After the mass shooting at a Quebec mosque last month that left six Muslim men dead, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Commissioner Bob Paulson stressed the need to uncover what motivated accused murderer Alexandre Bissonnette “to act in the way that he did.”
“There is, I think everyone would agree, a more caustic tone to the political discourse that seems to attract and agitate and radicalize people of all persuasions — particularly those who know hardly anything about it — to engage,” Paulson said, while addressing a Canadian Senate committee.
That all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion, are susceptible to radicalization is the antithesis of the Trump administration’s narrow and dangerous approach to fighting terrorism. Amid the ongoing clamor surrounding the President’s executive order banning the people of seven majority Muslim nations from entering the US, there’s also talk of scrapping the government’s “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program, which covers all ideologies, for one that focuses exclusively on Islamist terrorism.
Unlike other antiterrorism programs, CVE’s mission is to identify and address the causes of terrorism and create community resources that promote counter-narratives to undermine online violent extremism. On the Department of Homeland Security website, the program is called “a key focus” to “secure the homeland.” The site also mentions that “violent extremist threats come from a range of groups and individuals, including domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists in the United States, as well as international terrorist groups like Al Qaeda and ISIL.”
Like other remnants of the Obama administration, this policy may be at risk of being expunged.
From his anti-Muslim campaign rhetoric to his seething inaugural address, in which he promised to “eradicate” Islamist terrorism “from the face of the Earth,” Trump has never mentioned the kind of homegrown terrorism usually perpetrated by white men.
When the White House last week released a list of 78 terrorist attacks, it falsely claimed the media had ignored, it cited only those it said were “executed or inspired by” Islamist fundamentalists. Conspicuously missing were the acts of Dylann Roof, an avowed white supremacist convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of nine African-Americans in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015; Ronald Dear, accused in a 2015 attack at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic that killed three people, including a police officer; and Bissonnette, identified by Canadian authorities as “a criminal extremist.” The president, who rarely holds his tongue or tweets, has had nothing to say about the Quebec mosque massacre once it was confirmed that the accused murderer is not Muslim.
This is an especially tenuous time. Trump’s contentious rhetoric has emboldened white nationalists. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi twice described Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon as “a white supremacist.” Trump was endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and has been praised by neo-Nazis and David Duke. With hate crimes on the rise since the election, going after homegrown terrorists must be a crucial part of securing this nation.
CVE can be effective only if it continues to encompass all extremists, regardless of race or religion. To focus only on Islamist terrorism will allow domestic extremism to fester as a serious threat. Narrowing CVE’s original, more expansive mission won’t cripple terrorism; it will only enable it.