Combating Domestic Terrorism and Right-Wing Violent Extremism

Despite the documented rise in violent right-wing extremism, the Trump administration has taken steps to weaken the federal government’s response to the growing crisis. We’re investigating cuts to funding for a countering domestic terrorism program, the role of key offices within the Department of Homeland Security, and the installation of political appointees with anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views.

Background

Recent years have seen a troubling increase in domestic terrorism motivated by far-right ideology. A 2018 Washington Post analysis found that white supremacist and far-right violence has risen since Barack Obama’s presidency and “has surged since President Trump took office.” And in June 2019, a senior FBI counterterrorism official said that the agency had seen a significant increase in the number of white supremacist terrorism cases in the preceding months.

Despite this worrying trend, President Donald Trump’s administration has scaled back its efforts in combating such violence. After the 2016 election, the president’s transition team told Department of Homeland Security officials that it planned to shift the focus of such programs almost exclusively on radical Islam. Grants previously awarded through the department’s Countering Violent Extremism program for groups aimed at fighting radicalism and neo-Nazism were rescinded shortly after the president took office. And according to the Brennan Center, 85 percent of CVE grants now explicitly target violence by Muslims and other minority groups.

Other administration actions remain unclear. A new Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention was announced in April 2019 and appears to be, according to the Los Angeles Times, a “rebranding of an Obama-era initiative” with only a quarter of the staffing and about 10 percent the funding. 

American Oversight is investigating the government’s response to right-wing terrorism, seeking information on how it has dealt with mass shootings and other incidents, and looking into the influence that outside anti-immigrant groups and certain political appointees have had on federal policy.

What We’re Seeking

  • Communications and records from the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security regarding the scope of the Countering Violent Extremism program;
  • Talking points prepared by the Departments of Justice or Homeland Security, or sent to those agencies by the White House, in response to the 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the 2018 mailing of pipe bombs sent to prominent Democratic Party officials;
  • Information about the number of intelligence analysts working on domestic terrorism threats;
  • Communications that DHS official Katharine Gorka had with outside anti-immigrant and right-wing national security groups, as well as her calendars since early 2017;
  • Communications and records from the Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation related to an August 2017 intelligence report about “Black Identity Extremism”;
  • Records from the Department of Homeland Security related to the April 2017 Government Accountability Office report “Countering Violent Extremism”; and
  • Records that show who is working in the DHS Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention, and what the office’s purpose and official duties are.