Amid rising fears, House chairman pushes focus on extremism

Amid rising fears, House chairman pushes focus on extremism
© Greg Nash

The head of the House Homeland Security Committee introduced new legislation on Thursday aiming to combat what he calls a scourge of Americans inspired by violent extremists.

The Countering Violent Extremism Act will help “prevent the radicalization from happening in the first place,” Rep. Michael McCaulMichael Thomas McCaulHong Kong activists visit Capitol Hill Texas Republicans sound alarm about rapidly evolving state Overnight Defense: GOP grumbles after Trump delays military projects for wall | House panel hints at subpoena for Afghanistan envoy | Kabul bombing raises doubts about Taliban talks MORE (R-Texas) said in a statement. 

“We cannot afford to complacently watch the threats mushroom,” he added. “It is time for action, and to treat this issue like the priority that it is,” he said.

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Intelligence and national security officials have repeatedly raised alarms about the ability of isolated individuals to grow radicalized online by following the Twitter accounts, blog posts and forums of extremists. Adherents of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have attracted the most attention, though some focus has begun to turn to domestic anti-government extremists and white supremacists in the wake of last week’s deadly shooting in Charleston, S.C.

McCaul’s new legislation would create a new Office of Coordination for Countering Violent Extremism within the Department of Homeland Security. That office would be responsible for coordinating efforts to stop violent extremism across the department, as well as setting up a “counter-messaging program” and coordinating with other federal agencies to combat the threat.  

Though McCaul’s statement introducing the bill appeared to be focused on the threat posed by ISIS, the legislation does not appear to distinguish Islamic extremism from other types of domestic terrorism.

Instead, it defines “violent extremism” as “ideologically motivated terrorist activities.”

Some critics have worried that the government — especially Republicans — have spent too much time worrying about jihadists at the expense of defending against domestic terrorists. 

Earlier this week, the top Democrat on McCaul’s committee — Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) — pleaded with McCaul to hold a hearing on domestic terrorism, which he said had so far been given a short shift by Congress. 

McCaul on Thursday said that the committee will soon hold a hearing on countering both international and domestic forms of violent terrorism. A date and list of witnesses have yet to be announced.