August 22, 2017

After Charlottesville Attack, Van Hollen, Leahy, 22 Senators Press DHS on Trump Administration’s De-emphasis of Domestic Terrorism Efforts

In the wake of the deadly attack stemming from a far-right demonstration in Charlottesville, U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) were joined by 22 Senators to press the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on questions arising from the Trump Administration's apparent de-emphasis on protecting Americans from domestic terrorism, especially the Administration's apparent decision to de-emphasize combating far-right extremism.

The Senators questioned DHS Acting Secretary Elaine Duke about the department's apparent shift in focus.In the letter, the Senators wrote:"The alleged attack that killed one innocent person and injured at least nineteen others in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend was seemingly not just an ugly display of racist violence, it was likely also an incident of domestic terrorism.Yet as our nation confronts the problem of growing racial, religious and even political hatred, we are concerned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may not be adequately addressing one of the most significant threats of domestic terrorism."

The Senators noted that the Trump Administration revoked DHS funding to Life After Hate, an organization devoted to the rehabilitation of former neo-Nazis and other extremists. The Senators continued, "Several new grantees were added, but it now appears the focus on far-right extremism has been significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated."The Senators asked DHS to explain its decision, and to clarify reports that Trump transition team aide Katharine Gorka "may have played a role in the decisions about which groups would and would not receive [Countering Violent Extremism] grants."

The Senators expressed concern that "troubling indications of this Administration's priorities are not limited to these developments.President Trump kept silent after the August 5, 2017, bombing of the Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota.And the President faced two days of mounting pressure before finally denouncing far-right groups after the Charlottesville attack, while declaring the next day that 'I think there's blame on both sides.'Far-right extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and other groups motivated by racial and ethnic hatred, present a significant risk of violence and domestic terrorism.It is critical that the Administration's policies and priorities reflect this risk, and protect all Americans from violence and domestic terrorism."

Senators joining Van Hollen and Leahy in signing the letter are: Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis), Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Corey A. Booker (D-N.J.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

A full copy of the letter can be found here.