White supremacist violence in the United States is not new, but in recent years, it has become a top national security threat. In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security concluded that racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists, particularly white supremacist extremists, are “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”
To confront this issue, the Center for American Progress and the McCain Institute for International Leadership conducted a yearlong research project, convening a coalition of more than 150 leaders from the communities most affected by white supremacist violence, along with civil rights advocates and experts in law enforcement, counter-terrorism, and national security. The result is a blueprint that reflects a broad consensus on policies to tackle white supremacist violence while also respecting civil liberties and protecting vulnerable communities.
Please join the Center for American Progress and the McCain Institute for a discussion on how to end white supremacist violence. The event will begin with a discussion between members of Congress, moderated by former Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), followed by a panel of experts from the national security, faith, technology policy, racial justice, immigration, and civil rights spaces.
Daniella Gibbs Léger, Executive Vice President for Communications and Strategy, Center for American Progress
Doug Jones, former U.S. Senator for Alabama and Distinguished Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
Panel 2: A View From Stakeholders
Bishop Garrison, Senior Adviser to the Secretary of Defense for Human Capital, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, U.S. Department of Defense
Jessica González, Co-CEO, Free Press
Antonia Hernández, President and CEO, California Community Foundation
Sim J. Singh, Senior Manager of Policy and Advocacy, Sikh Coalition
Katrina Mulligan, Acting Vice President, National Security and International Policy, Center for American Progress
Brette Steele, Senior Director for Preventing Targeted Violence, McCain Institute for International Leadership
Panel 1: A View From Capitol Hill
Daniella Gibbs Léger:
Good morning, everybody. My name is Daniella, and I am the executive vice president for Communications and Strategy here at the Center for American Progress. I want to thank you all for joining us for this event, which unfortunately could not be more timely. Today, we’ll be discussing the threat of violent white supremacy and what can be done by the federal government to address it. You’ll hear from two fantastic groups of panelists, one featuring current and former members of Congress dedicated to tackling this threat, and the other featuring members of the communities most impacted by this threat and working to address it. For the past year, the Center for American Progress in partnership with the McCain Institute for International Leadership has been developing this product: a policy blueprint for countering white supremacist violence in the United States. White supremacy has existed before this nation’s founding, and U.S. history is inextricably linked to violence against people of color. Violence against Native Americans was a core component of the United States’ formation and territorial expansion.
The enslavement of black people was upheld by legal, societal, religious, and economic justifications for decades. And throughout U.S. history, white supremacy has shaped the idea of who could even be considered an American. Although racist tropes have been long employed by politicians, white supremacist narratives and champions were more prominently returned to mainstream discourse during the presidential campaign and administration of Donald Trump. Research has found that the 2016 election was associated with a surge in reported hate crimes across the country. But the counties that voted for Trump [saw] the most significant increases by [the] largest margins. While in office, Trump failed to condemn white supremacists as these attacks grew in number. In October 2020, Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security identified domestic violence extremism as a priority threat, noting that white supremacist extremists have become “exceptionally lethal” in their attacks. The ADL [Anti-Defamation League] reports that over the past 10 years, white supremacists have been responsible for 58 percent of extremist-related murders.
As we’ve seen, Black and Hispanic populations are significantly more likely to be targeted by hate crimes, but hate crimes and harassment against Americans of Asian descent and origin surged in 2020. White supremacist violence also continues to target religious minorities, including Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities. This violence takes a physical and emotional toll on our affected communities and is a threat to America’s security. Today, we don’t have to look far to find examples of this threat, which has rapidly escalated in recent years both in the United States and internationally, from the Christ Church attacks in New Zealand to the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville to the insurrection attempt on January 6. The persistence of this threat and its increasingly lethality was at the center of our minds when we began this project. From our perspective, this blueprint fills a critical gap. This issue touches on many different stakeholders’ communities.
In the past, it was difficult to find areas of broad consensus. Before we even put pen to paper on any recommendations, we had over 150 conversations with civil rights, gun violence prevention, national security, faith, law enforcement, tech policy, and immigration communities. Their insights were crucial to the drafting of this report and our ultimate recommendations. Notably, this project started with a conversation with communities affected by white supremacist violence. The direction this project took and the gap it ultimately fills is one that those stakeholders urged us to fill. It is fitting that this project began with the listening session. That approach, which we carried throughout this project, helped us hear and translate the needs and desires of stakeholder communities into concrete policy actions.
The new Congress and the Biden administration have recognized the severity and the persistence of this threat. Our recommendations are designed as a suite of options for these policymakers, including executive branch authorities and actions; steps to improve data collection; research and reporting; ideas to protect communities and prosecute crimes; actions to counter recruiting and infiltration in our military, veteran, and law enforcement communities; and available financial and technological tools. While our recommendations will not solve the problem of white supremacy in the United States, we’re optimistic that they can help turn the page and redirect the government to appropriately recognize the magnitude of this threat and take steps to counter it.
With that, I’d like to welcome our first panel for today’s event. First, I would like to welcome former U.S. senator from Alabama, Sen. Doug Jones (D), who will be moderating today’s conversation. As a U.S. attorney for Alabama, Sen. Jones successfully prosecuted two KKK members for their role in the 1963 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and has been a prominent civil rights advocate throughout his career. Notably, Sen. Jones has joined CAP as of yesterday as a distinguished senior fellow focusing on racial equity and social justice issues, as well as criminal justice and democracy reform.
We’re also excited to welcome Rep. Lauren Underwood (D), who currently represents Illinois’ 14th congressional district. Congresswoman Underwood is the first woman, the first person of color, and the first Millennial to represent her community in Congress. Upon her swearing in, she also became the youngest Black woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in Congress, Rep. Underwood has been a strong supporter of addressing the gun violence epidemic—which as we know, critically intersects with white supremacist violence in the United States—and introduced the Safe Communities Act to protect suburban and rural communities from targeted violence.
And we have Congressman Andy Kim (D), who represents the 3rd congressional district of my home state, New Jersey. Congressman Kim is a son of Korean immigrants and studied conflict in fragile states as a Rhodes Scholar. Prior to serving in the House, he worked as a career public servant at U.S. AID [Agency for International Development], the Pentagon, the State Department, the White House National Security Council, and in Afghanistan as an adviser to Generals [David] Petraeus and [John] Allen. During his time in Congress, Congressman Kim has co-sponsored the Justice and Policing Act. And over the past year, he has called attention to the rising targeted violence against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. I want to thank you all for joining us here today. And with that, Sen. Jones, I turn it over to you.
Well, thank you Daniella. This is a real honor for me to be here with you. Good morning to everyone. I am so happy to have this opportunity to moderate this important panel and to talk about this important paper that CAP has done. This is my first official appearance in my new role as a senior distinguished fellow with CAP. And I am so excited and looking forward to their work. Events over the past year have really brought our country to a moment of reckoning on matters of race and justice. That includes inequities in health care, education, income, voting rights. And as we have seen so much in focus in the last day or two, or the last couple of weeks, law enforcement reform. With this moment, we have an opportunity to fulfill our obligation to future generations of Americans, to protect the gains made over the last half-century, and to set this country firmly on the path of progress.
I’m looking forward to working with CAP to develop and promote policies that can help move us forward to a more perfect realization of our founding ideals. And for me, that starts today on a topic that I know a little bit about, having grown up in Alabama, having seen firsthand the atrocities of white supremacy, having had the opportunity to prosecute two members for one of the most heinous crimes in American history. We are in that inflection moment, and we have to recognize exactly where we are and what we can do. And that’s why I’m so happy to be here today and to be joined by two amazing members of Congress. Both of them first elected in 2018, Rep. Kim, Rep. Underwood, thank you for joining us.
I want to start this conversation with a little bit of a question to both of you, because it has been discussed, it’s been seen. Everyone watched in horror. You witnessed it firsthand in horror, the events of January 6 in our nation’s Capitol. Did those events, being a victim, so to speak, in any way change your perception of the threat from domestic violent extremism? And if so, tell us about in what way. I’ll start with you, Rep. Underwood.
Well, Sen. Jones, it’s so good to be with you. And Andy, it’s good to be with you. And thank you to CAP for holding the event today. To answer your question really directly, January 6 didn’t change my perceptions of violent extremism in any way. Many of us, and particularly my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, have long been raising the alarm about the rise of violent extremism for a long time. And white supremacist violence in particular we have long known to be a threat far earlier than January 6. Last summer, for instance, during the nationwide demonstrations against police violence, we saw the backlash from far-right extremist groups. I got messages from moms in my district who are worried about militias—militias—rising up in our communities with members active in their schools. This is, again, months before the Capitol insurrection. I’m glad that January 6 was a wake-up call for my colleagues. I really am, because we are long overdue for action here at the conference.
Yeah. Thank you for the question. Senator, great to be with you. And then as always, Lauren, I always love to join these panels with you. Two things stand out in my mind. I agree with Lauren that we’ve certainly seen the scourge of white supremacy and extremism before. Two things stand out about January 6. January 6, when I reflect upon it, it was an attack from one branch of government against another, and weaponizing this white supremacy and violent extremism to undertake that attack. We saw a former president call upon a militia army himself and direct them and point them toward this. So utilizing white supremacy for political purposes was something that really stood out to me. The second thing that I reflect on when I think through this is that it really hit home to us how long of a road to recovery we have ahead.
It’s something that we need to really internalize within ourselves that the problems that we face as a country do not lay at the blame of just one individual alone. This is something that is much deeper, will require something much greater. I think this report that comes out uses words that I’ve often used, which is saying that there’s no single law that Lauren and I could pass or that we can engage on that’s going to solve this problem alone. And that long road to recovery now empowers us to think about what do we need to do to keep that moving ahead? How do we sustain this momentum even in the wake of a tragedy like that? How do we sustain that momentum when this issue might not be on the front-page news every single day? How do we still make progress? That’s something that we all need to dedicate ourselves toward.
Well, again to both of you, look, I was up there in the Senate up until January of this year. And I saw over the last couple of years, our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, who continually talk about violence on the left. There were bills pending, a resolution wanting the Department of Justice (DOJ) to declare “antifa” as a terrorist organization, but those didn’t go anywhere. We’ve seen reports that up until October of this past year, the FBI would have regular—like almost daily and weekly briefings—on left antifa and others and where things stood. But white supremacy was growing under their very eyes with virtually no action.
So, to get anything done in Congress, you’re going to have to be pragmatic, you’re going to have to work with folks on the other side of the aisle. How do you balance that? How do you argue with folks or try to reason with folks on the other side of the aisle, who think that antifa might be more of a threat or as great a threat as white supremacy, even though the statistics do not bear that out? I’ll go to you, Rep. Kim, first.
Yeah, happy to. Well, look, we certainly need to make sure that we’re condemning violence in our nation. And that’s something, hopefully, we can all agree upon. But the challenges that arise are about, when I hear these kinds of statements of violence on both sides and things of that nature, then that language is inherently bringing up this idea that there’s an equivalency across the board. I think that’s why it is so important that we ground ourselves in facts. And we ground ourselves in that kind of research and analysis and assessment. Again, why it’s so important that that’s being raised in this report that we’re discussing today, is that there’s a lot more that we need to learn about this. When we see the initial stats that are out there, we know that there’s a much bigger growing issue of concern when it comes to white supremacy in this nation. And the trajectory is one that is terrifying in terms of where this could lead toward.
So, we need to make sure that we’re engaged in that way. When we look at it, and the way that we talk about it, what I really worry about is we’re going to get to a place where we normalize extremism in our country. And that is certainly unacceptable. I’ve worked in a lot of countries before that have had problems when it comes to extremism and other problems. And I see how that normalization is just something that’s baked into their society. If that happens here, we’re in for a world of problems. So I think that that’s something that is so critically important.
Yes, my job is to work with all the people on the other side of the aisle. My job is also to educate and inform my constituents and the American people about what is happening. I think that that needs to also be part of this effort. And I think that as we move forward in that way, try to create that foundation of facts that we build off of, we can take this conversation to the next level and hopefully move it past just the usual bickering and arguing that occurs. But I know how difficult that’s going to be. I’m not being naive about how problematic this is. You know it too, Senator, the struggles that we face. But those are some of the thoughts that I have right now.
Well, I agree with Andy. I’m a big believer in evidence-based policymaking. Maybe it’s because I have a public health background, maybe it’s because of my science background, but I believe that our policies should be based on facts. That includes interventions against extremist violence. We have to prioritize our resources where the problems lie. And in that sense, I absolutely do support any effective intervention that will keep Americans safe from violence, regardless of who the perpetrators are or what their motivations may be. The facts and the data just happen to point to extremist violence in an overwhelming sense. It shows that the number one threat is white supremacist violence right now.
So, this denial, Senator, that you spoke of—where DOJ and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] continued to deny what the facts, the obvious facts, were because of a political reality—is one that is actively, currently even, actively making us less safe because of the decisions that the Trump administration made. I’m very pleased about the outcome of this election, of course. I’m also pleased to hear that Merrick Garland and Secretary [Alejandro] Mayorkas are acknowledging this threat and are willing to put the resources there. But when it comes to working with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, we have to continue to be committed to advancing this evidence- and fact-based policy agenda because their rhetoric, it continues to be outside of the realm of reality.
All right. Well, Congresswoman, I’m going to stick with you for a minute. I know you have a hard stop at 11:30 ET here. So I want to stick with you for a couple of questions before you have to leave. You’re a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and a lot of the things that are in this CAP blueprint that has now been published are going to require some measures through Congress and the Appropriations Committee in particular. So can you tell us, is there anything currently pending or things that you might have planned that will deal with domestic terrorism in general, but also specifically if there is anything involving dealing in combating white supremacy?
Yes. So last Congress, I introduced a bill. It’s called the Safe Communities Act, and a large chunk of that actually passed during the fiscal [year] 2021 National Defense Authorization Bill, the MDAA. It specifically enabled CISA, which is the Cyber and Infrastructure Security Agency within the Department of Homeland Security, to develop and implement stakeholder outreach and engagement strategies to communities that are typically the subject to soft targets. So, churches, schools, mosques, temples, those community spaces that had been underserved, that really needed some support from our federal government. I am so proud that yes, we’re able to make some key investments there.
I think that this work needs to be scaled up, and it needs to be tackled with the force of a comprehensive federal strategy that says one, this is not aligned with our values. And two, when we write our budget, which is an articulation of those values, then we are going to be devoting the resources to a strategy to keep all of our communities safe from a known threat, and not just a threat, the number one threat. I think that the Appropriations Committee and our Homeland Security Subcommittee certainly recognize this threat for what it is. And we’re willing to, for FY 22 and beyond, allocate the resources necessary to keep all of our communities safe.
Well, let’s stick with your work in Congress right now. You’re also a member of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. And as I know you’ve read, CAP’s blueprint recommends several gun violence-related measures, including expanding background checks, expanding that requirement to cover more gun sales and transfers, banning ghost guns, and including those convicted of a misdemeanor hate crime on the list of prohibited persons from buying or possessing or transferring a firearm. There’s a number of things like that. But we know firsthand the resistance in Congress to any, any gun measure. The theory being that it’s the domino effect: that if you first start doing the least, little thing, then the next thing you know, the government’s going to come in and take all your guns, which we absolutely know is never going to happen in this country. What are the chances of some meaningful gun violence reform measures getting not only through the House of Representatives, but the Senate and onto the desk of the president, who’s taking some initiatives on his own, but is still going to take some congressional action, I think?
Well, I certainly agree. We need congressional action. The House has stepped forward with two pieces of legislation, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, universal background checks, and then making sure that those background checks are completed before that firearm purchase is made. I am personally very supportive of a range of gun violence prevention measures, the assault weapons ban. I think we need to bring it to the floor. The extreme risk protection orders, those red flag laws, we need to bring that to the floor, do all that we can to ban the high-capacity magazines and the bump stocks. You didn’t mention this explicitly, but we also know there’s a rising issue of suicide in this country, and access to firearms plays into not only adult suicides, but child and adolescent suicide, the safe storage issue. This is an area where, again, we need comprehensive solutions and leadership that the American people are ready for action.
This is not a galvanizing issue just on the left. It’s not a galvanizing issue just among young people. This is an issue that affects all of our communities where we see, across the ideological spectrum, support for these policies. And it’s the small minority of people that just happen to make up disproportionately House Republicans. They just happen to disproportionately be Senate Republicans that are unwilling to come to the table. I think that we certainly have the willingness in the Congress, at least in our Democratic majority, to take the tough vote and to be responsive to our communities. But we can’t do it in a vacuum. What I mean by that is, I think that it’s very easy to be discouraged by the early signs that maybe a bill doesn’t have the support that we need in the Congress, but until we get that vote completed, there’s an opportunity for movement.
So, what I would invite folks to do is continue to advocate, continue to reach out, continue to push the issue, because literally every day in this country, what are we seeing? We’re seeing a mass shooting. Every day we’re seeing senseless gun violence, and every day we’re seeing folks die. We’re seeing folks die. Those are the things that will galvanize and mobilize the masses. I think that that energy can be very persuasive when it comes to convincing folks on the other side of the aisle.
Thank you very much. Now, I’m going to throw this out to both of you. That’s a pretty good segue into my next question here, and I’ll throw it out to both of you. I’ll let Congresswoman Underwood, you answer first so that you can slip on out and go to your next event. I know how busy you are up there. Now, in his inaugural speech, President Biden referred to, “A rise in political extremism and white supremacy, domestic terrorism that we must confront, and we will defeat.” Now, what is it going to take to make all this happen? And this is a two- or three-part question here: What do you and your colleagues have to do to really defeat domestic terrorism and white supremacy? Who else has a role to play in doing this across the spectrum? We know a lot of the obvious stakeholders, but who really has a role to play in some of this, in trying to fight political extremism and white supremacy in particular, and domestic terrorism in general?
So Congresswoman Underwood, I’ll let you take that first shot so you can slip on out in a couple of minutes.
Well, Sen. Jones, thank you. Broadly speaking, we have to prioritize the federal resources. So for me, that falls into really three buckets: how we allocate funding, the programs that we’re authorizing and any kind of interagency collaborating that we are authorizing, and then also, we have to collect the right data. One of the things that was so disturbing to me in my orientation to Congress, the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force took us to a field trip to the ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] training place, the training range, to speak with their officers. What they told us is that a majority of these domestic violence cases are not able to be prosecuted because we don’t have a statute. So a lot of folks, they’re coming in on gun charges and conspiracy and things like that. So having a strong agency like ATF is critically important to our ability to halt the rise of violent extremism in this country.
When you asked about someplace specific that we can really hone in on, that’s an agency that I think it’s not discussed as much in this conversation. President Biden has advanced an exceptional nominee to lead that agency. I hope he can be confirmed because I think together with DOJ, together with DHS, if we can have a strong federal, all-hands-on-deck (they call it a whole-of-government) approach, that is the only way that we’ll be able to tackle this problem. Let’s be real. America has been battling for centuries, for centuries. So we cannot continue to move forward with this type of fragmented approach. I think that in the Congress, at least in our Democratic majority in the House, we are certainly willing to be creative and expansive in our thinking to make sure that our approach is integrated and comprehensive in that way. Thank you again for having me.
Well, thank you. I want to say, I really appreciate your noting the role that particularly the role that ATF play in this. In the past, when I was U.S. attorney, I had such a great relationship with ATF, and they did an amazing job. You guys may remember the Eric Robert Rudolph case, the bomb exploded at a women’s clinic in Birmingham, and also in 1996 at Olympic Park, ATF did an amazing job. In some of the reorganization, they move the white supremacy investigations out of ATF. I completely agree with you, that is a perfect place to really help be a focal point because we’ve got to have a center. Thank you Congresswoman for joining.
If that agency has the resources. We know that ATF has been chronically underfunded. So that’s why leadership is important. That’s why funding is important. It has to be integrated, but you’re right. And I’m looking forward to working with CAP to get it done.
Well, hopefully if the NRA continues to be underfunded as they are with their problems now, we can get those resources coming into the ATF. So, thank you so much for joining us today. We really appreciate it. Take care.
Congressman Kim, I’m going to throw that question to you now. We’ve heard some pretty good answers there from your colleague. What do you think is Congress’ role and who else, what are the stakeholders that really need to get engaged in this process?
Well, yeah, exactly. A couple of thoughts that I’ll build upon what Lauren said. First of all, it starts also by doing events like this and having reports like this. So thank you for doing this. We need to have this dialogue here. We need to talk about how extremism is anti-American. We need to talk about what it is that we’re actually up against. I think sometimes this discussion about radicalization in our country, sometimes it makes it feel like this is just a natural extension of some of the polarization that we have, or just a physical manifestation of this hyperpolarization. But what we know is that it’s not true. It’s something beyond this. This is a concerted and specific effort by certain people to recruit and radicalize and be able to use that toward political violence to achieve their means. This isn’t just some next stage or nuance when it comes to political disagreements and polarization in our country.
What this also gets at, when we look at this in terms of our society, is that I think it really also highlights just a broader systemic problem that we face right now, given these challenges that we’re at. That we have this crisis in confidence right now in our institutions of government and democracy, that we have this crisis of belonging in our society, as well as this crisis of commonality between us. So, there are a lot of other aspects that we need to be thinking about in terms of how we heal our democracy, how we heal and move forward after January 6.
So much of that is directly related to this question that we’re tackling. This isn’t just about how do we identify and go after people that are trying to perpetrate this directly. It’s not also just about how we protect vulnerable communities who are susceptible to this kind of thinking, but it’s also about how do we build up the resilience of our democracy, our governance. Taking steps like H.R. 1 and the Voting Rights Act and other protections—that is our effort that we understand that the opposite of this extremism and political violence is a resilient and strong democracy.
Well, that is, the confidence in our institutions of government, I think is a real challenge right now. It has been eroding for some time. I noticed that there was a CNN poll last month that found a full one-third of Americans thought that there may be political violence in response to future elections, that that was very likely. That is incredibly disturbing. So what do we do? How do we restore confidence of the American people in our institutions of government that have been so strong for so many years?
Well, what you just cited into the poll, again, that really gets at something I was saying earlier, which I’m so worried about, which is that it feels like there’s just this normalization of this extremism, that we just accept this as just a reality in our country. We need to reject that. We cannot get just broken down and ground down to believe that this is just a normal function. The same way that, what Laura was just talking about, when it comes to gun violence in our country, we just accept that now. For so many of us, it’s just this normal aspect, and we have to reject that and find ways to stand up there. What you just mentioned really highlights the urgency of now when it comes to this issue.
Again, having worked in other countries as a diplomat, where I’ve seen extremism and radicalization, I understand how hard it is when it grows those deeper roots. And we know that we’ve had systemic racism and inequality in our country since the very beginning. I get that, but when it comes to this iteration that we’re dealing with right now, there is such an urgency for us to be able to tackle this and make sure that we are trying to do our best to address it at that systemic level. A structural, systemic problem requires a structural, systemic solution. So there are a lot of efforts that we need to do to try to restore confidence in our government. I know that full well. I’m one of only, what, seven Democrats left in the country that represents a district that Trump won this past November and won twice. I’m the only person of color in that Democratic Party that represents a district that Trump won. So I understand some of these challenges on a day-to-day level.
I do think that it calls upon us to try to find a way to be able to tackle this, how we talk about it, how we engage with it, but again, build sustainability in terms of our efforts moving forward. That’s why I think some of the conclusions and recommendations of this report are so vitally important in terms of understanding how we understand the problem that we face, how do we maximize the resources and the actions that we have capable within our government. But there is always this X factor, which is this deep societal cut that we have, this recognition and a humility. That, again, this is not a problem that we can solve just by legislation or executive action. This is something that really confronts us on a personal level and really requires all of us to think very personally about these issues, about what it means to be an American and what it means for us to embrace diversity and plurality within our own communities and our own society.
Well, Congressman, I got to tell you, I don’t think there’s anybody that is more fitting to give those words than you. For those of you that are watching this, they did not see this. One of the most moving photographs that followed the January 6 insurrection was a photograph of Congressman Kim on the floor in the Capitol working to help clean up, picking up the debris. It went viral, it was an amazing photograph of a member of Congress on his knees helping clean up after the aftermath of that insurrection. I think you were quoted saying, “I was just overwhelmed with emotion. It’s a room that I love so much. It’s the heart of the Capitol, literally the heart of this country. And it pains me so much to see it in this kind of condition.” So thank you for that and thank you for those words, but in the photograph of inspiration.
You’ve had some experience dealing with terrorism before. You’ve had experience working on terrorism and what’s been termed as fragile and failed states before you became a member of Congress. So what lessons did you learn? What can you pull from that experience in other countries that can help us in the United States dealing with what is not a new problem, but certainly a problem that is now coming more into focus for us as we go forward?
Thank you for that. And I appreciate the kind words. When I look back on January 6, I think it’s this recognition that we just need to roll up our sleeves and get things done. When I look at the work that I’ve done before and reflect upon this now, you’re right, I worked in Afghanistan on these issues. I worked on Iraq and counter-ISIS efforts. A couple things stand out to me. One is that the focus needs to be on disrupting those particular actors that are trying to perpetrate this and grow it.
As I said, this is not just some natural evolution of political disagreement or polarization. What we’re talking about are people who are specifically trying to recruit and radicalize people using those tools to move in that direction, to pursue a political agenda through the means of violence. That is something that, again, is anti-democratic, anti-American, and something that we need to stand up against. What we also need to do, while we’re going after people and trying to disrupt their actions to do that, we do need to also identify and try to protect and build resilience around communities and individuals that might be susceptible to this type of language and this type of radicalization.
In particular, what I’ve experienced abroad and what I worry about here is about youth. I’ve seen how these groups particularly go after youth and young people in their countries. I see some of those same strands happening in America. I’m very concerned about that, because they’re trying to prey on the impressionability of our young and try to stoke grievances and fire there. I worry about that as someone who’s seen this abroad, I worried about that as a father to two baby boys. I worry about that in so many ways about how that is happening. I do think it’s so important for us to not just assess the problem but assess the potential trajectories in which that’s going. Who is it that these groups and these actors are trying to prey upon, not just in terms of targeting and attacking, but trying to recruit? That’s something that I think we have a lot more than we need to dig into to be able to identify.
Well, let’s talk about something that I know is very personal to you, not as if the January 6 insurrection wasn’t, but this is probably more personal. And that is, we’ve seen such a surge in hate crimes in this pandemic directed against the Asian American and the Pacific Islander community. You’ve spoken out about that, how it’s affected you and your family. From my perspective, for years, even before the pandemic, even before we heard the words coming out of the former president of the United States, I grew up in a state where words have consequences. Words matter. Political rhetoric, political dog whistles that we heard so much in the 1950s and 1960s, resulted in violence, resulted in the deaths of four children at a church. I think there’s a part of that in this: that words matter, and words have consequences. But I’d like for you to address that a little bit. What do people need to understand about this rise in hate crimes toward the AAPI community? What can we do and how do we pull back on this right now?
Well, thank you Senator for shining the light on this. It means a lot to me and to many others. I will say that this is a historic moment for that kind of focus on the struggles and challenges facing the AAPI community in this country. Yes, it has in part to do with COVID and the hostile rhetoric that we’ve been seeing, but we also know that this discrimination and bias and racism against the AAPI community existed for a long time, well before COVID, it’ll exist well after COVID. I’ve shared recently some of the experiences that I’ve had in my own life. I shared about how, when I was working as a diplomat at the State Department, I was banned from being able to work on issues related to Korea simply because I was Korean American. I talked about recently how my 5-year-old son came home one day and told me how a bigger kid was calling him “Chinese boy, Chinese boy,” over and over again.
What this gets at, and how it intersects with the conversation we’re having right now, is about a fundamental question, which is what does it mean to be American? What does that actually mean to us individually, as well as a nation? And is there a gradient for that? Are certain people more American than others? And also, are there certain people that are better to represent America than others, both here at home and abroad? I, for one, want to say definitively that there is no gradient, there is no scale, there is no sense of someone being more American than others, but I feel like I’ve experienced situations where I can’t shake that feeling that I’m not seen by others as falling short. That when I’m told I can’t work on Korea issues at the State Department because I’m Korean American, I feel like people are saying, we can only trust you to a certain extent, that your loyalty has a finite end to it, and that there are other people that are better than you to be able to represent America in those contexts.
That is something that we need to reject in all forms, and that we need to stand up together to showcase that we are all Americans and that is unshakeable. I think that fundamental premise is something that the AAPI community constantly faces. That this year is the year that my family is celebrating 50 years in this country, three generations of us. Yet we still, as demonstrated by what my 5-year-old went through, still have this shadow of foreignness hanging over us. I asked him this question: Will I ever be seen as 100 percent American, or will someone always assume that I speak a different language at home? And if so, why does that even matter? Why does that even determine whether or not I’m American or I’m the right person to be able to represent?
These are some of the challenges that I think we’re trying to explain right now and lift up, is just this fundamental sense of Americanness and foreignness, and the tensions that continue to grip between that dichotomy, and whether or not it is a binary, or whether or not there is that murkiness there. We need to reject that. And by doing so, we reject a lot of the fundamental tenets of white supremacy in this country. That is something that I want to make sure we all commit to doing.
Well, Congressman, thank you so much. Thank you for being here with us. Thank you for your incredible service as a member of Congress and the service that you have provided to this country before. Your words have special meaning. Also want to, once again, thank Congresswoman Underwood. And I want to leave this portion of the program with a challenge to the folks out there that are watching this. You will have a link to the blueprint that CAP has written, that I think is an incredible path forward for everyone.
But I want to ask you a challenge that before you read that, go back and read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” written 57 or 58 years ago now. It is about standing by and doing nothing, and why we can’t wait. We are in a similar moment. That letter was read on the Senate floor just about a week or so ago, by three Republicans and three Democrats. It was something I started in 2019. We did it again in 2020, and now Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has taken it up. Read that letter, understand the meaning, and understand that it is as important today, and perhaps in many ways more important. Then read the CAP letter, the white paper, read the blueprint we’ve got. And the challenge will be for all of us to commit ourselves, not just to Zoom in and listen to others, but to leave these Zooms and go out and make a difference and stand up. Congressman, thank you again for joining us. This has been a phenomenal program. Thank you, and I’ll turn it back over to Daniella or folks at CAP.
Panel 2: A View From Stakeholders
Thank you so much, Sen. Jones, Rep. Kim, and our thanks also to Rep. Underwood. My name is Katrina Mulligan, and I am the acting vice president for National Security at the Center for American Progress. I come to CAP from a decade of service in the national security community and intelligence in counter-terrorism and in the national security division in the Department of Justice. Over a year ago, my organization decided to partner with the McCain Institute to fill a critical gap and find areas of consensus for action to address white supremacist violence. This partnership has been critical in developing actionable ideas that both sides of the aisle can support.
My counterpart at the McCain Institute for International Leadership is Brette Steele. Brette serves as the senior director for preventing targeted violence at the McCain Institute. In this capacity, she provides strategic leadership and operational management for the Institute’s program to prevent all forms of targeted violence, terrorism, and their impacts in the United States. Brette also serves as chair for the board of Life After Hate. Prior to joining the McCain Institute, Brette served as the regional director of strategic engagement for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Terrorism Prevention Partnerships. And before that, she served as deputy director of the U.S. Countering Violent Extremism Task Force and as senior counsel to the deputy attorney general. She also shares with me an educational background at the UCLA School of Law. I want to turn it over to Brette to introduce our other panelists to talk about what this looked like, not from the vantage point of lawmakers, but as community advocates and folks on the ground. So Brette, over to you.
Thank you, Katrina. It’s been an absolute pleasure for the McCain Institute team to work with the Center for American Progress on this project. Our panelists today include Antonia Hernandez. She is the president and CEO of the California Community Foundation, which is one of Southern California’s largest and most active philanthropic organizations. We also have Bishop Garrison. He is the newly appointed senior adviser to the secretary of defense for human capital and diversity, equity, and inclusion. In addition, we have Jessica Gonzalez. She is the co-CEO of Free Press, a nonprofit focused on building media and technology that serves truth and justice. And finally, Sim Singh, is the senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Singh Coalition, where he focuses on grassroots and national advocacy against hate crimes, school bullying, workplace discrimination, and racial profiling. Katrina, over to you to start our panel discussion.
Great. Thank you, Brette. For those who have had a chance to look at the blueprint, we opened this report by acknowledging that white supremacist violence is not new. It has been a serious threat to many Americans for centuries, really since before our country’s founding. We also know that it takes different shapes and forms in different communities. We’ve seen it in the rise in recent anti-Asian hate crimes, obviously the January 6 insurrection. We saw a Confederate flag unfurled in the U.S. Capitol. We’ve seen it in mass shootings, targeting immigrant and religious minority communities, and in underpinning practices that continue to result in police brutality against Black Americans, yesterday being just the latest example. So for this discussion, we’d like to start by asking, what does white supremacist violence look like today in the communities you serve or come from? And Sim, I’d like to start with you on this and then turn to Antonia, and just get a couple of different viewpoints on this question. What does it look like in your communities? Sim, over to you.
Thank you for having me. Unfortunately, for our community, the links to potential white supremacist violence look all too fresh for us. On Thursday, a gunman attacked the FedEx facility in Indianapolis, where he killed four Sikhs and four others, wounded five. He was known as an entity by FBI and local police. And sadly, on this very day, those very same Sikh workers who were among the targeted have to return to that place of work in which their neighbors or colleagues or friends or relatives, people who look just like them, were slaughtered. What has become apparent is that law enforcement failed the community in addressing the threat. If you’re Sikh, or in fact any minority living in the United States, it’s impossible to look at the tragedy that unfolded in Indianapolis and not immediately consider the possibility that bias might have been a motivator. We saw this unfold in Atlanta, where the gunman shot in massage parlors that were predominantly staffed by Asian Americans. The other shooting was at Walmart in El Paso that targeted the Hispanic community.
In the aftermath of 9/11, we saw backlash attacks against the Sikh American community, where Balbir Singh Sodhi was the first murder victim of hate violence because the shooter wanted to kill a “raghead.” And that was sadly among the sea of hundreds of backlash reports we received at the time. In 2012, an unabashed white supremacist entered a Sikh house of worship and killed seven worshipers. Yet even that was not enough for the FBI to officially declare the role in which the shooter’s white supremacist viewpoints resulted in one of the deadliest attacks on an American house of worship. It was the worst attack on an American house of worship since the 1963 Baptist Church bombings, which Sen. Jones helped prosecute and put those people behind bars.
Antonia, we would love to hear your reflections as well.
In the Latino community, it’s like immigrants in general—and this country is made up of immigrants from throughout the world—but the perception is that predominantly it’s Latino, and predominantly Mexican, and currently from central America. And it’s just taken for granted that the abuse has been since the country was formed and expanded into parts of the country where it was home for these populations, Native Americans. Our former president called us criminal and rapist. I want to go back to a comment that Congressman Kim made because I think it’s at the heart of this, that perception of who is an American, because that is so key. It’s interesting that people ask me, “Where do you come from?” When I say Los Angeles, “No, no, no. Where do you really come from?” Because I’m not perceived to be an American. I think that that’s the discussion we have to have.
The second thing as to why we have not addressed this issue is because it’s embedded in our law enforcement, in our military. In your report, you cited that one of the federal agencies that is so much on top of this issue is the people that monitor immigrants, Homeland Security. Until we address the issue that it’s embedded in law enforcement—and we’ve seen it with the killings of African Americans and Latinos and others and the fact that there’s very little consequence—the infiltration of the military and the large proportion of veterans that have been and were involved in the January 6 event.
We need to deal with this issue, knowing and understanding that it’s embedded in the very institutions that are supposed to protect all Americans. I think that you have done a great service to raise the issue for us to really begin to discuss this issue and take it seriously. And as Congresswoman Underwood and Rep. Kim and Sen. Jones said, we have to admit, accept, and then put our resources into controlling it, because if it becomes an everyday issue—part of the infrastructure, as Congressman Kim said—we’re not going to be the Americans that we thought we were. And the question is if we were ever the America that we thought we were.
Thank you for that. The recommendations in our report, the recommendation with the greatest consensus across stakeholders, was that we needed more data and, in part, more inclusive data. And to the point Antonia just made, Bishop, I want to turn to you because [Department of Defense] Secretary [Lloyd] Austin has communicated a commitment to understanding the prevalence of extremism in the military. How does DOD plan to do that in practice? And is there an intent to drill down on the types of extremism, including white supremacy, and just as importantly, to improve transparency on these questions?
Absolutely. Thank you for having me on such an esteemed panel. I’m really honored to be here talking through such a sensitive issue that our nation is attempting to come to grips with and trying to navigate. As the secretary has said on many occasions, it’s our belief that the vast majority of those who serve, both civilians and uniformed personnel, do so with great honor and integrity. They serve—often at a sacrifice for themselves, their families, and their lives—in order to ensure that our nation is protected and safe and that the values that we hold most dear are upheld. But we would be remiss if we didn’t admit to the fact that there is a problem with extremist behavior within the military. That is to say, that one extremist is one too many within our ranks.
To your point, as we continue to navigate this issue, we have to take a look at the data. We’re in the current process of bringing in a vast amount of information and going through some analytic process to understand what exactly it is that is the root cause, the root nature of what we’re seeing play out in real time. We’re trying to get a better understanding of that, and we want to be transparent. We want the American people to understand and know that we see this behavior as a problem. It goes against our values. As I said, it goes against our oath. That is something, as a part of the 60-day stand down recently, that the secretary wanted to ensure that we reemphasize the oath to the entirety—the total force as we call it—both the uniform, service members, as well as civilian support. That we understand that this type of ideology—excuse me, this type of behavior—is not acceptable, and it goes against the health, the readiness, the morale of the total force, as well as the good order and discipline of units.
First, we want to get a handle on and understand what exactly the nature of the problem is. And then it’s important for us to reject extremism in all forms, whether that be what is often referred to as unlawful or unregulated militias, anti-government extremism, as well as extremism based in immutable traits. Whether you’re talking about race or gender or ethnicity, none of it is acceptable and we wholeheartedly reject all of it, and we’re going to continue to work in as reasonable and as transparent a nature possible, as reasonable as our work will allow in order for us to address this problem through a whole-of-government approach.
Thank you for that, Bishop. Sim, I want to turn to you now. You’ve been an advocate for implementing reporting options for victims of hate crimes and hate incidents outside of traditional law enforcement channels. You’ve also been an advocate for government using non-law enforcement data in assessments. Why is that important, and what could those options look like?
Sure. There’s a challenge in community trust. People are hesitant to report to law enforcement because they don’t see law enforcement acting on the reports of hate as they should. Time and time again, we’ve seen law enforcement drop the ball when investigating, apprehending, reporting, or even prosecuting those hate crimes. According to federal estimates, there are over a quarter-million hate crimes that take place annually, while only an average of 6,200 incidents are submitted to the FBI by law enforcement. As a result, 54 percent of violent hate crime victimizations go unreported to law enforcement. One solution that we’ve developed is community reporting initiatives like reporthate.org, where members of the Sikh American community are able to submit their incidents of hate to organizations like ours so that we can track hotspots and trends and regions.
This allows our organization to deploy interventional resources that help in raising awareness about the Sikh community, educate the local community on how to protect themselves, and understand their rights if they’re targeted for a hate crime of act of white supremacist violence. We also provide legal assistance with in-house legal counsel, who can walk through victims through legal services and victim services that they may require, and then determine the appropriate path for justice for not only the victim, but also the community that has been targeted.
Right. So I’m about to switch gears and talk a little bit about the role of online activity and tech platforms, which I know a lot of folks are concerned about. Before I turn to you, Jessica, with a question, I do want to let folks who are tuned in know that we will have some time at the end for questions, and I’m seeing that a couple of questions have begun to come in. So go ahead and submit those questions, we’ll be turning to those in about 15 minutes. Jessica, the online space is obviously an area in which understanding the full scope of the white supremacist movement has proven to be difficult. Some of the biggest concerns are about the roles and responsibilities of tech platforms. What do we need to know about the links between online activity and in-person attacks? And what do you see as the role of tech companies in addressing the use of their platforms by violent white supremacists?
Thanks so much, Katrina, and thanks to CAP and to the McCain Institute for the report and for having me here today. The use of the media system by white supremacists to advance their goals is nothing new in the United States. We see this going all the way back to the founding of our country, and I won’t go into the details there. What’s new today is the way that social media operates and the way that it is being harnessed by a very organized and sophisticated international network of white supremacist leaders to normalize hate, to normalize violence, to glamorize those things, to recruit and to fundraise, frankly, a great deal of online fundraising is happening that supports white supremacist groups. How is this different than how they’ve used radio, television, newspaper, etc.?
Well, there’s a few ways. Of course, with the internet, there is a great deal of anonymity. So folks who might not congregate in the public square can congregate online. In addition, online platforms have really set themselves up in a way that democratizes speech. And that’s a good thing, but there’s a balance we have to strike here. But also, it’s very easy to exploit these platforms to advance the goals of white supremacists. They monetize engagement by users. They are actually selling users’ attention to advertisers. So we’re the product here. And the way many social media companies work is they are gathering data about us, both demographic data but also how we’re behaving on their platform and sometimes even off their platform. And they’re using that data to target us with group recommendations, with messages, with advertisements. The way that that really works to the benefit of white supremacists is that their groups are getting recommended to folks who may be vulnerable to their messaging.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal broke a story that showed that Facebook’s own research showed that 64 percent of people who find extremist content on Facebook do so through Facebook’s own recommendation algorithm. Extremist content is actually being fed to people by Facebook’s algorithm based on some calculation that Facebook is making that certain people may be susceptible to certain messages, and in this case, white supremacist messaging. So, their business model is built on engagement, on keeping eyeballs on the platform, and frankly, they haven’t done enough to interrupt white supremacists organizing, normalizing violence, and recruiting through this mechanism. I’ve worked with a number of partners at the Change the Terms Coalition. We’re a coalition that is 60 members strong, made up of racial justice, civil rights, and digital rights groups that have put out a set of model policies that we’re calling on the platforms to adopt to disrupt white supremacist organizing on the site.
We’ve also called for an end of letting Facebook serve as a recruitment tool. We’ve called for them to ban white supremacists and militia groups from their sites. And that’s the type of action that we think platforms can and should take. But I also would add that I think we’re going to need some regulatory and legislative interventions here that really get to the heart of the hate and lie-for-profit business model, and the way that our privacy is being violated and then used to violate our civil rights. I think we have to take a multifaceted approach to this problem. I think companies need to take a much greater deal of social responsibility for the role that they’re playing in spurring violence and facilitating white supremacist recruitment. I also think it’s time for some government intervention.
Thank you for that, Jessica. Throughout our many discussions with advocates for communities targeted by white supremacist violence, and for those that specialized in prevention of violence, it was clear that solutions need to come and be developed in partnership with local communities. At the same time, it was evident, and Sim referenced this earlier, that some of the communities targeted by this violence do not necessarily trust government institutions. And that can challenge partnerships. So, Antonia, I want to turn to you first. You’ve long been a champion of a community-based approach, especially in your role as president of the California Community Foundation. What sorts of programs and initiatives should the federal government be supporting in Los Angeles where you work, and what might be replicable across the country?
Well, I want to start with a comment. I think that the presentation by [Reps.] Underwood and Kim highlights what the federal government can do. Keep in mind that a lot of the laws that regulate conduct are really at the local level, but I don’t want to undermine the national players. First of all, we have the moral voice of the president of the United States, and words do matter. I think more importantly, for everyday common-sense people, just the difference between our former president and our current president sends some message to the country as to the issues. First of all, regulatory, legislative, I think gun control is a real issue at the national level. I believe that the executive, through the various departments, can really hone in on this issue and make it a priority. Whether it’s the FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, Department of Justice, there’s a lot that can be done there.
But having said that, this is an issue where the state and the local have a lot more control. We have a hodgepodge of issues. What works in Alabama, where Sen. Jones comes from, is not what works in California. It’s very different. But I think the important part here is what Sim indicated, is local entities having safe places for people to report, because what you indicated is really a serious problem. The people that suffer the most—African Americans, Latinos, immigrants—are the people that have less access and less trust to law enforcement. So what we need is intermediaries that people can… talk about criminal justice, law enforcement reform, how we police and protect one another, all of these issues that are at the local level. And we need to build local infrastructure, safe places where people can report, so we can deal with the evidence that we need in order to be very strategic.
We have to also engage some of the, what I call, trusted local leaders. You folks spoke to hundreds of individuals and communities, and I think that that’s the best approach. LA in Southern California, particularly, we are the world: Every race, every country, every language is represented in this area called Southern California. We represent the world. And so for me, it’s funding for local organizations to empower themselves, to speak for themselves. But one of the key factors is how do you bring together communities that don’t trust government? How do we bring them to begin a dialogue with local law enforcement? Because it really, it’s law enforcement that has to come up, it’s the criminal justice system that has to give voice to equality and justice.
We just saw one incident yesterday, and think about how we all felt. I woke up feeling so tense, not knowing what was going to happen and fearing the worst that could happen. And when the verdict came down, it was a sign of relief. We were just relieved that we had a moment to think about what we could do in the future. I think that federal government—it’s the moral voice, it’s the resources. And then the local empowerment of communities to begin to engage in the dialogue. Once again, like I said, it sounds trite, but Brette and Katrina, the fact that you put this report together and you allowed and gave a podium for us to really begin to deal with this issue, I think is the beginning of a conversation that more and more people need to have. Because we first have to acknowledge that we have a problem, and then we can move forward with solutions. I see your report as that beginning.
Thank you for that. Bishop, one of the reasons for mistrust, as you acknowledged earlier, is when Americans see members of the military or veterans participating in white supremacists demonstrations and violence. You have quite a few recommendations for what the DOD should do to prevent and address white supremacist extremism in their ranks. You talked a bit about this earlier, but what steps can the DOD take to hold service members accountable, and where do you see potential challenges in that?
Sure. We announced on April 9, the secretary announced that we were going to take some initial immediate steps in order to begin addressing the issue. He laid out quite a few, one of which was a review of our current processes and policies to include what’s known as DOD Instruction 1325.06. That prohibits extremist activities as a part of some of how we define our political activity. Particularly within that instruction, we’re going to review how we can give more specificity to what exactly defines extremist behavior. Additionally, we’re looking at some of the sessions processes, what questions are asked at the outset whenever we recruit talent. We’re reviewing a way to standardize some of that information. And then to, I think, your point and to some earlier points made, we’re looking at commissioning an extremism study, again, to better understand extremist behavior in the workforce, the sources of it, and how we can actually get to the root cause of the problem.
I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but for us, a lot of this is really the first initial deep dive as a department into greater detail of what exactly is extremist behavior, where is it coming from, and how do we address it? So, a lot of this for us is bringing together the data, is doing the research, and is continuing to at least bring about some of these initial steps that we know can help us remind all of our members—both civilians and service members—what exactly it is we do day to day, what our work is about. And it’s about supporting and upholding our values and ensuring that everything that we do properly reflects the oath of office and what we signed up to do and help the government properly accomplish this mission. Additionally, the secretary has often said that we are held to a higher standard. We need to remind everyone that the country expects more of military service members and those that support them, and that’s something we’re going to continue to do.
Finally, we established a countering extremism working group, and that working group that I lead is going to be responsible for the implementation of these immediate actions. And then we have four lines of effort that are designed and dedicated to getting, again, to the root cause of these problems and understanding how we can further address them: military justice and policy, looking at the potential pathways of updates to address extremist behavior within UCMJ [the Uniform Code of Military Justice]. Looking at our Insider Threat Program—this led by intel and security to understand how we can better work within the inner agency, particularly with federal law enforcement to identify the types of behavior that are happening outside of the military’s purview on the civilian side—and bring that information in and address this type of behavior from that route.
Again, I’ve already mentioned the screening capabilities, but looking potentially at publicly available information. What we’re talking about, how we can address issues that take place on social media, trying to build both processes and policies around that. And then finally, education and training. So much of a lot of the rhetoric that we see, both in the military and outside of it, comes from a lack of cultural understanding, a lack of knowledge, a level of ignorance, that I think having programs around better educating our populations and training them to be culturally aware, to understand a lot of the issues that are facing communities of color today. As our panelists have mentioned, the George Floyd murder hearing and a lot of these other day-to-day issues that greatly affect communities of color—regardless of whether or not they wear a uniform or work for DOD—are vitally important for us to understand. If we’re going to be strong teammates, we have to ensure that we’re being proper allies for those individuals going through a lot of difficult times within their own community. So having an education and training line of effort that helps us better understand these gray areas and what we need to do to help address a lot of these issues is going to be of vital importance for us.
Great. Thanks so much, Bishop. I am excited to turn now to some of the audience questions. We’ve been getting some great ones. I’m going to start with one that’s really ideal for you, Jessica. It’s a simple and profound one. Going forward, what can be done to not allow these groups to use these platforms in the way that you described?
Well, thank you. Thanks for that. Because I will put in another shameless plug for the Change the Terms model policies, at changetheterms.org. These are evergreen policies that will disrupt the cycle whereby hate and disinformation proliferate online. It’s not hard to identify white supremacist activity on social media. White supremacists need to be banned, and the companies need to have the moral courage to take that action. On Facebook and other platforms, there is still not a concrete policy that bans calls to arms at events. Ludicrous. They immediately need to stop people using social media to organize weaponized events. We know that the insurrection attempt at the Capitol was organized in part on Facebook, on Telegram, on other social media apps. We actually need some courageous leadership from the leaders of those companies. This is not a new request. These requests have been made for years and years now.
In addition to these requests, this is why I’m suggesting that we actually need to have some legislative interventions. We need to look at these algorithms that perpetuate and drive discrimination. We need to interrogate them. We need to draft legislation to address that particular problem. I wholeheartedly endorse a piece of model policy that was drafted by Free Press, my organization, and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law that enshrines digital privacy and civil rights law for the online space. And you can find it at freepress.net. I’m happy to share it later for those who are interested, but we have to really look at what are the conditions, what are the business models that allow for the proliferation of hate and violence on these platforms that make these leaders of these companies hesitant to strongly condemn white supremacy? Not just in words, because a lot of them have said the words, but haven’t taken the appropriate actions.
This next question I’m going to pose to Sim and Antonia. What role, if any, do you see education playing in fighting white supremacist violence?
Sim, you go first.
Sure. I think education is important and diversity and inclusion initiatives are one of those ways that we can help educate Americans about Americans coming in all sorts of different walks of lives and backgrounds, those immutable characteristics that Bishop Garrison had mentioned. If someone wants to serve in national security spaces, be a police officer, be a soldier, they should be permitted to do so with their policies. We also need community advocates to speak to their elected officials to demand that diverse communities be included in policy discussions and be a part of ongoing initiatives that help shape the legislation that affects our communities at the local level, which I know Antonia had talked about as being critically important. Antonia, I’ll turn it over back to you.
Well, I think this is a very important point because if we look at our educational system, public education has played a critical role in defining who we are as Americans. Less and less resources have gone to public education. We’ve done away with civic education. We have to look at how we tell the history of this country and make it much more inclusive and include the diversity. This country was founded by a very diverse group of people. It was not discovered, because it was always here, but people from Europe came and people were already here on the West Coast—Indigenous people and other people. I think that civic education plays a really important role.
I’m a member of the Academy of Arts and Sciences, and we just issued a report, “Our Common Purpose.” It’s a report that deals indirectly, but directly with this issue, that we have to redefine civic engagement. We have to really be committed to our democratic form of government, because that’s what’s tearing us apart. There’s a whole bunch of recommendations there about how we can live up to the ideals written in the Constitution, because those ideals, they were not reality. It was an ideal that we’ve been working toward and making progress, but somehow in the last 30 years, we have stagnated. So, I think a recommitment to our democracy, a recommitment to acknowledging that we are a diverse demographic, a reality. We are and will become a diverse country. How does democracy play into that and how we redefine it? Because to be an American, think about this, it’s an ideal. An American is Congresswoman Underwood, an American is Congressman Kim, it’s Sim, it’s Jessica, it’s me, it’s Katrina, it’s Brette. That’s who America is. And that’s what we have to embed in the culture of this country and make it a priority.
Right. Thank you for that. One question that I couldn’t help myself from asking from the audience questions: Many white supremacist recruiters prey on vulnerabilities, including youth, those who may be living in poverty, people who may be neurodivergent or lack access to educational resources and critical thinking tools. Do you see a solution to this issue that addresses the vulnerabilities that make that recruitment easier? I will tell you right now, this is what the McCain Institute is working on. In fact, we have a program in 25 universities called Invent to Prevent, doing that type of work piloted by different university teams. But one of the questions that came out of this, Bishop, I’m going to address to you: Would better infrastructure, veterans support, mental health services, help ameliorate that vulnerability to recruitment?
Absolutely. I worry certainly that a part of what we’re seeing is a transition from a very structured, rigorous military life and culture to a civilian culture and life that doesn’t have some of that same structure and some of that same ease around the infrastructure of getting the type of services you may need at a much quicker notice. So, we’re working within the inner agency, with the White House, with other agencies to ensure that any plans or recommendations that we have for the secretary include a discussion around how we can better frame and build up that infrastructure around the transition—particularly of young soldiers, but of all service members and their civilian counterparts—back into a more traditional civilian life. It’s really important that individuals are gaining the benefits and the services that they’re allowed to receive that have been provided to them.
It’s really important that we have some type of structure there, so we don’t create a vacuum in which these nefarious actors, these extremist groups, step into to provide that leadership and that structure and that support that so many of these individuals not only crave, but truly need. They need to feel a sense of community and belonging. That’s ultimately, unfortunately, what they’re finding with some of these extremist groups. It’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to continue to support our fellow service members and citizens in this regard and make sure that as they transition to a new life, into a new portion of service and just general living, that we do everything we can to provide them with some type of safe and structured transition into this new portion of their life.
Thank you so much, Bishop. And thank you to everyone for tuning in today. Check out the policy blueprint. It is chock-full of really concrete actionable ideas that the willing administration and Congress can advance. I think it’s been a terrific discussion. I want to thank all of our panelists for joining us. I hope everyone has a safe and helping week. We got a lot of work to do. Thanks, everyone. Have a great day.
Have a great day. Thank you.