At Hearing, Members and Witnesses Detail the Ongoing Threat Posed by Anti-Democratic Extremist Groups
Washington, D.C. (Dec. 13, 2022)—Today, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held a hearing to examine the ongoing threat to American democracy posed by white supremacist ideologies, and how the federal government can confront domestic terrorist threats.
“We live in a violent society and the violence exists across the spectrum of political extremism. But the movements of violent white supremacy and anti-government extremism lead America in fomenting terroristic violence and disseminating propaganda to incite it,” said Chairman Raskin in his opening statement. “Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security identify white supremacy as the most lethally dangerous domestic terrorism threat our country faces.”
“Hate is on the rise. That is why it is critical that Congress continue to shed light on this growing cancer and come up with substantive solutions to address hate and violence. We may disagree on politics, but there is no room in this country for discrimination, violence, and unbridled hate,” said Chairwoman Maloney in her opening statement.
The Committee heard testimony from Alejandra Caraballo, Clinical Instructor, Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School; Mary McCord, Executive Director of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center; Oren Segal, Vice President of the Center on Extremism for the Anti-Defamation League; Amanda Tyler, Executive Director for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty; and Eric Ward, Executive Vice President at Race Forward and Senior Advisor at the Western States Center.
Witnesses emphasized that white supremacy and other forms of domestic extremism continue to be a threat to democracy.
- Mr. Ward, in his opening statement, cautioned against underestimating the ongoing impact of anti-democratic white supremacy on all Americans: “White nationalists and other bigoted groups are driving harassment campaigns against elected officials, law enforcement, leaders of color, the LGBTQ community, school officials, and many more at an alarming rate. This harassment has a chilling effect on the ability of many people to engage in civil society …” He continued, “It is important to understand that the insurrection did not end on January 6, 2021.”
- In response to a question from Rep. Rashida Tlaib regarding the threat posed by infiltration of white supremacists into law enforcement, Ms. McCord testified: “Extremists recruit from law enforcement, especially paramilitary groups like Oath Keepers, like 3 Percenters … The number of those who espouse extremist views, including white supremacy, within law enforcement has an outsized impact. The threat to democracy comes if these are the people who are in charge of complying with the rule of law, actually protecting public safety in their communities. Their communities can’t trust them to actually protect them … protect their values, and allow them to have an equal opportunity to participate in democratic processes. It really does break down.”
- Ms. Tyler noted in her testimony: “Christian nationalism is not patriotism, patriotism is a healthy love of country, nationalism is an allegiance to country that demands supremacy over all other allegiances. … The myth of Christian nationalism must downplay or ignore the role of indigenous communities, Black Americans, immigrant populations, religious Americans, and secular Americans, and all others who undercut the false narrative that the U.S. is special because it was founded for and by white Christians.”
Witnesses detailed the manner in which white supremacist and anti-democratic extremist threats are evolving, including by using online spaces to foment hatred, confrontation, and violence in the wake of the January 6th insurrection.
- Mr. Segal testified about how online hate turns into real world violence in response to a question from Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, “Virtual spaces are the lifeblood of extremism.” He continued: “[Propaganda] is created in online spaces, leveraged among people who share it, and then shows up on the ground. There is a direct pipeline between the hate that is incubated in these online spaces and the impact it has in the communities on the ground. Many of these individuals are live streaming their activity on the ground in real time knowing that there are people sitting in the comfort of their own homes who are encouraging them to harass people. Antisemitism, white supremacy, other types of hatred, have become a form of entertainment.”
- In response to a question from Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton on how the nature of hate crimes has evolved in recent years, Mr. Ward testified, “Mission driven [hate violence] means there is a political ideology …” He continued: “What we’re seeing in the country now—El Paso, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Charleston—are planned acts of violence that are driven by a worldview that believes that Jews are somehow part of a racialized conspiracy to destroy the white race. It is dangerous, and it is an attempt to undermine democracy, to create instability, and to cause fear.”
- In her opening testimony, Ms. Caraballo testified that: “The [anti-LGBTQ] events in Ohio, North Carolina, Florida, and New York feature well-worn baseless accusations of grooming and so-called child abuse. They underscore the ongoing amplified threat to an LGBTQ community already reeling from deadly violence. This has been a long-winding road of escalating rhetoric and tactics that were first popularized on social media and spread to the physical world. Prominent social media accounts often perpetuate incendiary language that manifests into real-world violence. There is a direct connection between these accounts and violent threats against people, events, and institutions they target.”
Witnesses and Democratic Members were united in calling for a whole-of-government response to mitigate the growing threat posed by white supremacist and anti-democracy extremism.
- In response to an inquiry from Rep. Robin Kelly, Mr. Segal responded that one step to take could be, “Creating an online clearinghouse for online extremist content modeled after the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, where people who identify extremism online have a place to report it that is non-profit and independent but funded by the government.” He also testified in his opening statement on the need to “combat extremism in our institutions” and to “make hate crime reporting mandatory.”
- In her opening testimony, Ms. McCord recommended several legislative fixes to combat paramilitary activity, including “A federal paramilitary law that includes a civil law enforcement mechanism for seeking injunctive relief and civil forfeiture against armed paramilitary actors and their organizations.” She also recommended “conditioning federal law enforcement grant funding on proactive efforts to eradicate extremists from the force.”
- Mr. Ward also recommended “Three actions that can reduce the threat to local communities by anti-democracy extremism: One, block grants to counter the impacts of extremism on local government; Two, require federal agencies to provide prospective action plans; Three, root out extremism in law enforcement and the military.”
In May 2019, the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties began examining the rise of white supremacist violence and its connection to the recent surge of domestic violent extremism. The Subcommittee held its first hearing in May 2019, focusing on the ways in which the Trump Administration made it more difficult to combat violent extremism, including by reducing resources and infrastructure needed to combat white supremacist extremism.
In June 2019, the Subcommittee held a second hearing with Trump Administration officials who admitted they lacked a strategic plan to combat white supremacist violence. In September 2019, the Subcommittee held a joint hearing with the National Security Subcommittee on the transnational nature of violent white supremacy. In September 2020, the Subcommittee heard testimony on white supremacists in law enforcement and initiated an ongoing investigation into the threat.
Following the January 6th insurrection, the Subcommittee held a fifth hearing, raising the alarm about the dangers of far-right military extremism and the ideological connection between white supremacy and the far-right militias who perpetuated the attack on the Capitol building.
In September 2021, the Subcommittee held its sixth hearing examining the Biden-Harris Administration’s first-ever strategy to combat domestic violent extremism.