Ex-FBI official names right-wing extremism one of the biggest security challenges for 2020

A former FBI intelligence officer said Thursday that combating right-wing extremism and white nationalism poses a serious challenge for security officials going into 2020.

“If you want intelligence to be good on the current wave of domestic terrorism — what people call right-wing extremism, Neo-Nazi extremism — I don’t think people realize how tough that target is,” Philip Mudd, who is now a counterterrorism analyst, told Hill.TV in response to a question about how security officials should prepare for the future. 

“It’s dispersed, that’s people in every state, but it’s also a civil liberties issue,” he added.

Mudd said the first step towards combating white nationalist-fueled violence is re-evaluating the nation's political rhetoric.

“Either side of the political spectrum, you cannot validate their anger,” he said in reference to members who identify as part of the Neo-Nazi movement.

“You can’t even get close to saying it’s appropriate to look at a foreigner in this country or an immigrant or an asylum seeker and say that person is less than you,” he added. “It’s not a political statement, it’s what I saw with Al-Qaeda.”

Mudd also said lawmakers need to take congressional action against homegrown hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. 

“That means laws that say, ‘hey, groups that committed acts of violence — how about the KKK, you want to go after them? They’ve committed acts of violence for political reasons — that’s terrorism,” he said. “The politicians have to provide cover.”

The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas has renewed calls to address the rise of domestic terror attacks. Federal authorities believe the suspected shooter, who killed 22 people, was motivated by hatred of Hispanics and immigrants. 

Republican Sen. Martha McSallyMartha Elizabeth McSallyArizona Democrats push Sinema censure vote off until January Pence taps former DHS spokeswoman as his new press secretary Arizona Democratic Party will hold vote to censure Sinema MORE (R-Ariz.) is now putting forward a bill that would effectively close a loophole to make domestic terrorism a separate federal crime.

McSally, an Air Force veteran, told Politico on Wednesday that her legislation is necessary due to a loophole that prevents federal prosecutors from specifically charging suspects with domestic terrorism.

“For too long we have allowed those who commit heinous acts of domestic terrorism to be charged with related crimes that don’t portray the full scope of their hateful actions,” she said.

Authorities are also treating an earlier mass shooting at California’s Gilroy Garlic Festival, in which a gunman killed three people before taking his own life, as domestic terrorism. 

Dayton, Ohio also suffered a mass shooting the same weekend as El Paso. That shooter's motive, meanwhile, remains unknown as authorities still investigate the attack. The rampage left nine people dead and dozens of others wounded. 

—Tess Bonn