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

13 year old in Critical Condition after Alleged Hate Crime in Northern California

May 3, 2019

Dear Friends, Community Members, and Allies,

On April 23rd, 13 year-old Dhriti was walking back home from the library with her father and brother, when a driver plowed into them and several other pedestrians at a busy crosswalk in Sunnyvale, California. Dhriti is in a coma after suffering major brain injuries and is currently on life support. At least seven others were injured in the crash, all of whom are in stable condition.

Shortly after the arraignment of the driver, Sunnyvale Police Chief Phan Ngo said, “Based on our investigation, new evidence shows that the defendant intentionally targeted the victims based on their race and his belief that they were of the Muslim faith.” The FBI and local law enforcement are both investigating the crash as a hate crime.

This tragic and disturbing news comes at a month when reported hate crimes have been at an all time high. In April alone, SAALT tracked 10 incidents of hate violence and 6 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric. Just days after the Sunnyvale crash, a shooter killed one woman and injured three others at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in San Diego. The same shooter is accused of setting fire to a mosque in Escondido, CA in March. Globally, the impact of hate violence in March and April has been shattering. Earlier this month, nearly 300 people were killed in churches and hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The horrific attack occurred just weeks after at least 50 people were killed by a white supremacist in New Zealand who named Trump as his “symbol of renewed white identity.”

SAALT’s “Communities on Fire” 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’s policies, or his campaign slogans during attacks.

This hate survives—and in fact thrives—against a backdrop of racist policies from the Trump Administration like the Muslim Ban and family separation. This hate knows no borders, race, or creed. This hate is a threat to Muslims, and to those racialized as Muslims. Similar to the murder of Srinivas Kuchibhotla in Olathe, Kansas who was profiled as Middle Eastern, Dhriti and her family were allegedly targeted because they were perceived as Muslim.

To Dhriti and her family, we stand with you, demanding justice and an end to policies and hate speech that have created an ecosystem for hate crimes to increase.

Donate to Dhriti’s healthcare costs at:  https://www.gofundme.com/helpdhriti

Sincerely,

South Asian Americans Leading Together

Alliance of South Asians Taking Action

Council of American Islamic Relations – San Francisco Bay Area 

South Asian Workers Center, Boston

Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus

Houston Coalition Against Hate

California Immigrant Policy Center

South Asian Youth Action

Narika: Changing the Way We Live Violence-Free

Sikh Family Center

 

Statement of Concern Regarding April 9 Congressional Hearing on Hate Crimes and White Nationalism

April 8, 2019

Dear Chairman Nadler and Ranking Member Collins,

We write to share our concerns with you and members of the House Judiciary Committee regarding the April 9 hearing on Hate Crimes and The Rise of White Nationalism. We believe these are urgent issues and that Congress should be paying close attention, especially in light of the rise of hate crimes in the United States and the role that domestic white nationalist groups have here at home, and on a global scale.

On Tuesday, April 9, Congress is holding a hearing on hate violence and white nationalism.  According to the announcement, the House Judiciary Committee plans to “examine hate crimes, the impact white nationalist groups have on American communities and the spread of white identity ideology.” We believe these are urgent issues and that Congress should be paying close attention, especially in light of the rise of hate crimes in the United States and the role that domestic white nationalist groups have here at home, and on a global scale.

As organizations working with Muslim, South Asian, Sikh, and Arab communities, we are deeply aware of how hate violence has become a pervasive issue affecting our communities and other marginalized communities. We are heartened to know that the witness list for Tuesday’s hearing includes Dr. Abu Salha whose two Muslim daughters and son-in-law were murdered in a brutal hate crime in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015.

However, Tuesday’s hearing fails to comprehensively address the scope and magnitude of hate violence that disproportionately impacts Black, Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, and Arab American communities. Nor does the hearing utilize an opportunity  to unearth the complex motivations behind white nationalism or its effects, including hate violence. Apart from Dr. Abu Salha, it is not survivor-centered, and the GOP witness list includes several individuals whose actions and institutions have helped catalyze hate crimes, not abate them. For example, the witness list includes Candace Owens, Director of Communications at Turning Point USA, who tweeted “LOL” after the Christchurch massacre and who was listed as an inspiration in the manifesto released by the white supremacist who is responsible for the massacre of at least 50 Muslims in New Zealand. The list also includes Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America who used the slur “filthy Arabs” just last year. It is important that white nationalism and white supremacy are not treated as redeemable ideologies.

It is unfathomable as to why witnesses who espouse hateful positions and represent racist institutions would be included given their active discrimination  against Muslims and Arabs. Additionally, the hearing does not  thoroughly examine  the various and dominant strands of white nationalism, including zionism; the connection between political rhetoric, state policies, and the rise in hate crimes; nor does it include survivors who experienced hate violence since the 2016 election; or government officials who should be held accountable for how federal agencies and law enforcement entities are actively addressing white nationalism and hate violence.

We demand that Congress hold substantive hearings that center survivors and that unequivocally reject white nationalism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, racism, and hate violence in all its forms. Similar Congressional hearings have fallen short of examining the depth of white supremacist hate violence and our communities continue to pay the price. The 2017 FBI hate crimes statistics revealed an increase in hate crimes for the third year in a row, a 17% increase from the prior year. This is an alarming upward trend in hate crimes – now consistently surpassing the spike immediately after September 11, 2001. Survivors of hate violence and bigotry deserve honest inquiries and true justice from their elected officials. Congress must hold subsequent hearings that comprehensively confront and address the proliferation of white supremacist and white nationalist hate violence.

Signed,

American – Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Arab American Association of New York (AAANY)

Arab American Bar Association

Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC)

Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project (API DVRP)

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving

HEART Women & Girls

Justice For Muslims Collective

Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative

Muslim Social Justice Initiative

National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC)

National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA)

Project South

Sikh Coalition

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

South Asian Workers’ Center Boston

The Partnership For The Advancement of New Americans (PANA)

United We Dream