Senate Republicans hosted a hearing on terrorism. But none of them addressed white nationalism.
A few hours after James T. Hodgkinson opened fire at a congressional baseball practice in Virginia on Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hosted a hearing on violent extremism, titled "Ideology and Terror: Understanding the Tools, Tactics, and Techniques of Violent Extremism."
Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the committee chairman, started the hearing with an opening statement linking Hodgkinson, a white, middle-aged man with no ties to foreign terrorists, to Islamic extremism. Johnson said the main topic of the hearing is for "countering extremism and violence in any form, including Islamist terrorism." He went on:
There’s no way anybody can deny we have a problem worldwide in terms of extremism and violence. We witnessed it just a few hours ago on a baseball field for a charity event.
Despite some opposition from Senate Democrats, the hearing focused violent extremism almost exclusively on Islam and Muslims. National security and counterterrorism experts told Mic that the hearing was a missed opportunity to come up with strategies to effectively counter the real threat of white nationalism and armed militia movements.
"Our danger, at least to date, has not been from those who slip into the country unnoticed, who illegally cross our borders or who are seeking refuge from a humanitarian crisis,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said in her opening statement. "That’s not where the danger has come from. It has come from people who are Americans, or who are legally in this country, who have been radicalized. We face threats from a range of sources, including white supremacists, eco-terrorists, ISIS-sympathizers — there is a long list."
Johnson did not respond to Mic's request for comment.
GOP senators chose three out of the four panelists at the Wednesday morning hearing: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Asra Nomani and John Lenczowski. Ali and Nomani have been noted as unreliable witnesses due to their involvement in the anti-Muslim movement. Ali, for example, was labeled an anti-Muslim extremist by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And Nomani has made headlines for her vocal support of President Donald Trump and his executive orders banning Muslim-majority nations from traveling to the U.S.
In their testimonies, the three panelists addressed the threat of political Islam — aka Islamism.
"[Islamism] is an ideology that seeks to overthrow our democracies with Islamic governance and sharia, or religious law, which, importantly violates United States law on multiple fronts," Nomani said in her testimony.
Experts say the biggest national security threat facing the U.S. is white terrorism
Shahed Amanullah, a former senior adviser in the Obama administration specializing on counterterrorism strategies overseas, said the hearing does little to truly fight violent extremism.
We need to take an honest look at its manifestation in our society. The hate-motivated slayings in Portland and [Wednesday's] shooting in Alexandria need to be seen as much of a threat to civil society as ISIS-inspired attacks. Both are driven by supremacist ideologies and seek to intimidate through violence. I believe if you look deep enough at the perpetrators of all these acts, you will find common threads that can be used to address all of them.
Over past few months, several white men who subscribe to white nationalist ideologies were arrested for violent crimes targeting minorities and communities of color. On May 21, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi Brandon Russell, 21, was arrested for plotting to bomb synagogues, nuclear facilities and power lines with homemade explosives. According to the authorities, white supremacist propaganda and a framed photo of Oklahoma City Bomber Timothy McVeigh were found in his room.
In May, white nationalist Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed three men, killing two of them, after they attempted to defend a black teen and her Muslim friend from Christian's racist, anti-Muslim rant on a light rail train in Portland, Oregon.
In March, 28-year-old white supremacist James Jackson traveled from Baltimore to New York City with the intention to stab black men. He ended up fatally stabbing Timothy Caughman, a 66-year-old black man, in Tennessee.
In February, Adam Purinton shot two Indian men, one fatally, outside of a bar in Olathe, Kansas, because he thought they were Iranian.
"If our lawmakers were truly serious about cracking down on the spread of violent extremism, they'd start right here at home with the single largest group of perpetrators: white nationalists," Zaki Barzinji, former President Barack Obama's White House liaison to Muslim Americans, said in an email.
According to a 2016 study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the odds of a Muslim terrorist killing an American is at 1 in 6 million. However, the likelihood of being killed for just being Muslim is a far more common 1 in 1 million.
On May 22, the Anti-Defamation League released a study analyzing over 150 incidents committed by right-wing extremists from 1993 to 2017. The ADL found that the majority of these extremists are either white supremacists, anti-establishment or both, and account for the deaths of 255 people, as well as the injury of 603 more.
Amanullah said there isn't any proof or evidence to suggest that Muslims are actively recruiting and attempting to overthrow the U.S. government and replace its constitution with sharia law.
"Yet there are hundreds of armed militias who are have sought violent confrontation with U.S. law enforcement for decades," he said. "Which one is the real threat to our way of life?"
The white nationalist threat in this country is continuing to grow. Mic's Jack Smith IV reported that neo-Nazis were using 4Chan to recruit young teenagers to join the white nationalist movement. Shortly after, 4Chan declared the Portland attack as a victory moments after news broke out.
In the last four years, the follower growth of social media accounts belonging to white nationalist groups grew over 600%. These groups are currently outperforming ISIS in terms of online recruitment and propaganda, but unlike the terrorist group, white nationalists operate with relative impunity.
But despite the alarming data around white nationalist movements, the Trump administration is still focused on terrorism among Muslims and people with foreign ties. In April, the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement launched the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement to draw more awareness to crimes committed by immigrants.
Barzinji said the GOP's method of curbing violent extremism only increases foreign threats to national security.
"When they instead single out Muslims and ignore the violence being done upon those communities, they are playing into the hands of groups like ISIS," Barzinji said.