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