federal, state and local law enforcement — to share information about terror threats. They also plan to spearhead initiatives to raise awareness about disinformation, and “halt the spread of information operations intended to promote radicalization to violent extremism or mobilization to violence.”
“The United States faces an evolving threat environment and a threat of terroroism and targeted violence within our borders that is more diverse than at any time since the 9/11 attacks,” McAleenan said on Friday. “We are acutely aware of the growing threat from enemies, both foreign and domestic, who seek to incite violence in our nation’s youth, disenfranchised, and disaffected, in order to attack their fellow citizens.”
Cover: A white nationalist holds his phone while marching to Lafayette Square during the "Unite the Right 2" rally in Washington, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018. (Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)