Peters Leads Bipartisan Inquiry into Federal Response to Domestic Terrorism and Rise of White Supremacist Violence
WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is leading a bipartisan inquiry into the federal government’s response to evolving domestic terrorism threats and the rise of white supremacist violence. Peters’ request is seeking answers from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) on how effectively they have tracked acts of domestic terrorism and prioritized their resources and enforcement efforts to address these evolving threats.
“Just days ago, a white supremacist terrorist murdered one woman and injured three others at a synagogue in San Diego, exactly six months to the day after the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh,” said Senator Peters. “This hateful ideology has driven violent attacks nationwide – from the arson of African American churches in Louisiana and mosques in Southern California to deadly attacks in Charleston and Charlottesville. These insidious acts of violence by white supremacists threaten communities in Michigan and across the country. No one should live in fear of being attacked in their neighborhoods, on their streets or in their houses of worship. Every day, I hear from my constituents, community leaders, and local law enforcement that if we fail to address the threat posed by domestic terrorism, it will take many more American lives.”
An unclassified 2017 Joint Intelligence Bulletin prepared by the FBI and DHS concluded that white supremacist extremists were responsible for more homicides and attacks over the past sixteen years “than any other domestic extremist movement.” However, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia, which includes Charlottesville, VA, recently acknowledged that over the past several decades, “law enforcement, at both the federal and state levels, has been slow to respond” to domestic security threats, including white supremacist violence.
The inquiry follows several public reports raising questions about the effectiveness of current programs and the impact of recent structural changes at DHS, DOJ and FBI. Some reports have questioned the agencies’ ability to accurately track data on domestic terrorism over the past several years, which may have led to inaccurate reporting about the number of domestic terrorism events. Recent reports have also highlighted decreases in staffing and funding for key counterterrorism programs. Although the agencies have disputed aspects of this reporting, the inquiry presses for information that will build the groundwork for a thorough assessment of how the agencies are allocating their resources to address these grave threats, such as the number of people killed or injured by domestic terrorist attacks annually since 2009; descriptions of the resources, personnel, and coordination between federal agencies; and the use of or cooperation with social media and technology companies related to domestic terrorism.
May 8, 2019
The Honorable Kevin K. McAleenan
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
245 Murray Lane, SW
Washington, DC 20528
Dear Acting Secretary McAleenan:
Federal resources to detect and prevent domestic terrorism must be allocated based on accurate information about the threats Americans face. We write to request information to better understand how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is fulfilling its statutory responsibilities to address and prevent domestic terrorism as threats to the homeland continue to evolve.
DHS is responsible for preventing and responding to terrorism, including the growing threat of domestic terrorism in all its forms. Recent reporting, however, describes departures and reassignments of critical DHS personnel, a breakdown in coordination of intelligence, and DHS’s rescission of awards for grant money to study ways to help white supremacists— significant perpetrators of domestic terrorism —de-radicalize. Additionally, a 2018 report by the Brennan Center for Justice concluded that, because the Department of Justice has failed to accurately track data on domestic terrorism and hate crimes over the past several years, there may be potentially inaccurate reporting by the Departments of Justice and DHS on terrorism-related convictions.
One DHS component, the Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships (OTPP), is supposed to provide resources and coordination to counter violent extremism and domestic terrorism. Under a recent reorganization, however, OTPP’s budget and staffing levels went from approximately $21 million and over 40 employees and contractors in 2016 down to less than $3 million and 8 employees by 2018. Another DHS component, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), also reportedly “disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who focused on domestic terrorism.” I&A acknowledged the reorganization and decrease in staffing, but denied that it has “cut [its] commitment to defeating all forms of radical ideology,” and stated that it had “significantly increased tactical intelligence reporting on domestic terrorists and homegrown violent extremists since 2016,” and sought to, among other goals, “avoid duplication of work by other partners, to include FBI.”
To better understand how DHS is carrying out its responsibility to protect Americans from all forms of domestic terrorism, we respectfully request that you provide the following documents and information as soon as possible but no later than May 22, 2019:
- According to DHS, the number of people killed and injured in the United States by domestic terrorist attacks for each year from 2009 until present, broken out by group or type of perpetrator. Please include an index of all actors/groups/perpetrators that DHS uses to categorize this data.
- A description of the authorities and responsibilities relied upon by DHS to carry out its mission to prevent domestic terrorism.
- A list of all DHS components, staff (by title and area of responsibility), and resources dedicated to domestic terrorism, broken out by group or type of perpetrator, from 2009 through the present.
- All documents related to DHS reorganization of personnel, offices, and resources, related to domestic terrorism, from 2009 through the present. Please include all documents related to the organization of and the decision to reorganize/dissolve the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force.
- All documents related to DHS’s use of social media and technology companies, directly or indirectly, to aid in accomplishing its domestic terrorism mission.
- A summary—by date of publication, subject matter, identity of the threat actor, and classification—of all DHS intelligence reporting related to domestic terrorism from 2009 to the present.
- All information sharing or interagency agreements with the FBI, the Department of Justice, and state and local law enforcement officials involving domestic terrorism.
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