Why labeling domestic extremists 'terrorists' could backfire
The Capitol riot, anti-Semitism and what Joe Biden can do
Among the mob that took over the U.S. Capitol was a man wearing a sweatshirt that's hard to forget. It read: "Camp Auschwitz." In December, another man attended a Proud Boys rally in Washington, wearing a t-shirt with the logo "6MWE," short for "6 Million [Jews] Wasn't Enough."
It's a sickening reminder that anti-Semitism not only exists but that individuals are comfortable enough to emblazon statements that stand for - or call for - the genocide of Jews.
According to the FBI, hate-crime incidents in churches, synagogues, mosques and temples increased by roughly 35 percent between 2014 and 2018. In September 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that the faith-based community, particularly the Jewish community, was threatened by domestic terrorists.
One year later, while COVID-19 closed many houses of worship and faith-based institutions, the threat remains and hate crimes against the Jewish community increased by 14 percent.
The incoming Biden administration must take these threats seriously. It can begin by acting on eight initial, specific initiatives:
Terrorism prevention. With threats from white supremacists the top concern, the FBI needs more tools and resources to fight this threat. Just as this country responded after 9/11, law enforcement needs tools to properly investigate and prosecute violent white supremacists and neo-Nazi and their organizations. In addition, the administration needs to designate international white supremacist groups - such as the Azov Battalion, Nordic Resistance Movement and National Action Group - as well as domestic groups with overseas ties - such as Atomwaffen - as foreign terrorist organizations.
Online threats. Social media and online platforms continue to traffic in hate speech and misinformation. The private sector and civil society need to be engaged to address the flood of violent extremist content that exists online. Section 230 of the Community Decency Act needs to be reviewed so it does not provide a safe harbor for violent extremists, or the private companies that allow them to post.
Better information sharing. Bad actors continue to move faster than intelligence. The government needs to do more to share intelligence and other information with the faith-based community. Following 9/11, and to increase coordination, collaboration and prevent gaps in information-sharing, significant investments were made to co-locate intelligence analysts, local, state and federal law enforcement in "Fusion Centers" around the country. Increased resources for Fusion Centers can help support information and intelligence-sharing between law enforcement at all levels and the faith-based community.
Increase hate-crime reporting. Funding should be increased and specific policies examined to bolster hate-crime reporting and investigations, incorporating local communities in the process.
Conduct more training and exercises. The more faith-based groups, along with local law enforcement and their federal partners, conduct on-the-ground, localized exercises and training, the stronger the community will be. These programs have proven effective and resources to support them need to be increased.
Work with nonprofit security groups. Grant programs that target nonprofits with assistance, coordinated by DHS, have proven highly effective. They should be enhanced and supported - from the funds available to assisting faith-based groups to successfully apply for and effectively spend the available funds.
Enhance cyber protections. The faith-based community has been specifically targeted and remains woefully underprotected. A White House cyber coordinator should be reinstalled, and reporting and awareness programs should be increased, to ensure that local governments and the faith-based community are better protected.
More outreach, more engagement. Cooperation among the FBI, DHS and the faith-based community has been strong; it must remain so. The DHS secretary should designate a point-of-contact for the faith-based community to coordinate and plan joint efforts. The nonpartisan, apolitical Faith-Based Security Advisory Council should be resurrected as part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.
Wearing a sweatshirt with a scurrilous anti-Semitic message, while offensive, may not be a crime. But it should be a signal that we have more work to do. When anti-Semitism proudly marches through the doors of Congress, we must realize the potential for violence is real. These individuals often are part of hate-groups that can and should be targeted by the government, because 6 million Jews was 6 million too many.
Michael Masters is the national director and CEO of the Secure Community Network, the official safety and security organization of The Jewish Federations of North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. A certified police officer, he has served on numerous task forces for the Department of Homeland Security and previously served on the executive board of the FBI's Chicago Joint Terrorism Task Force. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelGMasters.