Politics & Government

Fight white supremacy? Grant pulled by Trump administration gets scrutiny from Congress

In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, photo, James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally took place. Fields was later charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally.
In this Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, photo, James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally took place. Fields was later charged with second-degree murder and other counts after authorities say he plowed a car into a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally. AP

Earlier this year, the Trump administration canceled grants that were meant to study and combat extremism by domestic white nationalists, including a $900,000 grant at UNC-Chapel Hill.

After a weekend of violent protests by white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Va., that left one dead and another 20 injured, some in Congress want to take a closer look at the Trump administration’s actions. President Donald Trump has been criticized by politicians of both parties for his response to Charlottesville, including a Tuesday news conference where Trump said “you also had people that were very fine people on both sides.

UNC was awarded the grant by the Obama administration under a Department of Homeland Security program titled Countering Violent Extremism. But the Trump administration canceled several of the grants, including one for Life After Hate, which was created by former members of the American violent far-right extremist movement, and the one at UNC when it announced its revised list.

That decision has garnered attention on Capitol Hill.

“We’re starting to dig into that. That’s not a bad press conference, not a bad statement, not taking too long to stand up to Nazism,” said Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware. “To intentionally defund a balanced response to extremism raises a lot of questions for me. It’s time for legislators to look at what this administration is doing in addition to what the president is saying and failing to say.”

During a press conference about infrastructure held at Trump Tower on Aug. 15, President Donald Trump said that “both sides,” including the “alt-left” were to blame for the violent rally in Charlottesville, VA.

In a February joint intelligence bulletin, first reported by Foreign Policy, the FBI and Homeland Security wrote that white supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement” and warned of a growing threat from the groups.

The House Homeland Security Committee announced Wednesday that it will hold a hearing on domestic terrorism next month. “We must stand together and reject racism, bigotry, and prejudice, including the hateful ideologies promoted by neo-Nazis, the KKK, and all other white supremacy groups,” wrote the committee’s Republican chairman, Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, in a letter announcing the hearing.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, a Republican from western North Carolina, said domestic terror groups – regardless of their affiliation – should be studied.

“We need to make sure we’re looking at extremist groups that seek to harm people, that goes across definitional boundary lines,” McHenry, a member of House leadership, said Wednesday. “We need to take to heart that what just occurred in Charlottesville doesn’t become the new norm.”

The UNC grant would have been used to create media campaigns to undermine violent radicalism on U.S. soil, particularly among young adults. The UNC program would have focused on Islamic State and white supremacist groups.

“My co-principal investigator and I, our focus is on Islamic State,” UNC professor Cori Dauber told WUNC Radio. “And I think it’s fair to say that the bulk of our emphasis is that. But we made it clear that we would be drawing on a student population that in part their strength was that they had studied the messaging of white supremacist groups, and we were looking to fold them in along with the students who had studied the messaging on Islamic State.”

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; @MurphinDC

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