In an extensively documented article in The Daily Beast, Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman quote former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials as worrying that the agency is so focused on carrying out President Donald Trump’s anti-immigration agenda that the problem of racist terrorism is getting scant attention. As the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday demonstrated, white supremacist violence remains dangerous. DHS is tasked with protecting America from terrorism both international and domestic but in reality spends far more resources on foreign threats or domestic terrorism associated with radical Islam.
“White supremacy is the lowest priority,” a retired FBI agent told TheDaily Beast. “I would say the threshold to initiate an investigation is much higher for subjects of white supremacy investigations than it is for a Muslim, frankly.”
The roots of the problem pre-dates the Trump administration. Since 9/11, jihadi terrorists have had higher priority and there is protocol for regarding jihadi groups as definitionally violent with white supremacist organizations only getting attention if they show violent intent. Further, the Obama administration was cowed by congressional Republicans into distancing themselves from a DHS report in 2009 on the dangers of white supremacist terrorism.
But under Trump, the tendency to sideline white supremacist terrorism has gotten worse. As Woodruff and Ackerman note, “Since assuming office in December of 2017, Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen mentioned white supremacist terror just four times in public statements—three in response to prodding from Democratic lawmakers asking her to both condemn and prioritize the threat from it. By contrast, she has mentioned Islamist terrorist groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda in public over 16 times as Homeland Security Secretary. Nielsen tweeted six times about migrant caravans; she has never mentioned the far-right terror threat on Twitter.”
Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence, adds that the Trump administration has exacerbated the threat: “We have an administration that’s enabling, if not facilitating, these types of people and the speed bumps that used to be there are not there anymore and the access to social media just moves this stuff forward at the speed of light.”