- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 2, 2017

When Tony McAleer attends events on countering violent extremism, the former skinhead recruiter says he is typically the only one in the room who targets for outreach members of far-right extremist movements.

It’s why he is concerned by the Trump administration’s reported plans to narrow the focus of government programs that try to stem violent extremist ideology to only those targeting Islamic extremism.

“If you look at Dylann Roof, Timothy McVeigh, the shooting in Quebec last week — there are significant acts of terror that come out of the extreme far right,” said Mr. McAleer, executive director of Life After Hate, a nonprofit that helps people disengage from neo-Nazi and other extremist movements. “So I think it is a mistake to ignore it.”

The lion’s share of active Countering Violent Extremism programs is already fixated on stopping Islamist extremism and recruitment into terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, while similar efforts targeting the white-power movement are few and far between, said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

Even as concern about the reach of far-right-wing groups grows, Life After Hate may lose federal grant money as a result of the Trump administration changes under consideration by the Department of Homeland Security.

The Chicago-based nonprofit was chosen to receive a $400,000 grant. It was one of 31 groups to which $10 million was to be distributed from the department under the Obama administration. But the grants, announced a week before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, have yet to be distributed.

It’s troubling, given the bolster of far-right-wing extremists in the current political climate, Mr. Segal said.

“There is no doubt that white supremacists have felt emboldened by the presidential campaign. They say that all the time,” said Mr. Segal, underscoring the need for such programs. “When the public discussion is as divisive as it’s been, those who win out are the extremists of all types. We don’t have the luxury to ignore any type of extremism.”

The focus of the countering violent extremism program, and the future of the related grants, are now being reviewed by the Trump administration, according to reports by Reuters and The Associated Press.

According to Reuters, senior Homeland Security Department officials asked government employees during a meeting last week “to defend why they chose certain community organizations as recipients of CVE program grants,” the implication being that the money may not be distributed.

A Homeland Security spokeswoman declined to comment, and a White House spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

Analysts of extremism have been skeptical of CVE programs under the Obama administration, concerned about the stigma it attaches to Muslim communities. Many of the community groups thought ideal to participating in CVE programs also have expressed concern that law enforcement will use the partnerships to conduct surveillance on the basis of religion.

“CVE treated the Muslim community as suspects rather than as victims, which they often are, of hate crimes,” said Michael German, a Brennan Center for Justice fellow and former FBI agent who worked on extremism cases. “The Obama administration used to say the goal of CVE was to build resilience within the communities, but it was actually quite divisive within the community.”

Case in point — another recipient of the CVE grants announced this week that it would decline to accept the $500,000 in funding it was slated for as a result of the Trump administration’s policies.

“As an organization trying to bring change, we feel like this process has been hindered by the Trump administration to instill fear, uncertainty and anti-Muslim sentiments,” read a statement from Ka Joog, a Somali youth development organization in Minneapolis. “We are deeply troubled by our nation’s new administration and their policies which promote hate, fear, uncertainty and even worse; an unofficial war on Muslim-Americans and immigrants.”

The sole focus on Islamist extremism is harmful to efforts to combat extremism on multiple fronts, said Christian Picciolini, co-founder of Life After Hate.

“First and foremost, it sends a message that white extremism does not exist, or is not a priority in our country, when in fact it is a statistically larger and more present terror threat than any by foreign or other domestic actors,” he said. “Alternately, focusing countering violent extremism efforts solely on Muslim-Americans will further marginalize them and strain an already shaky relationship between law enforcement and Muslim communities.”

Mr. McAleer said there has been a surge in violent extremism in the U.S. among both right-wing and Islamist terror groups. But without de-escalation programs that target both, he said, he worries that the problem will only worsen.

“We are anticipating being busier and busier as the politics of this country become more and more polarized,” Mr. McAleer said. “It seems like the middle has evaporated and is gone. That is a recipe for violence to become more extreme.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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