The U.S. cannot effectively combat domestic, racism-fueled terrorism because federal law enforcement has yet to recognize that it poses a threat, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said on Monday.
The chairman of the House Oversight Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, Raskin convened hearings in late spring and early summer to focus attention on the Trump administration’s failure to first acknowledge the pattern of attacks by armed white nationalists — and then to take steps to prevent future killings.
“We brought in people from the FBI and from [the Department of] Homeland Security. They literally had no plan to counter violent white supremacy,” he recalled in an interview on Monday.
Raskin’s comments follow a shockingly violent weekend that saw two mass shootings in as many days — one in El Paso, Texas, the other in Dayton, Ohio — that left 31 people dead so far.
The lawmaker identified three shortcomings in the federal government’s approach to the unending wave of massacres that have shaken the nation:
He said law enforcement officials don’t have a firm grasp on how many hate crimes take place, largely because state and local officials have wide latitude in how incidents are reported.
He said the resources go disproportionately to combatting overseas threats, even though domestic terrorism takes far more lives. And, he said, the nation’s public safety agencies simply don’t have a plan.
“If there were Islamist terrorists who were showing up at shopping malls and movie theaters, and shooting people, [we] would have a plan to deal with this. But they literally had no plan. They’re in a totally reaction mode on it,” Raskin said.
In scripted remarks, Trump on Monday denounced “racist hate.” Although he tweeted potential support for enhanced background checks for certain gun purchases on Monday morning, Trump made no mention of gun legislation during his speech later in the day.
Democrats, gun safety advocates and the public have long supported background checks for certain types of firearms.
At a June 4 hearing, Raskin said, “the FBI’s data collection and reporting at best drastically under-reports hate violence in the U.S., and at worst, deliberately obfuscates the scope of the threat.”
He noted that from 2013 to 2017, the FBI reported an average of 7,500 hate crimes annually. During that same time, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ National Crime Victimization Survey estimated on average 200,000 hate crimes annually.
“It’s all left up to local and state police departments to turn [reports] in,” the lawmaker told Maryland Matters. “Some of them do and some of them don’t.”
At the hearing he held in May, Raskin noted that the mass shootings at a government building in San Bernardino, Calif., and a gay bar in Orlando — carried out by non-white Muslims — were categorized by the FBI as “domestic terrorism,” while the killings at a church in Charleston, S.C., a synagogue in Pittsburgh and at a rally in Charlottesville, Va. — perpetrated by white males — were not.
If race and religion were factors in the bureau’s classifications, Raskin told his colleagues, “this kind of categorization would obviously violate our essential constitutional values. … All of the victims of all of these crimes perished because the killer wanted to destroy life based on racism, homophobia, religious hatred or other forms of group bias.”
“Surely all of the victims died in terrorist violence,” he added.
He also quoted from an analysis by the Anti-Defamation League of how resources are used to protect innocent lives.
According to the ADL, Raskin said at the hearing, “Islamic extremism… was responsible for 23% of the extremist murders we saw in the United States from 2009 to 2018. Far-right extremism… was responsible for 73% of the fatalities caused by extremist violence during that same period.”
“Yet,” he continued, “the FBI devotes its resourced almost exactly backwards to these proportions. The FBI apparently spends 80% of its resources addressing international terrorism and only 20% addressing domestic terrorism.”
A request for comment from the Department of Homeland Security was not provided on Monday.
“We need a national plan to combat violent white supremacist terror,” Raskin said. “And it’s a scandal that we don’t have one.”