House Judiciary Committee Planning Hearing on the Rise of White Nationalism
Days after the massacre in New Zealand, lawmakers are looking for more information from federal agencies on what’s being done to confront the threat.
The House Judiciary Committee is planning on hosting a hearing in the coming weeks addressing the rise of white nationalism in the U.S. and the hate crime and hate speech surrounding the movement, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the committee’s schedule.
The hearing comes on the heels of two mass shootings at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that killed 50 people. According to local law enforcement, the man charged with those attacks wrote a manifesto outlining his white nationalistic ideology as well as his anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views.
The gunman also praised President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose,” though he said he did not support the president’s policies. The president has dismissed the idea that he inspired the shooting, but the attacker’s manifesto has sparked a renewed focus on Trump’s rhetoric toward immigrants, especially those who hail from countries where Islam is the dominant religion, and his lack of condemnation for white nationalist groups.
“For those who subscribe to this white nationalism ideology, they feel a sense of empowerment when they hear elected officials in the U.S., Europe, Australia, and New Zealand promote their white extremist ideological viewpoints in mainstream political rhetoric,” said John Cohen, the former deputy under secretary for intelligence and analysis at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “Increasingly we have experienced a dramatic increase across the West in hateful rhetoric and targeted acts of violence by individuals who do so specifically in response to what they see as an attack on white society.”
Though plans are still being finalized, the committee expects to bring in officials from within DHS and the FBI for questioning on the rise of white nationalism in the U.S and the efforts the agencies are currently adopting to combat it. One lawmaker said the goal is to “have a hearing in early April.”
A spokesperson for the committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Though as far back as November, Nadler wrote letters to law enforcement agencies expressing concern about the rise of hate crimes and white supremacy.
Addressing the rise of white nationalism and related movements has been a tricky proposition for government officials in the past. When the Obama administration’s Department of Homeland Security issued a warning in 2009 about the rise of right-wing extremism, the political backlash was so intense that then Secretary Janet Napolitano had to issue a formal apology. During the last few years, Republican committee chairs resisted calls to hold hearings on the rise of white supremacy even as Congress passed pro forma votes condemning it.
Individuals familiar with the FBI’s focus on the rise of domestic terrorism and the increasing hate speech affiliated with white nationalism told The Daily Beast that the agency is actively working with faith leaders from across the nation to address the threats facing houses of worship.
One individual said the FBI’s Office of Partner Engagement was heading up the effort to engage with religious communities and educate them on how to secure their facilities. The agency is also engaging with local law enforcement agencies to help develop protocols for identifying individuals who may have the motivations for carrying out attacks on religious institutions.
"The FBI regularly assesses intelligence regarding possible threats to the U.S. and will continue to work closely with our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners should there be any potential threat to public safety,” and FBI spokesperson said in a statement. “The attacks in New Zealand serve as a reminder of the need for all of us to be vigilant. The FBI asks members of the public to maintain awareness of their surroundings and to report any suspicious activity to law enforcement.”
According to FBI data reviewed by The Daily Beast, out of about 5,000 open terrorism investigations, 900 are categorized as domestic terrorism probes or probes focused on individuals without connections to international extremist organizations. “Domestic terrorism” is an umbrella category that includes far more than just far-right terrorism but functions as the most granular data available to indicate how federal law enforcement targets white supremacist violence.
DHS is still actively looking at the issue of domestic terrorism, according to sources inside the department, but former officials told The Daily Beast that focus has waned since the days of the Obama administration. And, they say, it’s unclear how much emphasis DHS is putting on domestic terrorism threats that emanate from individuals affiliated with white nationalist groups. At the same time, DHS has increasingly focused on the threats facing the southern border and the national security threats posed by the so-called caravan.
With additional reporting by Betsy Woodruff