Firecrackers go off near members of a police riot team during protests in Seattle, Washington, July 25 2020. Picture: DAVID RYDER/AFP
Firecrackers go off near members of a police riot team during protests in Seattle, Washington, July 25 2020. Picture: DAVID RYDER/AFP

It shouldn’t take a whistle-blower or the surreptitious release of department of homeland security documents to alert the American people that home-grown white supremacists pose the most pressing terror threat to the nation.

The stated mission of the agency is to “safeguard the American people” with “honor and integrity.” Yet evidence is building that the department’s top brass is failing on both fronts, putting the political desires of President Donald Trump before the security of the public.

Americans learnt last week that “white supremacist extremists — who increasingly are networking with like-minded persons abroad — will pose the most persistent and lethal threat” to them. They learnt this not from the agency but from news reports of leaked drafts of the agency’s annual homeland threat assessment.

Then Brian Murphy, the former head of the department’s intelligence division, said in a whistle-blower complaint that he was directed by deputy department secretary Ken Cuccinelli, a political appointee and former anti-immigrant politician in Virginia, to “modify the section on white supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent ‘left-wing’ groups”.

Those working in the department of homeland security must remember that their duty is to the American people. The urgency of addressing the threat of white nationalists and other right-wing extremists is clear at a time when protests of racial injustice across the country have increasingly been countered by armed right-winged groups, often organised online.

According to the Centre for International Studies, in 2018 and 2019 alone attacks by right-wing groups accounted for 90% of terror-related fatalities in the US — a complete contradiction of Trump’s preposterous claims that left-wing groups are the most dangerous.

The department’s failure to address seriously the peril of white supremacist terror isn’t the result of a lack of legal tools — the agency can use its resources to focus on white supremacist terror organisations with the same urgency it has devoted to foreign terror threats for almost two decades, so long as it provides domestic targets all due constitutional protections. What the department lacks is the will.

Every official at the agency has a responsibility to stand up — even to the president and those who enable him — to keep Americans safe. /Boston, September 11

• The Boston Globe

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