The past four years in America have been tumultuous regarding the internal security of our republic. Mass shootings, such as ones at a high school in Parkland, Florida and a Pittsburg, Pennsylvania synagogue, horrified Americans across the political spectrum. More recently, an alleged plot to abduct Governor Whitmer, which included a plan to blow up a bridge to thwart law enforcement pursuit of the plotters, was uncovered. And of course, the world witnessed the shocking events on January 6 when an insurrectionist mob violently laid siege upon the U.S. Capitol. Politicians, civil servants and criminal justice analysts need to work honestly together to shape better public policy to keep us safe from such or greater acts of violent extremism while simultaneously protecting civil liberties in our society. In part, this means finally shifting undue attention, resources and rhetorical bluster away from primarily focusing on the American Muslim community towards sounder policies that can interrupt those who actively perpetrate threats against domestic tranquility.
The tragic events of 9/11 not only took the lives of approximately 3,000 Americans immediately, but also caused lasting trauma to our national psyche. What followed, unfortunately, has been two decades of increased Islamophobia and failed governmental policies that have not made Americans safer. Back in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a threat assessment warning of a singular threat — the dramatic rise of White nationalist and ring-wing extremist activity. Instead of embracing the evidence, Republican lawmakers demanded that DHS rescind the report to instead focus on the Muslim community. As if acquiescing, the Obama administration later launched the Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) program, which focused mainly on the American Muslim community. Meanwhile, while CVE efforts were being funded for Muslims to act as de facto deputies within their own communities, no such deradicalization initiatives were aggressively undertaken in other communities, including online, to counter right-wing extremists nor far-left anarchists.
Though there have been cuts to CVE funding during the Trump administration, the posture remained the same of not sufficiently focusing on right-wing extremists as a primary national security threat. To the contrary, Mr. Trump stated that there were “very fine people on both sides”, speaking about Neo-Nazis and those who protested against them in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and called right-wing insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol “very special.” He can say “radical Islamic terrorism”, though he and his acolytes have a problem naming the violent ideology of “White supremacy.”
It is time to pivot away from the framework that had approximately one million Americans, the vast majority of them law-abiding Muslims, on suspected terrorist watchlists without due process to a serious acknowledgment and examination of domestic violent extremism. Before policy shifts and different forms of investigation and policing, a mental shift is required. And as President Biden rescinded Trump’s travel ban, which exclusively targeted Muslims coming from certain Muslim majority countries, the new president would do well to also focus much more on the reality of homegrown national security threats. Our national discourse must be more honest, not only about which parties have historically terrorized Americans in the homeland the most, but also about those who predominately perpetrate intimidation and violence driven by ideology within our country. Those parties just happened to overwhelmingly compromise White males who are right-wing and anti-government extremists, not American Muslims.
— Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) and a senior fellow at Auburn Seminary, based in New York.