As we close out 2018, America continues to be the most violent nation in the West. While debates continue in our society about gun control and improving mental health services as parts of the solution, there also needs to be increased discussion about how violent extremism is framed in the public discourse and how problematic government policies relating to it need to be reformed.
During the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security along with the Department of Justice launched the Countering Violent Extremism program which was supposed to bring federal, state and local enforcement into partnership with community organizations to prevent mass violence in America.
CVE continues to be criticized by several civil rights organizations because of its inherently bias “risk indicators” that primarily target Muslims based upon constitutionally protected activities.
Although CVE under President Obama had the veneer of dealing with violent extremism at home irrespective of religious background and ethnicity, the Trump administration has eroded any meaningful effort to use this program to counter violence stemming from white supremacists and white mass shooters.
According to an analysis released a few months ago by the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 85 percent of CVE grant funding explicitly targets Muslims while also including other minority groups.
In the era of President Trump, the Dearborn Police Department receives CVE funding though Dearborn Muslims have not committed a single act of religious or political mass violence . Moreover, Black Lives Matter, which is an explicitly non-violent organization, has now been labeled as a Black Identity Extremist organization though its leaders and organizers are not among the over 300 mass shooters which have been perpetrated this year.
In this way, CVE echoes McCarthy era political persecution of targeting minorities while ignoring the greatest threat to domestic security; white supremacist militancy. Such measures may play well to certain political interests and those who have white nationalist inclinations, but current CVE measures are not making America any safer. Empirical data reflects this conclusion.
Given that CVE was essentially designed to fail, it needs to be scrapped in favor of measures which address where violent extremism in America truly comes from per what can be proven through empirical analysis.
Congress should defund CVE and enact a federal statute which would allow for the prosecution of citizens under domestic terrorism for violent actions. This could be done while preserving freedom of speech rights of groups which most of us believe to be abhorrent including neo-Nazis. Current federal law does not allow for terrorism prosecution for those who are not tied to a foreign entity or movement; hence, the white supremacist extremist who attacked the Pittsburgh synagogue was not indicted as nor is being treated as a terrorist.
The extraordinary attention and resources allocated, which primarily focus on American Muslims, could be better allocated to deal with growing mass violence which threatens us most as a nation.
Dawud Walid is the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, based in Farmington Hills.