Former DHS Analyst: Trump Administration Not Taking White Nationalist Threat Seriously Enough

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Funeral services were held Monday in San Diego, California, for Lori Kaye, a 60-year-old Jewish congregant who was shot dead Saturday in the latest attack by a white supremacist on a house of worship. To talk about the rise of white supremacist violence and the Trump administration’s response, we speak to Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. In 2009, Johnson authored a report warning about the increasing dangers of violent right-wing extremism in the United States, sparking a political firestorm in the process. Under pressure from Republican lawmakers and popular talk show hosts, DHS ultimately repudiated Johnson’s paper.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn right now to our last segment. Funeral services held Monday in San Diego, California, for Lori Kaye, a 60-year-old Jewish congregant who was shot dead Saturday in the latest attack by a white supremacist on a house of worship. On Saturday morning, a man with an assault rifle entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue, opened fire during a service marking the last day of Passover. Police say the shooter fled the scene but was arrested a short time later. Prosecutors are investigating the shooting as a hate crime, after the suspect published an anti-Semitic manifesto online referencing recent massacres at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh six months ago and the pair of mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, where a white supremacist killed 50 Muslim worshipers.

The latest white nationalist killing comes after the Department of Homeland Security disbanded its domestic terrorism unit last year, reassigning its analysts to other departments. DHS says the threat of homegrown extremism has been significantly reduced. But in a review of 50 murders committed by extremists in 2018, the Anti-Defamation League found 49 came at the hand of right-wing extremists, with white supremacists alone accounting for 39 of the murders.

To talk about the rise of white supremacist violence and the Trump administration’s response, we’re joined now by Daryl Johnson, former senior analyst at the Department of Homeland Security. In 2009, Johnson authored a report warning about the increasing dangers of violent right-wing extremism in the United States, sparking a political firestorm in the process. Under pressure from Republican lawmakers and popular talk show hosts, DHS ultimately repudiated Daryl Johnson’s paper. His forthcoming book is titled Hateland: A Long, Hard Look at America’s Extremist Heart. It’ll be out in June.

Daryl Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us in these last few minutes. Can you talk about this latest attack and the attack before that, both at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the San Diego attack at the synagogue this past weekend, white supremacist violence, looking at Charlottesville a year ago, where President Trump said of the white supremacist Klan marchers, “There are fine people on both sides”?

DARYL JOHNSON: Well, Amy, this has become the new normal. And what people don’t realize is, between that Pittsburgh synagogue attack and the one that we had this week in California, there were other arson attacks against other places of worship. We had a mosque that was arsoned in California, allegedly by the same perpetrator that conducted the latest synagogue shooting. We had three black churches down in the South that were arsoned. So, domestic terrorism is alive and well today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about the fact that Homeland Security disbanded its counterterrorism unit, disbanded it last year, despite the fact that violent extremism, violent attacks are up. And the vast majority of them are being committed by white supremacists, but the investigations of them by the Department of Homeland Security, the unit in charge, Trump disbanded.

DARYL JOHNSON: Yeah, and this wasn’t the first time. I mean, my unit was disbanded back in 2009, and they reconstituted it with a few analysts in between this latest disbanding. But it’s not a very good sign that our government is getting rid of resources that could actually be helping state and local law enforcement combat this problem.

AMY GOODMAN: So, the cutting of funds to the groups within the government that investigate white supremacists, can you talk about what this means? What were these resources used for?

DARYL JOHNSON: Yeah, so, we’ve had state and local anti-terrorism training funding pulled last year under Trump. This was the U.S.'s pre-eminent domestic terrorism training for state and local law enforcement. It no longer exists. We've had grant funding pulled from organizations that wanted to study the trends that we’re seeing, as well as conduct countering violent extremism efforts to try to pull people out of these movements and reform them and acclimate them back into society. We need all hands on deck. We need every resource to be devoted to combat this problem. And it doesn’t seem like this administration is very committed to doing that.

AMY GOODMAN: Daryl Johnson, even before Trump came to power in the United States, you wrote a column for The New York Times, “For Domestic Hate, Apply the Vigor and Strategy Used for Muslim Terror. Your piece began, “Domestic terrorism is the national security threat whose name we dare not speak.”

DARYL JOHNSON: Yeah, and what I’m referring to is, a lot of these attacks, we hear in the media, as well as our politicians and even police chiefs, talk about how, you know, it’s a “crazed gunman,” or it’s a “hate crime.” These are terms to kind of disguise the fact that these are ideologically motivated attacks that fit the definition of terrorism. So, why not call it what it is?

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how has the threat of right-wing violence changed since you did the report in 2009 under President Obama, that the right wing so fiercely attacked, the government withdrew it?

DARYL JOHNSON: Amy, I’m standing here today in disbelief that this threat is still ongoing 10 years after I wrote that report warning of the rise of this threat. That’s very disturbing. And the fact that our government at the national level hasn’t even recognized this threat and call it terrorism is pause for concern.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think there would be a different response if it was a Muslim attacker at the Tree of Life, a Muslim attacker in San Diego? Which, again, we know it isn’t. Both were avowed white supremacists.

DARYL JOHNSON: Yeah, we clearly see there’s a double standard when it comes to our policymakers when they call out terrorism. And they pretty much apply it solely to the Muslim variety.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to continue this conversation and post it online at democracynow.org. Daryl Johnson, former Department of Homeland Security senior analyst. His forthcoming book, titled Hateland: A Long, Hard Look at America’s Extremist Heart, will be out in June. He is the owner and founder of DT Analytics, a private consulting firm, also the author of Right-Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is Being Ignored.

And that does it for today’s broadcast. We’ll be bringing you the latest on Venezuela throughout the day at democracynow.org, an attempted coup underway. And we’ll be covering the Ilhan Omar defense rally today in Washington, D.C., just outside the Capitol. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

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