HSA notes danger of white extremists

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, Sept. 4. The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to address white supremacist terrorism as a primary security threat, beating back criticism that the agency has spent a decade playing down the issue even as bigoted mass shooters from New Zealand to Texas took the lives of nearly 100 people in the last six months alone. Erin Schaff/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Department of Homeland Security is beginning to address white supremacist terrorism as a primary security threat, breaking with a decade of flagging attention after bigoted mass shooters from New Zealand to Texas took the lives of nearly 100 people in the last six months.

In a little-noticed strategy document published last month to guide law enforcement on emerging threats and in recent public appearances by Kevin K. McAleenan, the acting secretary of homeland security, the department is trying to project a new vigilance about violent white nationalism, beating back criticism that the agency has spent a decade playing down the issue.

“In our modern age, the continuation of racially based violent extremism, particularly violent white supremacy, is an abhorrent affront to the nation,” McAleenan said last month, describing white nationalism as one of the most dangerous threats to the United States.

The department’s new stance contrasts that of President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly dismissed white supremacy as an insignificant fringe movement. But beyond words and documents, many officials trying to combat the threat throughout the country remain skeptical that the full weight of federal law enforcement is finally being used to give bigoted domestic terrorism the attention it deserves.

Mike Sena, who manages one of 79 information-gathering “fusion centers” across the country partially funded by the Department of Homeland Security, said he has witnessed the rise of hate speech and white supremacist terrorism on the internet — and the reluctance of some in local law enforcement to pursue it.

“If it’s ISIS, they’re jumping to it and saying, ‘I got this,’” said Sena, president of the National Fusion Center Association, using an alternative name for the Islamic State group. “But if it’s not, they say, ‘What do I have to do with this?’”

Local police officials in turn hope the belated admission by the Homeland Security Department will lead the agency to share more and richer information on the threat.

The “Strategic Framework For Countering Terrorism and Targeted Violence” asserts that the leadership at Homeland Security must adapt to the rise of domestic terrorism. The department will invest in counter-messaging campaigns and engage the private sector to combat hateful rhetoric online, according to the report.

New York Times

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