Armed Extremists Blossomed Under Trump. How Will Biden Confront Them? | Opinion – Newsweek

Posted By on September 23, 2020

This month last year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which was formed in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks, proclaimed its intent to respond to "domestic terrorism, white nationalist threats and other acts of homegrown violence." In the twelve months since, however, there is almost nothing to show for it. Indeed, President Trump has long used his platform to stoke such extremism, suggesting that so long as he is in office, these challenges will remain unaddressed.

Almost 20 years after 9/11 brought the threat of jihadist extremism to American cities and televisions screens, the domestic landscape has changed significantly. A study by the Anti-Defamation League found that, of the extremist-related murders of 2019, a full 90 percent were connected to "right-wing extremists." And as FBI director Christopher Wray recently stated before the House Judiciary Committee, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists make up a "huge chunk" of the FBI's domestic terrorism investigations and the majority of those attacks are "fueled by some type of white supremacy." What, then, is our government doing about this threat? Sadly, not much.

President Trump has time and again hesitated to focus on or push back against white supremacist and far-right groups and many have openly declared their support for him. Rather than confront right-wing politically-motivated violence and focus on the most pressing strategic threats as identified by his own law enforcement professionals, he has instead focused his recent attention solely on left-wing violence. The full extent of this deliberate and dangerous behavior was recently revealed with a whistleblower complaint, released this month, alleging that senior Department of Homeland Security officials pushed their own analysts to suppress the threat posed by, among other forces, white supremacists, even while they knew of the threat they posed.

While Vice President Biden has repeatedly condemned far-right violence and taken a decisive stance against all forms of civil unrest, the White House has largely stayed silent on the right wing threat. And the President has even gone further, providing rhetorical encouragement to social discord. From President Trump's statement after the Charlottesville attacks that there were "very fine people on both sides" to his recent refusal to condemn right-wing agitators at recent protests, there has perhaps not been, at least in modern memory, a Commander-in-Chief so worryingly inciteful.

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For those long concerned with the safety of the American public, the security of our cities, and the resilience of our social fabric, the events of the last few months have been cause for alarm. America appears to be in danger of falling apart at the seams, as right-wing groups enjoy and, indeed, seek to accelerate the disorder.

Should he win the upcoming election, President Biden would have to act quickly, decisively, and strategically to head off the threat of further social unrest, which right-wing groups, like their jihadist counterparts, deliberately foment. But the task ahead for him will be a significant one.

A Biden administration must bring greater nuance, sophistication, and thoroughness to this long-term fight, starting with their rhetoric. Following Mr. Trump's election to the Presidency, hate crimes across the nation spiked. His rhetoric has validated, legitimized, and encouraged prejudice. As we have learned from fighting jihadism, hate speech is often a waystation on the path to violence. Contrast that with the New Zealand attacks, when Prime Minister Ardern was praised across the world for her compassion and her principled resolve; like her, we should not neglect the importance of unifying speech in combatting divisive propaganda. A Biden administration's first task will therefore be to acknowledge publicly and unequivocally that far-right violence, largely driven by an underlying ideology of white supremacy, is the leading terror threat facing the country today. Moreover, this threat, as the New Zealand mosque shooter so horrifically demonstrated, is a transnational one, metastasizing across the Western world as the perpetrators identify cracks in our societies and use violence to strategically widen them.

Once the White House narrative has shifted, a Biden administration will have to invest the necessary resources to meet today's domestic violent extremism challenge, and better coordinate action across our federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, presenting a common and holistic approach to a pervasive challenge. At the moment, the Trump administration fails to coordinate with local authoritiesand even appears to undermine them. Federal law enforcement must be driving the solution, not compounding the problem; to that end, Biden's choice of Attorney General and DHS Secretary will be critical.

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Social factors such as alienation and loneliness underlie and motivate many extremists and the far-right is no exception. A Biden administration should reach out to and build partnerships with local communities to address social and public health issues as they relate to extremism. Just as important, social media companies must be held to a higher standard than they are today and be held accountable to the extent they are allowing extremists to thrive on their platforms.

The Presidency should be an office that heals, unites, and guides the nation, emphasizing that which is best in our character, and encouraging us to combat that which is most threatening to our security. Whereas extremist thought, speech and action have become socially acceptable under President Trump's watch, the message from a Biden administration should be loud and clear: Extremism will no longer be allowed to thrive in America.

Jasmine M. El-Gamal is a Senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. She served as a Middle East advisor at the Pentagon from 2008-2015. During her tenure, she covered issues related to the Arab Spring, Syria, ISIS, and Guantanamo Bay, among others. Her research and commentary focus primarily on U.S. policy in the Middle East; global and domestic extremism issues; as well as the Syrian conflict and resulting refugee crisis.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.

Armed Extremists Blossomed Under Trump. How Will Biden Confront Them? | Opinion - Newsweek

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