Violent white supremacists’ tactics, narratives and radicalization process bear a striking similarity to those used by extremist jihadi groups, including the Islamic State, experts told Congress.
While the sides are far apart ideologically, they both are using social media and online platforms to disseminate propaganda, radicalize vulnerable individuals and spur them to violence.
Violent white supremacists “have used the same modern technologies ISIS has exploited to create their own global community, and they have down so with deadly consequences,” said Joshua Geltzer, who served as senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, testifying Friday before two House panels.
Mr. Geltzer said both the Islamic State, better known by the acronym ISIS, and violent white nationalist groups are targeting vulnerable individuals with the false promise of joining something bigger than themselves.
Now the Department of Homeland Security will study what both groups have in common as part of its strategy to prevent attacks from domestic and foreign terrorists. DHS on Friday announced its counterterrorism strategy, which includes evaluating a common baseline among threats to the country.
“In an age of online radicalization to violent extremism and disparate threats, we must not only counter foreign enemies trying to strike us from abroad, but also those enemies foreign and domestic that seek to spur violence to our youth and disaffected — encouraging them to strike at the heart of our nation,” the agency said.
Just hours before DHS announced the strategy, Rep. Stephen Lynch, Massachusetts Democrat, urged the government to fight domestic terrorism with the same urgency it has battled Islamic extremism since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“White supremacists and right-wing terrorists have taken a play out of the jihadi playbook,” he said at a joint hearing between the House Homeland Security and Oversight committees on the terror threat posed by white nationals.
“Today, right-wing extremists are radicalizing on the internet with hate-filled propaganda,” he said.
Recent studies show that the threat from white nationalists has surpassed the danger for Islamic extremists.
Far-right terrorists were tied to every domestic attack in 2018, the most since 1995, the Anti-Defamation League reported. The same study found that 50 people were killed in white extremist killings, the fourth deadliest year on record.
But when lawmakers pressed Mr. Geltzer about the number of deaths from white national violence, he declined to give an exact count.
“Certain motivations for attacks are difficult to categorize,” he said.
Another witness, University of Chicago professor Kathleen Belew, agreed such numbers are hard to come by because the government has not been tracking them.
Whatever the numbers, federal authorities almost exclusively focus on Islamic terror despite the rise in domestic terror.
Between the 9/11 terror attacks through today, 71% of violent attacks inspired by Islam were thwarted, said Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat. During that period, far-right extremists committed 70% of the violent attacks in the country.
“Our failure to properly allocate resources to target racial terror is costing lives,” Mr. Raskin said.
In June, the FBI told Congress that 80% of its agents are targeting international and Islamic terror, with the remaining 20% dedicated to domestic terror, including white supremacists.
“We need to start treating violent white supremacy with the same urgency as we do violent Islamic extremism with a whole of government approach,” Mr. Lynch said. “Unfortunately for too long, U.S. counterterrorism efforts have focused almost exclusively on the jihadi terrorist threat.”
DHS is betting that improving its partnership with local law enforcement will help shift the focus to the white extremist threat. The agency has proposed creating intelligence hubs to share information. It also plans to launch joint initiatives to raise awareness about disinformation and halt the spread of information intended to mobilize extremists to violence.
DHS also is to improve information sharing with local authorities. In 2016, 88% of local law enforcement agencies reported zero hate crimes, the Justice Department reported. The department last year launched a website for the public and local authorities to report hate crimes.
The hearing Friday descended into chaos when conservative commentator Candace Owens used her time to blast Democrats’ “faux concern” over the threat of white nationalists.
“[White supremacy] is a fringe occurrence that is being used, in my opinion, by Democrats to scare Americans into giving up their votes to a party that can no longer win based on simple ideas, which is why we are seeing so many of these hearings back-to-back, despite other threats that are facing this nation,” said Ms. Owens, who is black.
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