WASHINGTON ― Groups that receive government funding to battle violent extremism in the U.S. are weighing their options as they wait to see how the Trump administration’s reported plans to focus a Department of Homeland Security anti-extremism initiative exclusively on radical Islam play out.
The Countering Violent Extremism grant program awarded $10 million to 31 groups in January, during the final days of the Obama administration. The one grantee that focuses solely on fighting white nationalism could lose that funding. And some Muslim advocacy groups that were awarded grants might find it impossible to accept the money if a revised CVE program were based on the idea that only Muslims carry out acts of violent extremism.
Life After Hate, which helps rehabilitate former neo-Nazis, was told last month by the Obama administration that it would receive a $400,000 grant. Although the DHS has not notified the group of any imminent changes to that award, Life After Hate has not yet received the money, according to co-founder Christian Picciolini.
The group, which relies in part on government funding to do its work, is already looking to increase its private sector fundraising, Picciolini told The Huffington Post in an email.
The proposed change “sends a message that white extremism does not exist, or is not a priority in our country, when in fact it is a statistically larger and more present terror threat than any by foreign or other domestic actors,” Picciolini wrote, citing Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, Wisconsin Sikh temple shooter Wade Michael Page, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and Kansas Jewish Community Center shooter Frazier Glenn Miller.
“We have hundreds of thousands of homegrown sovereign citizens and militia members with ties to white nationalism training in paramilitary camps across the U.S. and standing armed in front of mosques to intimidate marginalized Americans,” Picciolini added.
“The proposed change 'sends a message that white extremism does not exist, or is not a priority in our country.'”
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, politically motivated right-wing extremists have killed 50 people in the U.S, according to the New America Foundation. Attackers motivated by radical Islamic views have killed 90, including the 49 people shot at an Orlando, Florida, nightclub last year.
The DHS declined to comment on plans to narrow the focus of the CVE program. The White House did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Trump administration has been discussing CVE adjustments from the start. At one point, administration officials considered including any changes in the executive order that temporarily barred travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S., two sources briefed on early drafts of the travel ban told HuffPost.
At least two nonprofit groups ― Minnesota’s Ka Joog and Michigan’s Leaders Advancing and Helping Communities ― have said they will not accept their CVE grants because of Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Others, like the Muslim Public Affairs Council, are waiting to see what happens before making any decision to back out of the program.
“Those are our tax dollars that we can use to infuse resources into the community,” council president Salam Al-Marayati said of the group’s $393,800 grant during a Facebook live stream on Friday.
But the group is coming under pressure from the Muslim-American community to reject the money. The community has long been skeptical of the program ― even during the Obama administration ― for what critics say is a disproportionate focus of threats from Muslims.
“We’re not going to engage in anything that would criminalize our community,” Rabiah Ahmed, the council’s communications director, said in an interview.
During the Obama administration, officials were careful to describe the threat of violent extremism in broad terms. The DHS even singled out its efforts to rehabilitate former neo-Nazis in a recent press release. But the department still focused the bulk of its CVE efforts on deterring recruitment by Islamic terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
The Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee previously described the CVE program as “fatally flawed” and tantamount to “racial and religious profiling.” The changes proposed by the Trump administration would simply be “dropping the facade,” said Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Both groups are prominent advocates for the Muslim-American community, and neither has taken CVE funding from the government.
If Muslim advocacy groups do pull out of the CVE program, there are other groups awarded money under the Obama administration that will still happily take the funds ― including those that agree with Trump’s basic premise that only extremist violence committed by Muslims is worth the federal government’s attention.
One group selected for CVE aid by the Obama administration said its work would not be affected if Trump limited the scope of the program to countering Islamic extremism.
“We only work with Muslims [on CVE] because radicalization is for the Muslims,” said Amira Salama, executive director of Coptic Orthodox Charities, a group that helps resettle refugees. “The Muslims are the ones who can get radicalized.”
Asked if she believes Christians can pose an extremist threat, Salama said, “No, I don’t believe Christians are radicalized.”
The DHS awarded Coptic Orthodox Charities $150,000 in January. Salama said the group will use the money to fund classes inside mosques aimed at preventing young Muslims from becoming radicalized online.