DHS Sure Picked A Great Time To Disband A Domestic Terror Unit
From the Pittsburgh synagogue mass shooting, to Charlottesville, to the mail bomb attempts on Donald Trump's enemies, the Tallahassee yoga studio shooting, the murder of Blaze Bernstein by a neo-Nazi, and other horrific acts of right-wing extremist terrorism in the last few years, it should be more than evident to anyone with eyes and ears and half a brain that it might be a good idea for law enforcement to keep an extra close eye on people and groups likely to commit such acts.
The Daily Beast reports that last year, the Department of Homeland Security disbanded a unit of analysts in its Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) whose job it was to focus on domestic terror threats and homegrown violent extremism and share that information with state and local law enforcement, and assigned them to new positions.
This reorganization was spearheaded by David Glawe, the Trump administration's new chief of I&A. In a statement to The Daily Beast, Glawe claims the work this unit was doing was basically unnecessary, as there are other federal agencies taking care of it:
DHS/I&A routinely works with federal partners, including the FBI, state and local law enforcement, and the National Network of Fusion Centers to gather Homeland threat information regardless of a threat actor's ideology. I&A has invested heavily in interagency relationships to enhance analysis on Homeland threats, including domestic terrorism, where I&A lacks access to relevant case data and information held by other federal agencies. I&A is also focused on ensuring intelligence production is not duplicative of other agencies and focused on areas where DHS I&A can add the most value through unique data and access within the Department. When DHS/I&A identifies domestic terrorism threats or related information of value, DHS/I&A immediately coordinates it and shares it as widely as possible.
This does not appear to be the position taken by law enforcement, which found the work the I&A unit did pretty darned helpful.
Sgt. Mike Abdeen with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told The Daily Beast that his office used to receive a significant amount of material from I&A, but that the communications have dried up in recent months. For the last six months, he said, I&A has been mostly silent. He added that this has been consistent with broader changes in how the department communicates with his office.
"It's been very quiet lately," Abdeen said. "It's changed with the new administration. It doesn't seem to be as robust, as active, as important—it is important, I'm sure, but it's not a priority. It doesn't seem like engagement, outreach, and prevention are seen as a priority as we used to see in the past. There were roundtable meetings in the past, there was more activity, more training, more seminars. Now it seems like it's gone away."
The former head of the I&A also believes the work they did was essential, and that it continues to be essential.
"While I cannot speak to what is going on at DHS I&A today, the analysis provided by I&A personnel on domestic extremism was essential during my tenure at DHS," said John Cohen, formerly the acting head of I&A. "Based on the current threat environment, I believe those same efforts are essential today."
This is far from the first time the Trump administration has taken a rather chill approach to right-wing domestic terrorism. Previously, they have cut both the Countering Violent Extremism and Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attacks grant programs.
In March, when asked if he felt white nationalists were a rising threat, Trump said that they were just "a small group of people" and therefore not worth worrying about. He very clearly wants to ignore it, possibly because he doesn't want to upset people he considers "on his side" by insinuating that right-wing extremism is a problem. Besides! It's so much more fun for him to talk about Antifa, despite the fact that no one associated with Antifa tactics has murdered anyone.
With each of these attacks, the stakes are escalated, people get pushed further to the right, and we end up with more people not only considering the ideas of the terrorist, but also the idea of committing an act of terror themselves.
It seems counterintuitive, but it's a tactic that's been around for a long time. It's "propaganda of the deed," and it's what some anarchists were doing back in the day with all the bombings, assassinations and bank robberies (and later, the throwing of bricks through Starbucks windows). Essentially it's an act, often violent but not always, meant to incite the spirit of revolution in people.
Simply put, the more of these attacks we have, the more we're going to have, and the more we are going to have to contend with the ideology that inspires them. This is why heading them off at the pass is so important. Each act that is prevented also potentially prevents the "spirit of revolution" from being incited in another person who might then go on to commit such an act themselves. Especially when they know law enforcement is on their case.
Glawe and other former and current DHS officials who supported the disbanding of this unit claim it eliminates redundancy and that they'd rather leave terrorism prevention to the FBI, anyway. But what some people call "redundancy" others might call "being thorough." And given the rise in these attacks and the possibility that they could inspire others to commit similar acts, a little "redundancy" might not be a bad idea.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse