I recently visited El Paso, Texas, as part of a congressional delegation investigating conditions along the U.S.-Mexico border. I was moved by the warm hospitality of all the people we met. Tragically, less than 24 hours after our departure, the community that had so graciously welcomed us was victimized in a horrific domestic terror attack.
Learning of the news, I was filled with an all too familiar mix of heartbreak for the victims and outrage that so many of our political leaders are unwilling to take even modest action to reduce gun violence in our nation. My dread grew with reports of shooter’s vile manifesto filled with anti-immigrant screeds against Latinos.
El Paso is not unique. The shooting is emblematic of the growing threat posed by domestic extremists espousing white supremacist beliefs. Our national conscious has been seared time and again by acts of violence perpetrated by vile ideologies of hate. Members of Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston welcomed a stranger into their midst only to be murdered in the pews. Jews gathered for Sabbath morning services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh were murdered, gunned down because of their faith. Earlier this year, a man walked into a San Diego-area synagogue and began shooting, killing one and wounding others. Just weeks before, the same individual had attempted to set fire to a nearby mosque.
The evidence is clear. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) both warn that white supremacist extremists have been responsible for more recent deaths than any other domestic extremist movement, and caution of a “persistent threat of lethal violence.”
Worse, the problem is increasing. A senior FBI counterterrorism official said the agency was working to combat a “significant” rise in instances of white supremacist domestic terror. According to the Anti-Defamation League, last year, 78 percent of domestic extremism-related killings in the United States were linked to white supremacy, while 2 percent were related to domestic Islamic extremism.
The Trump administration is in denial about the seriousness of this threat. According to recent reports, the White House officials rejected efforts by Department of Homeland Security officials to emphasize and prioritize the danger posed by domestic terrorists, including white supremacists, in the National Counterterrorism Strategy.
We need to elevate this threat as a priority for law enforcement. Earlier this year, I introduced, with my colleagues Reps. Robin KellyRobin Lynne KellyLawmakers seek answers on armed services' plans to address gun tracking Illinois Democrats propose new 'maximized' congressional map Left warns Pelosi they'll take down Biden infrastructure bill MORE (D-Ill.) and Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas), the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act as a first step to address the problem. Our bill improves coordination between federal law enforcement, including the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and the FBI, as well as focus their efforts by requiring the agencies regularly assess domestic terrorist threats and concentrate on the most significant. Sen. Dick DurbinDick DurbinInfrastructure bill carves out boosts to first responders, wildland firefighters Democrats face critical 72 hours Bipartisan lawmakers target judges' stock trading with new bill MORE (D-Ill.) is leading identical legislation in the Senate, and it has been endorsed by the national security-focused Blue Dog Coalition.
The bill would also enhance cooperation between federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement to more effectively monitor, understand, investigate and prosecute domestic terrorism through intelligence sharing requirements. Additionally, it would make permanent the Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee (DTEC), an interagency task force that was originally established in response to the Oklahoma City bombing.
There is no single solution to prevent homegrown, domestic terrorism, but this legislation is a step in the right direction to ensure our counter-terrorism strategy reflects the most significant threats and is informed by the latest data. If we are to better protect the American people, we cannot ignore the fact that white supremacist groups are emboldened and on the rise. This is a national security issue, and we need to act now.
Schneider represents Illinois 10th District.