The rise of home-grown, white extremism was the focus Tuesday of a roundtable discussion attended by a trio of high-profile Democrats — the governor, the local Congressman and the head of Homeland Security for the Obama administration.
Their predominant message: Terrorism has become less of an international problem and more of a domestic concern involving lone-wolf actors.
In his remarks to the local officials and religious leaders who attended the midday gathering in Garfield, Rep. Bill Pascrell pointed to a report by the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, which looked at the causes of extremist-related killings in the country in 2018.
“It found that 50 homicides resulting from extremism occurred in the United States in 2018 — just last year — 49 were committed by right-wing terrorist groups. This is not a both sides problem, my friends,” Pascrell said.
Pascrell said America needs to refocus its anti-terrorism effort.
“Individuals who seek to terrorize our communities are terrorists, period,” he said. “And with that, our government must orient itself away from viewing terror as an international problem only. We need to focus on our own borders, our own people, us.”
Noting that today’s domestic terrorist could be a confused young person living in his parents’ home, Gov. Phil Murphy took a thinly veiled swipe at President Donald Trump.
“We are in an extraordinary moment in our country,” he said, “where there is a permission slip from the very top being given to folks to pursue what we would otherwise think of as fringe and unacceptable behavior, but pursuing very aggressively this ‘us versus them’ mentality.”
The state is giving security grants to houses of worship and religious schools to harden them against attack. It also has a very well thought of interfaith advisory council.
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson talked about the difficulties in countering domestic extremist violence.
“We have evolved to a very different place,” he said. “Terrorism of this type is much harder to predict. It can be very random. It occurs in communities in the Northeast, in the Southwest, in the Southeast. It is very, very hard to predict.”
Johnson said it takes a village — and money — to be effective.
“When we see someone who may be going in the wrong direction, there are roles to play for local organizations that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security should be funding, something we began in the last administration. And the dollars for that effort have been tapering off, unfortunately,” he said.
New Jersey gets $7 million a year from the Department of Homeland Security, the fourth largest grant given to any state.
Murphy elaborated about the danger of leaders exacerbating the problem with inflammatory rhetoric and pronouncements.
“And the fact of the matter is, that permission slip is largely based on an ‘us versus them,’ what do you look like, who do you worship, who do you love, what kind of accent do you have, what do you wear on your head,” Murphy said.
Johnson noted that World War II was a battle against white nationalism.
“Home-grown terror is tearing us apart,” Pascrell said. “And we’ve allowed it to rear its head without acting.”