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Elizabeth Warren releases plan to combat white nationalist violence

Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Senator Elizabeth Warren. John Locher/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Senator Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a plan to combat crimes committed by white nationalists, saying ending such domestic terrorism would be a top priority for federal law enforcement officials if she is elected president.

Warren said she would require state and local governments to fully report suspected incidences of bias-motivated crimes so that federal officials could more accurately assess the scope of “the white nationalist threat.” She also would create a federal interagency task force to address white nationalist crime with a focus on early intervention.

And the Democratic presidential candidate wants to designate hate crimes as domestic terrorism, which would impose harsher penalties on those who perpetrate them. This would standardize prosecutions and encourage similar penalties for similar crimes — regardless of a person’s race, ethnicity, or supposed ideology.

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“Domestic right-wing terrorism is completely incompatible with American values,” Warren wrote in the plan. “It is a threat to American safety and security. In a Warren administration, we will use every tool we have to defeat it.”

She wants to make it more difficult for white nationalists to join the armed forces and would direct the Pentagon to improve its background check process to search for instances of hate crimes and affiliation with white nationalist groups. She’d call on the FBI to investigate hate crimes — breaking from what she said has been the practice of putting significant hate crime investigations into the hands of local and state officials.

Warren also would set up a commission to find ways to fight “violent extremist content” on the internet and take steps to encourage the teaching of tolerance in schools.

The plan also builds on some of her previous campaign proposals, including one on gun safety that aims to keep guns out of the hands of people who might be violent and prevents anyone convicted of a hate crime — even a misdemeanor — from owning a gun.

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Warren released her new initiative ahead of Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, and the proposal comes amid controversy surrounding senior White House adviser Stephen Miller and his reported efforts to promote white nationalist ideas. Miller is facing criticism after a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center last week that he sent e-mails promoting content from white nationalist and fringe media organizations to the conservative website Breitbart.

The FBI said recently that violent hate crimes in 2018 were the highest in 16 years, and a study by The Washington Post this spring found that counties that hosted a Trump campaign rally in 2016 saw a 226 percent increase in reported hate crimes in subsequent months over comparable counties that didn’t host a rally.

Warren noted that gunmen in the mass shootings in El Paso, Pittsburgh, and Charleston cited racist ideologies as motivations for their attacks. And she pointed to the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., in which one counterprotester was killed and several more were injured after a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd. President Trump said there was “blame on both sides” in a press conference after the event, sparking widespread outrage.

Warren said President Trump “wants to divide us” and for Americans “to blame their troubles on those who are new to our country, or who don’t look the same or pray the same or love the same.”

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“We can be a country that prioritizes the safety of all our citizens,” Warren wrote. “When we fail to prosecute hate crimes, we send the message that the victims are less valued. And when our neighbors are being persecuted, or attacked, or treated unfairly, that impacts all of us. To take on hate, we all have to stand up against it — together.”


Ryan Wangman can be reached at ryan.wangman@globe.com.