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Feds push effort to protect houses of worship from terror attacks in Oakland visit

Farmington Hills — Citing a rise in domestic terrorism, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas visited Metro Detroit on Friday to tout increased funding for a security grant program for faith-based institutions and meet with members of regional faith communities.

"When it comes to homeland security, we all want to be safe in our homes and our communities," said Peters, a Bloomfield Township Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, from a conference room in the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills. "The one place you go to that you expect to be safe would be a place of worship, where you can pray and know you are safe." 

But that is not always the case, he said, arguing federal security officials must turn their attention to groups promoting white supremacy and anti-Semitism, "all of these very dangerous ideologies that ultimately can lead to violence, and we've seen it time and time again."

Peters and Mayorkas held their press conference just over a year after eight people, most of them of Asian descent, were shot and killed in Atlanta, Georgia. The attack happened during an ongoing wave of anti-Asian American violence. 

The Department of Homeland Security released an assessment report last year that said racially or ethnically motivated extremists were persistent sources of lethal and significant violence, particularly against racial minorities from 2017 to 2019, and likely would continue to be "the most lethal (domestic violent extremist) threat to the Homeland" going forward.

Domestic violent extremism "is the greatest terrorist threat we face on the homeland today," Mayorkas said during the Friday press conference, "and we have seen a steady, consisted growth in targeted violence."

Peters and Mayorkas plugged the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides houses of worship and nonprofit organizations with money to secure their facilities against potential terrorist attacks. 

Last year, the grant program provided 30 organizations, half of which are in metro Detroit, with almost $3.5 million to help Michigan nonprofits and faith-based organizations pay for security programs. Peters' office declined to name any grant recipients, citing security concerns.

The latest federal government funding package appropriates nearly $250 million for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, a roughly $70 million increase from the last round.

The grants can be used to pay for things like security cameras, security guards, fencing, metal detectors, emergency planning, active shooter training and other programs that enhance security for places of worship and nonprofits, according to an explanatory document published in December.

Giving resources to local places of worship and nonprofits can help the Department of Homeland Security overcome the mistrust some communities hold for the federal department and its workers, Mayorkas said. 

"That way, the community itself can become stronger and we can be a partner to that growing strength," he said.

Mayorkas and Peters said they had a meeting with Arab and Muslim American groups Friday afternoon, as well as a meeting at a National Guard base.