Biden to host White House summit to fight racism and violent extremism

President Biden will convene a forum at the White House on Thursday aimed at confronting what civil rights groups, local officials and academics see as an explosive rise in extremism and white supremacy that threatens the heart of the American democracy.

The “United We Stand” summit builds on the administration’s efforts to root out racially motivated domestic violent extremists. The threat triggered a sweeping strategy that included the creation of a specialized Justice Department unit to combat domestic terrorism. Mr. Biden will deliver the keynote address to highlight the administration’s response to hate and “present a shared vision for a more united America,” officials said.

Current and former FBI agents told The Washington Times that the perceived threat has become exaggerated under the administration. They say bureau analysts and senior officials are pressuring FBI agents to create domestic terrorism cases and label people as white supremacists to comply with internal measures.

“The demand for white supremacy” coming from FBI headquarters “far outweighs the supply of white supremacy,” said an agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have more people investigating white supremacists than we can find.”

The agent said those who lead the bureau’s policies “have already determined that white supremacy is an issue” and have set out an agency-wide policy to elevate cases of racially motivated domestic extremism as priorities.

“We’re sort of the lapdogs as real-life officers conducting these kinds of investigations, trying to find a crime that fits otherwise First Amendment-protected activity,” he said. “If they have a Gadsden flag and they own guns and they’re mean at school board meetings, they’re probably a domestic terrorist.”

The Gadsden flag is a historic American flag with a yellow field showing a timber rattlesnake and the words: “Don’t tread on me”. It is often used as a symbol of freedom.

The FBI denies targeting groups or individuals based on their espoused political views and says the bureau focuses only on those “who commit or intend to commit acts of violence and criminal activity that constitute a federal crime.” or constitute a threat to national security”.

“The FBI is aggressively investigating threats posed by domestic violent extremists,” an FBI spokesperson said. “We don’t investigate ideology, and we don’t investigate individual cases based on the political views of the individuals involved. The FBI will continue to pursue threats or acts of violence, regardless of the underlying motivation or sociopolitical objective.

Others say concern over rising extremism and white supremacist ideology is far from unfounded.

National hate crime data points to a worrying increase in racially motivated attacks in recent years, said Brian Levin, who founded the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, and was appointed to the recently formed California State Hate Commission.

According to Levin’s preliminary analysis of hate crime statistics drawn from 52 U.S. cities, hate crimes rose 20% in 2021, with nine states breaking annual records. Last year marked a particularly concerning rise in hate crimes against black people, according to its analysis, although anti-Asian, anti-Jewish and anti-Hispanic hate crimes added to the rise.

Mr. Levin, an independent, said white supremacist ideology consistently motivates the deadliest hate-fueled attacks. He noted a worrying increase in online extremism among white supremacist groups.

“We have these time bombs walking around like Buffalo or Mother Emanuel Church,” he said, referring to mass shootings where black people were targeted. “It’s something we really need to sort out. White supremacy is absolutely something that we need to look at not just as a hate crime issue, but as a national security issue. »

Further, Mr. Levin said that not everyone who commits hate crimes motivated by racial animosity is “dyed-in-the-wool” extremists or that “the klan is operationally leading” all attacks inspired by white supremacy. .

Still, he said, it’s important to consider the sometimes subtle biases that drive crimes.

The FBI agent’s claims of a crusade against overblown white supremacy and a threat of domestic extremism echo complaints from conservative lawmakers who accuse the Biden administration of ignoring left-wing violence and exploiting fears right-wing terrorism to target political opponents and stifle legitimate debate.

Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said several whistleblowers have made similar accusations that the FBI pressured agents to open files to conduct the Biden administration’s crusade against homegrown terrorism.

“I think [it is] which ultimately drives his policy,” Mr. Jordan said. “If you own a gun, display the flag and vote for Trump, the president is going to call you an extremist, and it looks like the FBI is going to use the numbers to satisfy this narrative that the president has presented.”

White House officials framed Thursday’s summit as a stand against “the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety.”

The summit lineup includes federal, state and local officials as well as civil rights groups, business leaders, law enforcement officials and former members of violent hate groups who are now working to prevent violence.

Those supporting the White House summit cite a series of recent mass shootings motivated by racial animosity, including the May targeted killing of black shoppers at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, by a self-proclaimed white supremacist .

Mr. Biden, who has often said the violence surrounding the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., boosted his bid for president in 2020, has made countering extremism a priority for his administration.

The president signed into law legislation to tackle anti-Asian hate crimes and the nation’s first gun control bill in decades after back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde , Texas.

As part of his efforts to stamp out hate crimes, Mr. Biden announced a sweeping strategy to deal with the threat of domestic terrorism. The Department of Homeland Security has declared extremism a “priority national threat”. In January, the Ministry of Justice launched a unit specializing in the fight against domestic terrorism.

Critics say Mr Biden’s efforts have done little to unite the country, and many Republicans warn the country is becoming further divided under his administration.

Attorney General Merrick Garland sparked fears among conservatives of a burgeoning police state last year when he issued a memorandum directing federal law enforcement officials to strategize against the terrorist threat parents protesting at local school board meetings.

The memo was a response to a letter from the National School Boards Association to Mr. Biden requesting federal assistance to end parental threats against public school officials. Conservatives said the move armed the Justice Department to target average Americans for activities protected by the First Amendment.

Republican distrust of federal law enforcement grew further after the FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida last month and the crackdown on Trump insiders accused of being involved in a plot to void the 2020 election.

Mr. Biden has also stoked fears among conservatives with campaign rhetoric portraying Republicans as anti-democratic extremists and calling Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” policy agenda “semi-fascism.”

In a national survey conducted by the Trafalgar Group and the Convention of States Action in the days following Mr Biden’s speech in which he framed the midterm elections as a battle for the ‘soul of our nation’ , 56.8% of those polled said the speech was a “dangerous escalation of rhetoric intended to incite conflict among Americans.”

Only 35% of respondents considered the rhetoric an “acceptable campaign message” in an election year.

Among third-party and independent voters, 62.4% viewed the speech as dangerous, compared to 31.2% who said it was acceptable campaign rhetoric.

Nonetheless, the White House backed the escalating rhetoric, which was echoed by leftist groups pushing for the president to act in the face of what a consortium of civil rights leaders called “the most precarious moment in history.” America since the Jim Crow era.

Civil rights leaders also cite a spike in racially motivated vandalism at places of worship, the Jan. 6, 2021 riot on Capitol Hill, and the continued push to void the 2020 election as evidence of a worrying rise in extremism. domestic in addition to the national spike in hate crimes.

“White supremacy is the greatest threat to the well-being of our nation,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “To dismantle it, we need a bold and coordinated response.”

“President Biden’s “United We Stand” summit is an essential first step toward a Marshall Plan-style approach to galvanizing the kind of federal resources and civil society initiatives that I and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under the law pleaded,” he said. .

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