Hypocritical talk, worse action: Trump dismantled tools to fight white supremacist terrorism

In the wake of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, President Donald Trump made a statement from the White House: “In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated. Hate has no place in America.”

In any other administration, these sentiments would be an essential salve on the national psyche reeling from yet more mass atrocities, at least one of them motivated by racist, anti-immigrant ideologies. But it is extremely challenging to see earnest grief and true leadership in these words, because the president’s previous statements and actions run 180 degrees counter to what he said Monday.

The writing and news coverage on this administration increasingly opens with a recital of instances where the president has tacitly endorsed racist sentiments or made overtly prejudicial statements. Most articles one reads contain a laundry list of the terrible things spoken from the highest office in the land. Most recently, there was the “send her back” chant the president inspired at a rally in North Carolina, regarding four House members who are women of color. There was also the uncontested shout from a rally goer in Panama City Beach, Florida, suggesting illegal immigrants should be shot — a statement the president said one can “get away with” in the Panhandle.

I could go on. Many others already have.

There’s no end to the ways in which the president has used racially charged language before gaslighting the American public and claiming ignorance of blowing a bigot’s dog whistle. Words have meaning and consequence, true, but perhaps more insidiously dangerous is having this sort of mentality while governing. Because when it comes to addressing white supremacy and right-wing extremism, there are serious and enduring moves this administration has already made to make fighting these “sinister ideologies” more difficult.

The banality of evil is found, as it always is, in the bureaucracy.

Lost Chance to Fight White Supremacy

The counterterrorism priorities of the Trump administration have always been clear. Less than two weeks after the inauguration, the administration expressed its intent to rename the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program, designed to address all forms of extremism, the “Countering Islamic Extremism” program, according to Reuters. Under this change, the program would have no longer been used to fight white supremacist terrorism.

When we look at the National Strategy for Counterterrorism of the United States of America, on the matter of “Prioritization and Resourcing,” the only threats identified are “radical Islamist terrorists” and “threats from Iran-backed terrorist groups and other transnational terrorist organizations.” Notice anything missing?

The impact of this strategy was that CVE funding in the form of 26 grants to 11 counterextremism organizations was rescinded. Some of those organizations focus specifically on white supremacy. Consider, there was $10 million for two years of programming on its way to the front lines — and the Trump administration stopped it.

Data reported by the Anti-Defamation League reveals that there were more right-wing extremism-inspired murders in 2018 than any year since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building. Yet, despite the growing number of dead Americans, the administration eliminated the domestic terror intelligence unit responsible for monitoring and combating domestic terrorism, according to The Daily Beast. This was in direct contradiction with both the National Strategy for Counterterrorism and the Department of Homeland Security.

Conspiracy Theories are Thriving

FBI Director Christopher Wray noted last month that “a majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence, but it does include other things as well.”

Let’s get real. We have a problem with white supremacist terrorism in the United States. Our latest example was in El Paso, but there are dozens upon dozens of cases that preceded it, and the threat seems to be escalating. Why then has this administration not only left the threat unaddressed but has actively dismantled the very programs, offices and funding that were in place to meet it?

We are in an environment where conspiracy theories thrive. As McKay Coppins recently wrote in The Atlantic, “In the Trump era, everyone — right, left and center — seems to suspect corrupt machinations at the highest levels of society.”

Those on the right often fear a government-wide conspiracy to neuter and undermine the president; those on the left fear the making of a dystopian country where the guardrails of democracy have been removed. We are on shaky ground when we begin painting pictures of backroom scheming and intentional national sabotage.

Talk is Cheap. People are Dead.

We are on solid ground, however, in pointing out a clear, documented trend in this administration’s actions related to white supremacy and right-wing terrorism. To speculate on why takes us into a realm of pure opinion, but we don’t need to know why.

Here’s all we need to know: White supremacists are killing Americans in greater number than any other ideologically motivated terrorists. And the Trump administration, over nearly three years, actively stopped the efforts of our national security apparatus to address white supremacy and right-wing violence.

If the administration is serious about its intention to defeat these ideologies and stop those who embrace them, it’s going to take a lot more than a White House speech.

Talk is cheap. People are dead. The Trump administration cannot restore lives lost, but it can restore the many things it tore down within our government, even as the threat from white supremacy was on the march.

This piece was originally published by USA Today on August 6, 2019.