With an uptick in white supremacist violence, the House Homeland Security Committee is holding a hearing on “Confronting the Rise of Domestic Terrorism in the Homeland.”  Defending Rights & Dissent recognizes the real threat white supremacist violence poses to many communities. We also have deep concerns about how law enforcement routinely abuses their counterterrorism authorities. The framework of “terrorism” has been used to criminalize some of the very same communities most at risk from white supremacist violence. When investigating nonviolent activists, law enforcement frequently cite their counterterrorism authorities. Defending Rights & Dissent shared its concerns with the committee in hopes that the hearing will address them.

Defending Rights & Dissent joined our allies South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and Justice for Muslim Collective in initiating a letter expressing concerns about how the hearing could impact communities of color. As the letter explained, “communities of color continue to have their freedom of speech and right to assembly curtailed under the guise of fighting domestic terrorism. Before adopting any policies to fight white supremacist and nationalist violence, we urge you to consider how these policies will impact communities of color.”  

The letter raises particular concerns about how Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs are not a solution to white supremacist violence. While CVE programs may seem neutral on their face, since their inception they have profiled, surveilled, and divided Muslim communities. They are also based on discredited debunked, pseudo-scientific theories that certain “radical” ideas lead to violence. Expanding CVE programs in the name of fighting white supremacy while only end up hurting the Muslim community.

A number of leading civil rights organizations, including Center for Constitutional Rights, Arab American Anti Discrimination Committee, Council on American Islamic Relations, and the Southern Poverty Law Center joined the letter.

Additionally, Defending Rights & Dissent sent a letter to the committee raising specific concerns about law enforcement’s inability to distinguish between First Amendment protected activity and actual domestic terrorism. Recently, the FBI conducted a counterterrorism investigation into the civil rights group, By Any Means Necessary (Bamn), after its supporters protested against a neo-nazi rally and were themselves victims of white supremacist violence.  The FBI’s investigation into Bamn is hardly an aberration. The FBI has also conducted counterterrorism investigations into anti-pipeline protests, peace groups, and Occupy Wall Street. In many of these investigations, the FBI acknowledged that the groups they were monitoring were nonviolent or had peaceful intent. FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force agents have questioned Standing Rock protesters and student Palestinian rights activists.

Law enforcement should not be using First Amendment protected views as a basis for surveillance. Yet, time and time again, counterterrorism authorities have been used to monitor peace, racial justice, environmental, and economic justice groups law enforcements knows to be nonviolent and peaceful. Government witnesses need to be asked about these abuses of authority and how the plan on preventing them for being repeated.

The hearing will be held on May 8, 2019 at 10:00am. It can be viewed online at the committee’s website.