With mounting evidence that right-wing hate groups and their admirers now pose this country’s primary terrorism threat, President Donald Trump has promised federal authorities “whatever they need” to fight the scourge. That is a welcome and important signal from a president who once found “some very fine people” on both sides of a protest in Charlottesville, Va., that included neo-Nazis who marched while chanting “Jews will not replace us.”
But fighting this amorphous and widely scattered threat will take more than periodic presidential nods and reassuring promises from federal law enforcement agencies. And here, the signs are not so reassuring.
The statistics pointing to the rising tide of far-right hate violence are stark.
According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, “In 2018, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the U.S.” Those murders were “overwhelmingly linked to right-wing extremists,” according to the ADL. “Every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement, although one had recently switched to supporting Islamist extremism.”
Increasingly, mass killings here are the work of scattered individuals who identify with groups espousing a wide range of racist and anti-Semitic ideologies and linked by myriad websites. Its diffuse character makes combatting this latest eruption of hate violence particularly challenging.
Last month Trump, accused in the past of ignoring right-wing terror while focusing almost exclusively on threats from immigrants and Islamists, promised a new focus on this brand of homegrown hate. But there are indications that the promise has not been backed up by the resources needed to effectively combat the threat. According to a Washington Post report, the number of active domestic terror investigations is actually decreasing.
The Department of Homeland Security division charged with combatting the threat is doing so with dwindling resources, according to several reports. And the Trump administration has slashed or eliminated funding for nonprofit groups that seek to fight hate ideologies at the community level.
All of that poses a very real danger to the groups most often targeted by the haters — including an always-vulnerable Jewish community.
Terrorism is like a disease that is forever mutating; mounting effective countermeasures demands a sober, well-informed, and flexible approach divorced from political and ideological factors. The scant resources allocated to the battle suggest that this administration, for whatever reason, is still not willing to fully acknowledge the changing landscape of terrorism in this country.
Border security, an overwhelming emphasis of the Trump administration, is not an insignificant issue. And it would be naive to dismiss the potential for terror by Islamist terrorists and their foreign sponsors.
But in 2019, it is clear that domestic terrorists steeped in racist, anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and misogynistic ideology are the much more immediate and dangerous threat. The distribution of federal resources must reflect that reality if we are to protect the groups in the haters’ crosshairs. And our leaders, from the president on down, must do much more to send out forceful and consistent messages that hateful violence, whatever its driving ideology, cannot be tolerated in a democracy.