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Op-Ed: It’s time to come together to end white supremacist violence

By Katrina Mulligan and Brette Steele

Violent white supremacists currently pose the single most lethal threat to American security — more than any hostile nation or foreign terrorist. A resurgence of white supremacist ideology has spread at an alarming pace over the past four years. The consequences have been deadly.

The Capitol siege was a harrowing event and it reminds us of the real and present danger posed when white supremacists become involved. The threat did not end with President Trump’s presidency. A rise in anti-Asian American violence, coupled with a larger trend in racially and ethnically motivated extremism, is plaguing the United States — and white supremacists are largely responsible.

Lawmakers, policy experts and affected communities generally agree that swift and deliberate action is needed to counter this threat. However, previous efforts to address these issues at the federal level have divided key constituencies and ultimately stalled.

Over the past year, the Center for American Progress and the McCain Institute, where we work, have convened over 150 community leaders and experts across the political spectrum who have been most affected by white supremacist violence and have been working for years to diminish it. The result is a comprehensive blueprint that provides a starting point for action, backed by the critical coalition necessary to finally make headway.

Perpetrators of white supremacist violence employ a broad range of tactics; in turn, public officials must deploy a wide variety of policies to curb violence and address its root causes.

First, the executive branch must leverage its existing authorities to tackle the problem head-on. The Biden administration should build on its current efforts by raising general awareness about the problem. It should also drive federal resources toward prevention and prosecution and establish a uniform code of conduct for federal employees. These measures will demonstrate strong federal leadership while addressing known problems.

Relatedly, the government must fund more research on white supremacist violence and improve and enforce data reporting standards on hate-based incidents. Doing so would better inform the American public, underpin the development of evidence-based solutions and ensure that resources are allocated according to need.

Using this enhanced data and scientific evidence, the government should adopt a two-pronged approach that protects communities and prosecutes offenders. First, the U.S. should invest in a community-oriented, public health approach to prevention, focusing on multidisciplinary programs that disengage individuals from mobilization to violence. Second, the government should ensure that law enforcement agencies have the resources to leverage existing tools and authorities to report, investigate and prosecute crimes associated with white supremacist violence, especially hate crimes. This includes updating the federal definition of hate crimes and designating lynching as such. Of equal importance is preventing perpetrators of white supremacist violence from arming themselves. These actions must respect constitutionally-protected civil liberties.

White supremacists bring tactical skills and credibility to their movement by recruiting members with formal combat training. Reliable data regarding the prevalence of white supremacists within both the military and law enforcement is limited; however, any form of insider threat poses a clear danger to local communities and to national security. To recognize and counteract evolving recruitment and infiltration tactics, support for veterans and updated policies, processes and training for active-duty service members are badly needed. While the federal government has a limited ability to implement widespread police reforms, the Department of Justice (DOJ) can establish a federal advisory committee to develop guidelines that stymie infiltration and address law enforcement participation in white supremacist activities.

Finally, the federal government and technology companies must partner to address white supremacists’ ability to use internet-based platforms by joining the Christchurch Call, developing best practices for classifying hateful content, and advocating for transparent methods of content moderation.

Overall, there is no single policy or criminal statute that will end white supremacist violence. But until the United States gets serious about the long-term threats of white supremacist violence, the frustrating cycle of violence, community-wide terror, calls for action, and complacency will persist.

DISCLAIMER: McCain Institute is a nonpartisan organization that is part of Arizona State University. The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not represent an opinion of the McCain Institute.

Publish Date
April 22, 2021