Andrew Naughtie, Independent, August 27, 2020
A former counterterrorism official under Donald Trump has sounded the alarm about white nationalism within the administration, saying that extreme ideology is directly informing various government policies.
Interviewed on MSNBC last night, Elizabeth Neumann was asked by host Joy Reid to what extend the administration’s policies on security and immigration were being shaped by white nationalist ideology.
Ms Neumann replied that while divining exactly what motivates senior Trump advisers and staff is not always easy, racist motives are clearly playing their part.
“Early 2017, I just assumed that the rhetoric we were seeing, the behaviour we were seeing was from an inexperienced group, that they didn’t understand how to govern – rhetoric and how it takes on a different effect when you’re sitting in the White House.
“And I gave them a lot of grace, or room to grow, and was deeply disappointed at what I saw. And I came to realise that there is some design to it. And I personally believe – I don’t know any man’s heart, but from what I experienced and some of the people I worked with, I do think there are people who hold a white nationalist viewpoint, and that that is actually impacting those policies.
“Some of those policies have good security means (sic), but when you poison it with this white nationalism, it kind of ruins the ability to do it well.”
In the three-and-a-half years of Mr Trump’s presidency, the FBI and counterterrorism monitoring organisations have warned that white nationalism and white supremacy are increasingly serious domestic terrorism threats.
Since the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, a long series of violent incidents across the US has indicated that both organised groups and individual extremists are increasingly prepared to take violent action in the name of far-right causes.
And as Ms Neumann alluded to, Donald Trump, his advisers and his administration have been accused of pandering to and even in some cases working with these organisations.
Certain Trump allies – including immigration hardliner Stephen Miller and nationalist agitator Steve Bannon, now ejected from the White House – have embraced certain far-right ideas and movements particularly openly.
They have been criticised on both left and right both for giving succor to racist movements previously considered beyond the pale and for translating extreme ideas into policy, particularly when it comes to immigration.
Mr Trump himself has often been accused of personally indulging in racist, xenophobic and violent speech to shore up his own base.
Ms Neumann was among more than 70 former officials who recently went public with concerns that Mr Trump and his administration had “imperiled” national security and that the president himself was “dangerously unfit” for the job.
She has herself recently appeared in a video for Republican Voters Against Trump in which she explains that she voted for Donald Trump in 2016 based on her pro-life views, but in her time in his administration came to realise that he was in fact fuelling the very threats that she was meant to help defuse and eliminate.
“Over the period of 2017 to 2018,” she tells the camera, “we started to see the rise of the white supremacist agenda. I, and my leadership at the Department of Homeland Security, were very clear that we found the ideology behind white nationalism, white supremacy, to be a growing threat.
“A very common refrain that I was asked was, ‘Does the president’s rhetoric make your job harder?’ And the answer is yes. The president’s actions and his language are, in fact, racist.
“Things like, ‘there are good people on both sides’ or ‘send them back from where they came from’ – those words gave permission to white supremacists to think that what they were doing was permissible.
“And I do think that the president’s divisive language is indirectly tied to some of the attacks that we have seen in the last two years.”