Rachael Levy and Dan Frosch, Wall Street Journal, October 3, 2020
The Department of Homeland Security, through a little-known program, intends to distribute millions of dollars to groups focused largely on combating white supremacists and other far-right extremists, even as President Trump has sought to play down their threat.
Homeland Security’s new Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention program announced $10 million in grants in recent weeks to several organizations dedicated to stopping white supremacist and far-right violence, and identifying extremists of all kinds.
The new initiative is a revamped version of an Obama administration program that focused more on countering homegrown Islamic terrorism. That effort was criticized for being overly broad and ineffective.
A Homeland Security spokesman said the department will implement its grant funding to help prevent “violent white supremacy alongside a number of recognized and emergent forms of terrorism and targeted violence.” The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The organizations receiving money include a nonprofit staffed by former neo-Nazis, university researchers studying how to combat disinformation circulated online by white supremacists, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which runs a program to rehabilitate people who have committed hate crimes, among other things. The McCain Institute, named after the late Republican Sen. John McCain, is creating a network of specialists nationwide to accept referrals of people feared at risk of committing violence. The institute said it expects to primarily handle far-right threats, including white supremacists.
The projects are largely in early stages of planning, according to those involved.
Homeland Security has faced criticism from counterterrorism experts for not doing enough to combat white supremacist groups during the Trump administration, despite a series of high profile acts of violence targeting minorities.
Last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray told lawmakers the primary perpetrators of lethal violence in 2018 and 2019 were racially and ethnically motivated; most are white supremacists. Homeland Security’s acting head also recently told lawmakers white supremacists represent “the most persistent and lethal threat when we talk about domestic violent extremists.”
Mr. Trump has said he doesn’t agree with those assessments, even as critics have accused him of churning up divisions that lead to violence. In a presidential debate this week, he said the far-right Proud Boys should “stand back and stand by” and “almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing.”
The government grants cover two years, and could be doubled if Congress passes Mr. Trump’s 2021 fiscal year budget, according to people familiar with the grant planning.
One of the largest grants, nearly $750,000, went to Life After Hate, which was founded by former white supremacists and neo-Nazis and works with people trying to leave violent far-right movements. The group was first awarded funding under the Obama-era program but had its grant rescinded soon after Mr. Trump took office.
The School of Communication at American University was awarded nearly $570,000 to develop a strategy to undermine disinformation circulated by white supremacists online.
Kurt Braddock, a professor at the university who is working on the project, highlighted the program’s urgency. “We’re seeing more and more use of this kind of disinformation from right-wing extremists that hope to bring people to their ideology,” Mr. Braddock said. “By any observable metric, right-wing violent extremism is the biggest threat to domestic security in the U.S.”