SPLC to Homeland Security Committee: Focus on domestic terrorism from the radical right

SPLC President Richard Cohen testified today before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security about the need to focus on domestic terrorism from the radical right.

Cohen delivered the following oral remarks to the committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, in addition to written testimony.

Thank you, Chairman McCaul, and thank you, Ranking Member Thompson.

Members of the committee, it’s an honor to be here today.

Charlottesville truly was a wake-up call for our country. It was a reminder that the oldest form of terrorism our country has ever known is still with us.

It was proof that the white supremacist movement has been energized by Mr. Trump’s campaign, proof that Mr. Trump’s campaign has “unearthed some demons,” to use Congressman Sanford’s words.

The marchers’ chant in Charlottesville – “You will not replace us” – was an expression of paranoia over cultural displacement. It reminds us of what Dylann Roof said when he murdered nine people in a Charleston church: “You're taking over our country.”

The marchers’ chant, “Blood and soil,” their anti-Semitism, reminds us of one of the darkest chapters in modern history.

In my written testimony, I called the threat associated with groups like ISIS the most acute ones we face. So I certainly don’t take issue with Director Wray’s calling it our “main terrorism” threat.

But I worry that calling the threat from domestic extremist groups like those in Charlottesville merely a “steady” one, as Director Wray has called it, may lead us to underestimate the danger that the current white supremacist movement poses, not just to our physical safety, but to the very soul of our nation.

And I worry that calling the domestic extremist threat merely a “steady” one may lead us, once again, not to give it the attention it deserves. That’s why I think the joint resolution that this Congress passed unanimously in September, and that the president signed, is so important.

The resolution recognizes the growing threat from racist, anti-Semitic, and xenophobic hate groups in our country. It urges the president and his administration to “use all available resources” to address that threat.

And it calls on the attorney general to vigorously prosecute criminal acts from the radical right, and to improve the reporting of hate crimes. That reporting, I’d note, is woefully inadequate.

The FBI’s recent report counted approximately 6,000 hate crimes in 2016. Yet, the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that as many as a quarter million hate crimes may be occurring annually. So clearly, we have a disconnect here.

As you know, the Charlottesville resolution urges various things, but has no enforceable provisions. That’s why it’s so critical that this committee hold oversight hearings in the very near future to ensure that the president is living up to the commitments he made when he signed the resolution.

I also would ask this committee to recommend legislation, similar to that which Sen. Durbin has proposed, that would institutionalize a focus on terrorism from the radical right within our federal law enforcement agencies.

That threat is the oldest our country faces. Charlottesville demonstrates that it’s lethal, and it’s likely to be with us long after we hopefully have addressed the threat of terror from groups like ISIS.

It deserves a full measure of our attention.

Sen. Durbin’s bill would do many other things, including preserving funding for the State and Local Anti-terrorism program, SLAT for short, a critical program that has been on the chopping block.

As I mentioned in my written testimony, my colleagues and I at the Southern Poverty Law Center are representing Susan Bro, the mother of Heather Heyer, the young woman who was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville.

At the funeral of her daughter, Susan said, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what, you just magnified her.

“I’d rather have my child,” she said, “but by golly if I have to give her up, we’re going to make it count.”

I’ll see Susan next week in Charlottesville, and I look forward to telling her that this committee is committed to doing everything in its power to curb the threat of radical right terrorism in our country and to make Heather’s death count.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.