Gerald E. 'Gerry' Connolly

08/23/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 08/23/2019 13:05

House Democrats Demand Answers On Trump Administration’s Attempts To Weaken Action On White Supremacist Extremism

65 House Democrats, led by Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), sent letters today to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan seeking an explanation of the Trump Administration's hampering of an effective, coordinated response to the growing threat of white supremacist extremist violence.

Their oversight letter followed revelations that, despite high profile white supremacist-motivated acts of terrorism including the mass shooting in El Paso earlier this month, and despite warnings from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Congress, the Trump Administration has been slow to address the threat of domestic terrorism, and may even have prevented federal law enforcement agencies from taking more forceful action.

The Representatives wrote:

'We are concerned that the Trump administration is jeopardizing our national security by failing to take domestic terrorism seriously. In particular, this administration is failing to address white supremacist extremist violence, the leading cause of domestic terrorism. Despite the growing toll of American lives lost, most recently in El Paso, TX, white supremacist-motivated terror is not being met with the vigorous, systematic and coordinated response which this threat requires from the federal government.

'… it is deeply concerning that the final National Counterterrorism Strategy made no mention of white supremacist extremist violence and only a passing mention of domestic terrorism. It is unacceptable that political interference from the White House should prevent domestic terrorism from receiving the elevated level of focus it deserves, especially following recent, high profile terrorist attacks.

'Two years ago, your agencies released a report entitled 'White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,' which highlighted the finding that white supremacists had carried out more attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 than any other extremist ideology, and that more attacks were expected. Despite the conclusions of that report, the Administration's budget requests have attempted to decrease funding direction toward these threats in the last two fiscal years. As a consequence of the Trump Administration's ideologically motivated attempts to downplay the threat of white nationalist extremist violence, funding and personnel requests have not reflected real-world conditions.

'Taken together, these developments give the strong impression that the Trump Administration may be endangering American lives by politicizing law enforcement and interfering with the operation of the agencies you lead. The deadly events in El Paso, TX, Pittsburgh, PA, Poway, CA, Jeffersontown, KY, Charlottesville, VA, Charleston, SC, and elsewhere make it clear that this white nationalist extremist violence is a growing threat to people in every part of the United States.'

The Representatives followed with a series of questions for further information and action by the FBI and DHS, requesting a response within one month. Full text of the letter follows below, and a signed copy is available here.

***

August 22, 2019

Acting Secretary Kevin K. McAleenan

Department of Homeland Security

Washington, D.C. 20528

Director Christopher Wray

Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW

Washington, D.C. 20535-0001

Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan and Director Wray:

We are concerned that the Trump administration is jeopardizing our national security by failing to take domestic terrorism seriously. In particular, this administration is failing to address white supremacist extremist violence, the leading cause of domestic terrorism.[i] Despite the growing toll of American lives lost, most recently in El Paso, TX, white supremacist-motivated terror is not being met with the vigorous, systematic and coordinated response which this threat requires from the federal government.

We agree with Acting Secretary McAleenan that 'domestic terrorism has a broad and expansive impact on American citizens' and that 'these attacks not only end lives, they degrade our society.'[ii] Yet, recent news reports revealed that the White House rejected efforts to make combatting domestic terror threats a priority in the National Counterterrorism Strategy.[iii] We understand that the White House wanted to solely focus on ISIS inspired violence and ignore white nationalist violence at home, despite increased warnings from law enforcement officials about the growing domestic terrorism threat.[iv] Given this, it is deeply concerning that the final National Counterterrorism Strategy made no mention of white supremacist extremist violence and only a passing mention of domestic terrorism. It is unacceptable that political interference from the White House should prevent domestic terrorism from receiving the elevated level of focus it deserves, especially following recent, high profile terrorist attacks.

We are also alarmed to learn that the Administration is withholding internal data from Congress and the public on domestic terrorism.[v] A report entitled 'Domestic Terrorism in 2018,' and dated April 15, 2019, showed that white supremacists were responsible for all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018. It was sent throughout the DHS fusion center network as well as federal agencies, including the FBI. However, the report was not provided to Congress despite repeated requests. The same news report also found that the Administration continues to perpetuate the concept of a danger from so called 'black identity extremists' despite a conspicuous lack of evidence that such a threat exists.

Two years ago, your agencies released a report entitled 'White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,' which highlighted the finding that white supremacists had carried out more attacks in the U.S. since 9/11 than any other extremist ideology, and that more attacks were expected.[vi] Despite the conclusions of that report, the Administration's budget requests have attempted to decrease funding direction toward these threats in the last two fiscal years.[vii] As a consequence of the Trump Administration's ideologically motivated attempts to downplay the threat of white nationalist extremist violence, funding and personnel requests have not reflected real-world conditions.

Taken together, these developments give the strong impression that the Trump Administration may be endangering American lives by politicizing law enforcement and interfering with the operation of the agencies you lead. The deadly events in El Paso, TX, Pittsburgh, PA, Poway, CA, Jeffersontown, KY, Charlottesville, VA, Charleston, SC, and elsewhere make it clear that this white nationalist extremist violence is a growing threat to people in every part of the United States.

We therefore seek clarification on the following points:

  1. Have requests for resources or approval of initiatives by either of your agencies to fight domestic terrorism been denied or delayed by the White House during your tenure?
  2. What steps are you taking to strengthen the response by your respective agencies to domestic terrorism, and specifically white nationalist terror?
  3. Do you intend to update your budgetary and staffing priorities to confront the growing threat of white supremacy and domestic terrorism? How?
  4. Will you commit to sharing the best available data on white nationalist terror with Congress?
  5. Given widespread, false claims to the contrary by people in positions of power and influence,[viii] will you definitively state that white supremacy and domestic terrorism represent a real danger to American lives?

Please provide a response by September 21, 2019.

Sincerely,