Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson called on officials to beef up their response to domestic extremism following the arrest of a Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling weapons and a hit list of Democrats and journalists.
“We do, I think, need to do a better job of rooting out people who harbor extremist views that could turn to violence,” Johnson told NBC’s Chuck Todd on Sunday in a “Meet the Press” interview that touched on white supremacists, anti-Semitism and last year’s pipe bomber.
Johnson served in his role under the Obama administration from 2013 to 2017, and expressed strong disapproval of the decline in DHS staffing and funding targeting violent domestic extremism since he left his post.
“That’s going in the wrong direction,” he said.
Addressing extremist ideologies, like those allegedly embraced by self-proclaimed “skinhead” Chris Hasson, who was arrested earlier this month, doesn’t come down to debates over the First Amendment, Johnson argued.
“What the mission needs to be about is not policing speech, not curbing speech, not discouraging free speech or the expression of ideas, but building bridges to communities from which terrorist organizations or hate groups might seek to recruit,” he said.
In a federal court filing last week, Hasson was accused of having envisioned carrying out a massacre “on a scale rarely seen in this country,” and allegedly wrote about creating a white ethnostate by means of “focused violence.”
Reflecting on the news, Johnson demanded leaders speak out against people like Hasson, calling it “incumbent upon all our leadership across the spectrum.”
“Leaders lead, and people really do listen to their leaders,” he said. “The level of dialogue is deviating downward, the civility of our dialogue is deviating downward such that individuals like this Coast Guard lieutenant feel emboldened and perhaps even entitled to take matters into his own hands and carry out acts of violence.”