Coalition Letter to House Homeland Security Committee: Concerns about Domestic Terrorism Hearing

May 8, 2019

Dear Chairman Thompson and Ranking Member Rogers:

As civil liberties and community-based organizations, we submit this statement for the record in response to the hearing on domestic terrorism in order to share our concerns about the rise of white supremacist and nationalist violence in the country, and to remind the committee that communities of color continue to have their freedom of speech and right to assembly curtailed under the guise of fighting domestic terrorism. Before adopting any policies to fight white supremacist and nationalist violence, we urge you to consider how these policies will impact communities of color.

The term “domestic terrorism” itself has been heavily politicized and critiqued. The politicization of this term has meant that rather than applying a uniform definition, it has instead been applied differentially and used in particular to target and criminalize communities of color and their freedom of speech, movement, and assembly.   More specifically, there has been and continues to be, a systematic bias in the way terrorism is framed such that it is more readily applied to cases where the alleged perpetrator or planner of a violent act is Muslim.

Furthermore, the term “domestic terrorism” has often been associated, particularly by law enforcement, with Black and/or, Muslim and/or, Indigenous communities and their allies despite documented incidents of violence perpetrated largely by white supremacists and right-wing extremists.We are therefore concerned that the remedies and interventions that come out of this hearing will be used to increase targeting of marginalized communities.

A recent report published by South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) documents hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities from Election Day 2016 to Election Day 2017. The report draws a direct line between the Trump Administration’s anti-Muslim agenda and increasing attacks, revealing that of the 213 incidents of hate violence documented, one in five perpetrators invoked President Trump’s name, his administration policies, or his campaign slogans during attacks.[1]As the SAALT report made clear, state rhetoric, policy, and violence are key to understanding the rise of white nationalist and white supremacist violence. We urge the committee to use this hearing, and subsequent hearings, to examine how government policies and institutions and political rhetoric have fostered the rise of white nationalist and white supremacist terror.

We also urge committee members to reject Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs as a remedy to the rise in white supremacist violence. Though often neutral on their face, CVE programs have in practice and since their inception under the Obama administration profiled, surveilled, and divided Muslim communities. To simply include white supremacist groups within CVE would not alter the foundation of the program, but would strengthen and expand it – and this would likely result in Muslim youth and communities getting targeted even more than before.

Moreover, CVE programs are not only problematic because of their almost exclusive focus on Muslims, but because they are based on debunked, pseudo-scientific theories that certain “radical” ideas lead to violence.[2]As civil rights and civil liberties advocates have long argued, expanding CVE to include white supremacy will be ineffective in fighting terrorism, and harmful to communities of color.[3]CVE programs promote a narrative of collective responsibility of Muslim and other marginalized communities, putting them at risk in a way that will not be felt by the majority White population.[4]

We caution that white supremacist and right wing violence are less likely to be prosecuted as terrorism,[5]and urge the committee to take steps to ensure that any reported data by relevant government agencies is reliable. Required reporting would also track the number of FBI assessments and investigations, of each domestic terrorist movement defined by the FBI. This data could be revelatory, and should be made public.

Furthermore, if the Department of Homeland Security and FBI have the discretion to define and give their opinion about each terrorist movement and conduct a threat assessment – discretion that would almost certainly be biased if either of these agencies’ histories are any indication. Therefore, we are concerned that any efforts to “research” threats will lead to increased monitoring, surveillance, and destabilization of communities of color and non-violent activist groups.

Additionally, we are worried that action to address domestic terrorism could further embolden the FBI’s surveillance of the Muslim community. To date, the FBI maintains a nationwide network of over 15,000 informants[6], many of them highly paid to infiltrate Muslim communities. According to Human Rights Watch, from 2001 – 2014, “nearly 50 percent of the more than 500 federal counterterrorism convictions resulted from informant-based cases; almost 30 percent of those cases were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.”[7]It is unclear how these injustices will be addressed moving forward and what the recommendation will be regarding the use of informants to uncover or manufacture domestic terrorism plots. Thus, we urge Members of Congress to be explicit about the role of informants and what safeguards will be put in place to make sure they are not violating the rights of already marginalized communities. Data on the number of FBI informants involved in domestic terror related assessments and investigations should be collected and made public.

We look forward to working with the committee to ensure that white supremacist terror is addressed without adversely impacting the very communities most often targeted by white supremacists. We do not believe that law enforcement or intelligence agencies need additional authorities to address domestic terrorism, but they must be held accountable for ignoring some threats and inflating others.

 

Signed,

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Justice for Muslims Collective

Defending Rights & Dissent

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Asian Americans Advancing Justice

Asian American Resource Workshop – Boston

Campaign to TAKE ON HATE

Center for Constitutional Rights

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

MPower Change

National Network for Arab American Communities

Project South

Property of the People

Revolutionary Love Project

Southern Poverty Law Center

The Surveillance Technology Oversight Project (S.T.O.P).

 

[1]Communities on Fire, South Asian Americans Advancing Together, January 2018

[2]See Letter from Nicole Nguyen & Stacey Krueger, Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago, to Members of Congress et al, Concerning the Questionable Use of Academic Research to Support CVE Initiatives (October 5, 2016)
and Who Will Become a Terrorist? Research Yields Few Clues (Matt Apuzzo, The New York Times, Mar. 27, 2016)

[3]See Letter from 53 Civil Rights and Liberties Organizations Against Expanding CVE Programs(September 7, 2017)

andStatement:​ ​AMEMSA​ ​Groups​ ​Oppose​ ​Expansion​ ​of​ ​the​ ​Countering​ ​Violent​ ​Extremism​ ​Program(September 7, 2017)

[4]Are Muslims Collectively Responsible?, 416Labs, November 19, 2015

[5]Trevor Aaronson, Terrorism’s Double Standard: Violent Far-Right Extremists Are Rarely Prosecuted as Terrorists, The Intercept, March 23, 2019

[6]Trevor Aaronson, The Informants, Mother Jones, July, 2011

[7]Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terror Prosecutions, Human Rights Watch, July 21, 2014

Shah Rukh Khan – Bollywood Border Stop

This piece by Deepa Iyer (SAALT) has also been posted at Race Wire (www.racewire.org)

The Shah Rukh Khan incident at Newark International Airport over the weekend has elicited a range of viewpoints and opinions. Shah Rukh Khan, a famous Bollywood actor, was detained for over an hour, and interrogated by U.S. Customs and Borders Protection (CBP) authorities at Newark International Airport where he had landed. Mr. Khan believes that he was detained and interrogated because of his last name and his religious affiliation. The CBP (a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security) claims that officials were following standard protocol.

Mr. Khan’s incident might be gaining international attention because he is a celebrity, but the truth is that ordinary American citizens and immigrants here in the United States grapple with racial and religious profiling routinely at airports. Especially since September 11th, 2001, South Asian, Arab American, Muslim and Sikh travelers have been subjected to arbitrary secondary inspections, detentions, and interrogations while traveling.

Recently, the Asian Law Caucus and the Stanford Law School Immigrant Rights’ Clinic published a report that details incidents of intrusive questioning that many US citizens and legal permanent residents have faced when returning to the United States from trips abroad. The report provides information about the abuse of watchlists and first-hand accounts of profiling, as well as recommendations to safeguard civil rights.

Racial and religious profiling must be eliminated whether it happens on the streets, on our highways, at borders, or at airports. Profiling people based on their last name, skin color, accent, or religious affiliation is an ineffective enforcement technique that violates civil rights protections. In fact, the use of profiling tactics has not been an effective law enforcement strategy in either the War on Drugs or the War on Terror.

The Obama Administration and Congress have an opportunity to review and strengthen current administrative anti-profiling policies, and to pass federal legislation that bans profiling [the End Racial Profiling Act is set to be introduced in Congress again this year]. These are important steps in ensuring that the civil rights of everyone – whether a celebrity or ordinary American – are preserved.

Deepa Iyer is Executive Director of South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), a national, non-profit organization that addresses civil and immigrant rights issues. Learn more at www.saalt.org.

Have you seen “Raising Our Voices”?

In January 2001, SAALT began work on a 26-minute documentary entitled “Raising Our Voices: South Asian Americans Address Hate.” Produced by Omusha Communications and guided by SAALT Board members and volunteers, the documentary set out to raise awareness about the increasing hate crimes and bias incidents affecting South Asian communities, especially in the late 1990s. In fact, in 1997 and 1998, South Asians were reporting the highest incidences of bias-motivated crimes in the broader Asian American community.

The documentary features South Asian survivors of hate crimes and their families in Queens, New Jersey, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles, as well as organizers, lawyers and community advocates who mobilized the South Asian community and demanded justice.  When the film was completed two weeks before September 11th, 2001, little did we know how the landscape of the South Asian community in the United States would change.  With the alarming increase of hate crimes, bias incidents, and profiling that South Asians, especially those who are Sikh and Muslim, endured in the days and months after 9/11, SAALT re-envisioned the documentary and shot additional footage.

The documentary has been out since 2002, but you may not have seen it in its entirety yet. It has been used in classrooms and townhalls around the country and we encourage you to engage with it, comment on it, and if possible, to share it with friends, family, coworkers and community members.

You can view it here:

Part 1

Part 2 Please email us at saalt@saalt.org with your feedback, reactions, and comments. Feel free to use this documentary in your community, university, or your personal network of colleagues and friends.