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Heidi Beirich: The Shifting Focus of U.S. Counter-Terrorism Policy

Heidi Beirich: The Shifting Focus of U.S. Counter-Terrorism Policy
<v ->Hi, I’m Heidi Beirich, Co-Founder</v> of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. You know before 9/11 happened, our vision of a terrorist in this country, a domestic terrorist really was encapsulated by Timothy McVeigh, a younger white man with a military background who had been interested in militias and also had planned his bombing based on a white supremacist book called The Turner Diaries, a novel written by the head of the Neo-Nazi National Alliance. But the 9/11 attacks in New York shifted our vision of what terrorism looks like. Almost overnight that young white man was replaced by Osama Bin Ladin and Al Qaeda.
And terrorism began to be seen as something foreign, coming from other places, and perpetrated by people who don’t look like regular Americans. The entire shift and focus of the U.S. Government at that point, went to battling Islamic extremism. Our domestic agencies and law enforcement, like the FBI, shifted their focus in that direction. And we seem to have overnight, obviously given the terrible tragedy of 9/11, forgotten that terrorism can also look like Timothy McVeigh. Throughout the Bush administration the battle against terrorism was completely focused on the defeat of Al Qaeda. And when Bush officials were asked about domestic terrorism that wasn’t related to Islamic extremism, they rarely pointed the finger at militias and white supremacists.
In fact at one point, a top counter terrorism official said that the biggest danger to the Homeland besides Islamic extremism was eco-terrorism, a movement that has been responsible for property destruction, but not like the kind of deaths that Timothy McVeigh perpetrated. This short-sightedness about white supremacy extended into the Obama administration. In fact, when Obama came into office there was an important report written by a DHS official named Daryl Johnson that said with the rise of the first black president, we are very likely to see an increase in right-wing extremism, and domestic terrorist attacks associated with movements like white supremacy. There was a huge outroar on the right by conservatives about this report.
They felt that it was an unfair painting of conservatives in a terrible way, which it wasn’t. And the Obama administration actually caved and pulled the report. And shortly after they pulled the report, the first of what would become a very long string of domestic terrorist attacks related to right wing extremism happened. This was a shooting at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. by a Neo-Nazi. The Obama administration continued that trend of ignoring white supremacy as a terrorism issue. In fact, they held a huge terrorism summit at the White House. And at that event, all of the discussion except for one short clip of Timothy McVeigh was about Islamic extremism.
Meanwhile, largely in reaction to Obama and the first black president, the number of white supremacist hate groups was rising, The number of anti government militias was rising, and little was done to focus on the threat or explore the threat. The Obama administration actually didn’t revive policies against white supremacy until very late in 2014 after there had been another mass shooting by a Neo-Nazi at some Jewish facilities in Kansas. And at that point, the U. S. Attorney’s meeting, monthly meeting was revived. Well when Donald Trump began to run for office it actually tapped into and activated the same right wing extremists that would eventually storm our Capitol on January six. The entire federal apparatus again abandoned the fight against white supremacy.
And what we’ve had is metastasizing violence. The attacks in El Paso, at the Walmart on Latinos, the Pittsburgh synagogue attacks, and so many more. And all of this culminated with the storming of the Capitol where we saw virtually every faction of the radical right engaged in that activity whether it was Cunanan conspiracy theorists, or it was white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, anti government groups, or just regular Trump supporters. At this point, we have an insurgency that’s fueled by these extremist forces that had been left to just grow and grow and grow. So the challenge now becomes for the Biden administration, how to deal with this threat. They need to root out extremists from the military, from police forces.
We have to have much more resources put at this threat. The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security are all gonna have to get involved. But the biggest problem we have is that because we ignored this particular threat, it has been allowed to metastasize and grow into actually something that many many countries around the world are facing. And it’s now the number one domestic terrorist threat for this country and many others.

A Shift in Policy

In this step, Heidi discusses the ever-changing focus of U.S. counter-terrorism policies and practices over the past two decades. She highlights an oscillating and inconsistent strategy at the federal and state levels to counter terrorism in the U.S., shifting focus back and forth between white supremacist hate groups and Islamic extremists over the years. She talks through several key examples of what drives these patterns and briefly discusses Daryl Johnson’s role in these events, foreshadowing his upcoming segments in this Teach-Out.

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