Dems may force fight to fund groups combatting neo-Nazis

Dems may force fight to fund groups combatting neo-Nazis
© Getty Images

Democrats may push for federal funding to groups combatting neo-Nazis and white supremacists in response to the violence in Charlottesville, Va.

Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who sits on the Appropriations subcommittee overseeing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) budget, is currently exploring drafting legislative language to ensure some groups devoted to fighting white supremacy receive grant funding in the future, though his office cautioned that the effort is still in the early stages.

The Maryland Democrat is hoping to attract some Republican support for the possible amendment, which would be offered to a DHS spending bill.

The appropriations measure is slated to be considered on the House floor with a package of other spending bills in September. The deadline to file amendments is the end of next week.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We’re working to identify Republican colleagues who may be willing to back the effort, so we can send a truly bipartisan message that we support groups working to combat racial discrimination,” Ruppersberger said in a statement to The Hill.

The move comes after the Trump administration canceled grants earlier this year for several organizations that are dedicated to countering right-wing violence.

President Trump is now facing bipartisan criticism for his statement Tuesday that both white supremacist groups and those fighting them were to blame for the violence over the weekend in Charlottesville, where white supremacist groups held a “Unite the Right” rally.

In the Obama administration’s final days, the DHS doled out $10 million in federal funding from a Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grant program to 31 different applicants. That included a nonprofit group called Life After Hate, which was founded by a former skinhead and is dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis and helping people leave the white supremacy movement.

When the Trump administration took over, the DHS froze funding for the grants while it reconsidered the applications, re-examined the goals of the program and altered its criteria.

Reuters reported at the time that the White House was considering retooling the program to focus more on radical Islamic extremism than on white supremacist groups. Trump also proposed entirely eliminating the program in his 2018 budget request.

When the administration finally released its revised list of grant recipients this summer, funding was pulled for a total of 12 grant recipients — including $400,000 for Life After Hate and $900,000 for the University of North Carolina, which would have gone toward countering jihadist and white supremacist recruiting.

Instead, new and existing grant recipients working with law enforcement received more money from the program.

The DHS emphasized in a statement that “sixteen of the 26 recipients have applicability to all forms of violent extremism and as such will address the threat of domestic terrorism.”

Ruppersberger and other lawmakers, however, want to see greater assurances. The fiscal 2018 spending bill does not contain any funding for the CVE program, which last received money in fiscal 2016.

Both Congress and the administration are feeling pressure to tamp down the potential threat of more violent protests, with growing fear that similar incidents could unfold around the country. So far, Trump’s handling of the events in Charlottesville has done little to assuage those concerns.

Democrats and Republicans alike have harshly criticized the president for failing to call out the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacist groups in his initial response, something he finally did in prepared remarks on Monday. But then Trump reverted back to his original statement and blamed “both sides” for violence during a wild, impromptu press conference on Tuesday.

Some lawmakers are even worried that Trump’s latest response to the events in Charlottesville could actually green light more violence. There have been reports that white nationalists are already planning more rallies to protest the removal of other confederate statutes around the country, including in Lexington, Ky.

Saturday’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was initially organized by far-right demonstrators to protest the college town’s decision to remove a statute of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.

But violent clashes quickly erupted, with a 20-year-old Ohio man, who is accused of having ties to white supremacist groups, allegedly driving his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.

Congress has been searching for ways to address the threat of violent extremism. Must-past spending bills — which are necessary to keep the government's lights on past Sept. 30 — have been one area where lawmakers often try to force votes on pressing or controversial issues.

Members have tried to attach language to spending legislation in the past that would ban the display of the Confederate battle flag in national cemeteries — an effort that first started in 2015 after the racially motivated mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C.

A Democratic aide for the House Appropriations Committee expects the issue of Charlottesville to be fresh on lawmakers’ minds as they begin to offer amendments and debate spending bills next month.

“The threat posed by white supremacists and Neo-Nazis comes as no surprise to anyone with a basic understanding of U.S. history or domestic security policy … it was disappointing but not surprising to see [Trump] turn a blind eye to these threats by redirecting FY16 DHS funding away from them, and completely eliminating them in the FY18 proposal,” Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), an appropriator, said in a statement to The Hill.

“Congress must reject this shameful and dangerous proposal and devote the resources and attention that this threat deserves.”