Due to the exponential increase in hate crimes motivated by white nationalism, the federal agency has formally recognized the threat as a form of terrorism.
Months after Democratic House Representative Ilhan Omar's controversial statements regarding white supremacy as a form of terrorism sparked uproar in the United States, the national Department of Homeland Security has declared white nationalism a major terror threat to the country, NBC News reports. The federal agency will now attempt to address the threat in its counterterrorism strategy, the Department Secretary confirmed. As the number of hate crimes against racial minority communities increases and more mass shootings take place in the name of white nationalism, it is about time the United States addresses the issue and tackles it at the root.
Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced the agency's declaration and new counterterrorism strategy at an event at the Brookings Institute on Friday, September 20. He stated, "The continuing menace of racially-based violent extremism, particularly white supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to our nation, the struggle, and unity of its diverse population, and the core values of both our society and our department." This is the first time in history that the United States will focus on white nationalism from within the country's borders. He added, "Today, the United States faces an evolving threat environment, and a threat of terrorism and targeted violence within our borders that is more diverse than at any time since the 9/11 attacks."
As racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry have underpinned the majority of recent targeted attacks, such as the assaults on African-American churches, synagogues, and public places in California and Texas with majority populations comprising racial minorities, this is a welcome step. However, Secretary McAleenan did note that terrorism continues to exist from other sources as well, but reinstated that all sources are points of concern for the safety and security of those in the United States. "While the threat posed by foreign terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda persists, we are acutely aware of the growing threat from enemies, both foreign and domestic, who seek to incite violence in our Nation’s youth, disenfranchised, and disaffected, in order to attack their fellow citizens and fray at the seams of our diverse social fabric," he affirmed. "This awareness, coupled with the history of recent tragedies, has galvanized the Department of Homeland Security to expand its counterterrorism mission focus beyond terrorists operating abroad, to include those radicalized to violence within our borders by violent extremists of any ideology." It is particularly beneficial that white supremacy is officially, in tangible ways, recognized as a form of terrorism as this will potentially erase the double standard through which the country treats white terrorists in comparison to their non-white counterparts. While the former is treated with more sensitivity and empathy than the latter at present, this will hopefully change when the new strategy is implemented.
McAleenan reported that focusing on taking down extremist messaging found online will be an especially important goal for the federal agency. Regarding this, the official report reads, "Similar to how ISIS inspired and connected with potential radical Islamist terrorists, white supremacist violent extremists connect with like-minded individuals online. In addition to mainstream social media platforms, white supremacist violent extremists use lesser-known sites like Gab, 8chan, and EndChan, as well as encrypted channels. Celebration of violence and conspiracy theories about the ‘ethnic replacement’ of whites as the majority ethnicity in various Western countries are prominent in their online circles." The Secretary affirmed that it was far "too easy to get validation for your ideology" in the modern age. How this counterterrorism strategy will address United States President Donald Trump's divisive and racially-charged tweets and overall ideology, cited as the motivational factor behind white supremacist attacks such as the one that recently took place in El Paso, Texas, is still unclear. Will they be tackled at all? Only time will tell.