Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence

Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence
© Aaron Schwartz

House Democrats on Thursday pressed the FBI and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to beef up their strategies to combat the threat of violence motivated by white supremacist extremism after the shooting in El Paso, Texas, this month.

In letters to FBI Director Christopher Wray and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, 65 House Democrats accused the Trump administration of withholding information from Congress about domestic terrorism committed by alleged white supremacists in recent years and not giving the issue enough priority.

ADVERTISEMENT

"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 lawmakers wrote in the letters, which were spearheaded by Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).

They cited a report from Yahoo News earlier this month finding that a government document that was distributed throughout federal agencies — but not to Congress, despite Democratic senators' requests — found that alleged white supremacists were behind all race-based domestic terrorism incidents in 2018. 

CNN reported earlier this month that White House officials rebuffed efforts by DHS to make combating domestic terror threats, including from white supremacists, a higher priority.

"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 lawmakers wrote. 

The El Paso shooter allegedly sought to target Mexicans at a Walmart near the U.S.-Mexico border and published an anti-immigrant manifesto decrying a "Hispanic invasion of Texas." A total of 22 people were killed in the shooting while dozens more were injured.

Wray said in testimony before Congress in July that the majority of the agency's terrorism-related arrests since last fall were tied to white supremacy. Lawmakers pointed to his remarks in the wake of the El Paso shooting, saying federal authorities should put a bigger emphasis on tackling white supremacist extremism.

Lawmakers on Thursday asked the FBI and DHS to respond by Sept. 21 as to whether requests for resources to fight domestic terrorism had been denied or delayed by the White House; whether the agencies intended to adjust budget and staffing to address white supremacist and domestic terror threats; and what other steps they planned to combat white supremacist threats.

Earlier this month, a group of House Democrats led by Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDiplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight MORE (N.J.) called on Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSchumer calls on Trump to testify as part of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — Spotlight shifts to Sondland ahead of impeachment inquiry testimony Perception won't be reality, once AI can manipulate what we see MORE (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers skeptical of progress on spending deal as wall battle looms Impeachment battle looms over must-pass defense bill 'Saturday Night Live' presents Trump impeachment hearings with 'pizzazz' of soap opera MORE (R-Ky.) to cut the monthlong August recess short to take up legislation to address white supremacy and domestic terrorism.

They pointed to bills such as the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, authored by Rep. Brad SchneiderBradley (Brad) Scott SchneiderHouse Democrat pushes back against concerns that impeachment inquiry could spark political backlash Dem Congressman discusses plan to keep the house blue The Hill's Morning Report - New impeachment battle: Pompeo vs. House Dems MORE (D-Ill.) in the House, which would enhance units within the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security responsible for addressing domestic terrorism inspired by white supremacist ideology; as well as the NO HATE Act, authored by Beyer, which would help improve reporting of hate crimes by authorizing grants to create state-run hotlines to record information about hate crimes.