America needs to combat the racist, neo-Nazi narrative
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The events in Charlottesville are a stark wake-up call. It is clear that America has failed to take the threat of homegrown, racist extremism seriously. Weeks after taking an oath to defend America from enemies foreign and domestic, President Trump gutted federal support to combat right-wing extremism, and refocused millions of federal dollars exclusively to jihadist groups.

George Selim resigned his position as head of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs. It was a resignation welcomed by many who advocated a harder line on Islamic groups and less oversight over right-wing radicals. Such radicals were in fact, dismissed by Sebastian Gorka as “not a problem” days before the Charlottesville rally of neo-Nazis, ethno-fascists and anti-government militia members.

While President Trump’s refusal to immediately denounce the Charlottesville events is disturbing, a greater threat to our security is that America is doing far less to combat these deadly groups than we can.


It is important to define the scope of the problem: Charlottesville is not a one-off event. The Southern Poverty Law Center counts almost 1000 hate groups currently operating around the country. And the groups are metastasizing, making plans to hold confrontational rallies in places like San Francisco and several other cities.

These groups are not simply advocating hate speech. The FBI has deemed that they pose an imminent threat of physical violence. Groups like the Sovereign Citizens statistically pose the greatest lethal threat to police in the country. In the past we have used the ISIS-inspired attacks in Orlando and San Bernardino as motivation to battle the war on terror. However, it is increasingly clear after Charleston and Charlottesville, white supremacists inspired attacks are also occurring and need to be taken seriously.

The U.S. should pursue several policy avenues. The threat of homegrown neo-Nazi and the KKK violence indicates that need the federal government to support efforts to combat the CVE. While the CVE field needs more accountability, vigor, and evaluation mechanisms, it achieves this with more resources, not less.

Combating the alt-right narrative means creating and funding programs that directly engage the false narratives promoted by these terrorists. Similar to combating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al Qaeda false narratives, religious groups can be called upon to show how the KKK and neo-Nazis misuse and defile Christian doctrine.

Programs could also highlight counter narratives showing how these groups do not speak either for traditional “American” values or for white people as a whole. The Department of Homeland Security currently funds $10 million in programing for such programs aimed at Muslims — we should replicate this against domestic racist terror groups.

Thankfully, a handful of U.S. cities are engaged where the Federal government has not. Cities like Denver, San Diego, New York, Los Angeles, and Chattanooga are part of the international Strong Cities Network, which allows U.S. cities to learn best practices from cities in Europe gripped by similar domestic terrorism.

But the federal government must do more to protect us, because local police and sheriff deputies can’t do it all. We need dedicated specialists in regional counterterrorism fusion centers and DHS field offices. While the FBI recently foiled a potentially terrible attack in Oklahoma, we need a vastly greater investment in human intelligence to penetrate closed networks (like Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs), engage in sting operations, and actively deter future attacks.

While politically contentious, it is also time to reevaluate open carry of firearms at sites of extremist protest. In Virginia, the police were intimidated and stood down because, according to the Governor, the protesters had better weapons. Guns in situations like these create an impetus for violence, not only silencing the first amendment rights of counter-protesters through intimidation, but also sows confusion and chaos for the police.

That these groups align explicitly with ideology that advocates public executions, lynching, and the dismemberment of government institutions is well more than enough rationale to justify banning weapons at these rallies. Recognizing that rallies like these are actually intended to provoke counter-reaction, banning open carry could save lives.

Finally, a long-term strategy needs to be adopted with the aim of preventing future extremism. Prevention of violence of all sorts, from street gangs to terror groups, requires serious financial commitment. We must invest in school programs like the ADL’s Not in Our Town, and other curriculum that root out hateful narratives by training teachers and counselors to recognize warning signs of radicalism.

Mental health professionals, police psychiatric response teams, and even city parks and recreation staff should all be acquainted with signs of hate-group radicalization and recruitment practices. Twitter, Facebook and social media must engage in profile and post monitoring, closing racist neo-Nazi accounts similar to their strategy with ISIS. Ultimately, providing good governance, job opportunity, and robust civic engagement early on may prevent the disaffection that drives young, white men to join domestic terror organizations like the KKK.

It isn’t enough for American politicians to denounce homegrown domestic terrorism. Policymakers must use the FBI, Homeland Security, cities, businesses, and nonprofits with similar tools used to combat violent jihadist groups. America needs robust campaigns to combat the racist neo-Nazi narrative, build stronger civil society to prevent future radicalism, and give law enforcement the tools they need to stop this ever-expanding national security threat.

Joel Day holds a Ph.D. in international affairs and is a research scholar at the Kroc Institute of Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, specializing in extremism and counter-terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter @joelkday.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.