A 2020 draft report from the Department of Homeland Security described white supremacist extremists as the “most persistent and lethal threat” facing the United States. On January 6, 2021, far right extremists violently attacked our nation’s Capitol, many proudly displaying symbols of white supremacy.
These groups have consistently shown their willingness to use violence to advance their hateful agenda. Four years ago, at the “Unite the Right” rally, white supremacists took to the streets of Charlottesville, carrying weapons and chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. At the rally, a self-identified white supremacist drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, deliberately killing protestor Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.
White supremacists have become bolder in their tactics and more ambitious in their pursuit of power. Their hateful rhetoric has worked its way into mainstream politics, motivating extremists and sympathizers to take violent action and threatening the integrity of our democracy.
Law enforcement agencies have long been aware of the threat posed by white supremacy and hate-based crime. According to the FBI’s 2019 Hate Crime Statistics Report, in 2019 hate crimes in the United States rose to the highest level in more than a decade. These crimes, often perpetrated against minority groups, are committed by extremists whose hate has motivated them to violence.
Though it is clear white supremacist and other hate groups are becoming more vocal, visible, and violent, law enforcement have failed to adequately respond to this growing threat. Instead, our justice system has diverted attention and resources towards counterterrorism efforts which disproportionately target communities of color and religious minorities. This approach has given white supremacist groups the cover they need to gain traction and power, endangering the minority communities that are being singled out for surveillance by law enforcement.
The Department of Justice has the necessary tools to investigate and prosecute white nationalist crime. By prioritizing and investing in existing infrastructure, we can keep our communities safe. Even as some call for new domestic terrorism charges, Interfaith Alliance joined 135 organizations in urging Congress to support DOJ in making meaningful use of the tools already at their disposal.
White supremacists are the most significant domestic terrorism threat facing the United States. The Department of Justice can and must do more to address white supremacist violence. Congress can aid in bringing these extremists to justice by focusing existing measures and by holding law enforcement accountable.
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