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The White House today released a new report, “Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States,” that describes a national plan to take on homegrown violent radicals of all types. It is broad, sober, careful not to assign blame to any particular community, and fairly uninspiring.
It’s not that there’s anything to dislike in the plan. But the eight-page document is notably short on specifics, and doesn’t offer any particularly new approaches. It does include statements about the advisability of respecting civil rights, avoiding demonizing Muslims, empowering local communities and institutions, and fostering dialogue — all strategies that have been pursued in various ways already. It also notes, as have many officials recently, that jihadist terror groups have increasingly ramped up their efforts to radicalize U.S. Muslims and turn them against their own country.
But it declines to create “a new architecture of institutions and funding,” instead emphasizing the need to utilize “successful models, increasing their scope and scale where appropriate.” In concrete terms, the report suggests expanding the federal government’s relationships with grassroots groups, both so locals will be more likely to report suspicious activity and so people will be less likely to radicalize.
To its credit, the new report, even as it characterizes Al Qaeda as still the most serious terrorist threat facing Americans, refuses to demonize Muslims, as American politicians from U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have done over the course of the last year. It makes the important point that foreign jihadists today are aiming their propaganda at potential American recruits, and that a key piece of that propaganda is the idea that America is at war with Islam.
But the report does not address in any way the need to improve intelligence and analysis of political extremists in America. That need has seemed obvious since Daryl Johnson, the former lead analyst of non-Islamic domestic terrorism for the Department of Homeland Security, did an interview with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In it, Johnson said that his unit had been gutted after a 2009 report he authored was pilloried by the political right for supposedly demonizing conservatives. After those attacks, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew the report and described it as fundamentally flawed – an assessment which seemed ridiculous to groups, including the SPLC, that study domestic extremism.