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King, Pingree Call On Trump Admin. To Restore Federal Unit Focused On Preventing Domestic Terrorism

Nick Godfrey
Maine Public
Anna Durand, Bobbie Goldman protest in front of Jared Golden's office in Bangor Aug. 7, 2019. Protesters are upset about the delegation's leadership on guns and white nationalism.

In prepared remarks following two deadly mass shootings last weekend in Texas and Ohio, President Donald Trump vowed to give federal authorities the tools they need to investigate and stop domestic terror attacks. But news reports indicate that since taking office, the president's administration has diverted resources away from the monitoring and disruption of these kinds of attacks. 

Now, two members of Maine’s congressional delegation are calling on the administration to restore a federal unit that once helped local law enforcement to intercede.

Former Homeland Security official George Selim, who it now with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), delivered a dire warning in May to the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties:

"The data is clear. The white supremacist threat in the United States is at disturbingly high levels and we must work together now to ensure that the worst is not yet to come," Selim testified.

Selim also cited a study released by the ADL in January showing that of the 50 murders committed at the hands of extremists last year, all but one were linked to right-wing extremism, and 78 percent were tied to white supremacy.

Credit Julie Pike / Maine Public
Maine Public
Protesters gathered outside Portland City Hall on Thursday to rally against domestic terrorism and white supremacy.

And then there's this 2017 statistic from the University of Maryland:

"Seventy-one percent of Islamist-inspired extremists in the U.S. were interdicted in the planning phase of their terrorist plots. On the other hand, far-right extremists, the inverse is the case. Nearly 71 percent managed to successfully commit their acts of violence," Selim testified.

That statistic does not include mass shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, another at a garlic festival in California or the recent shooting in El Paso, which authorities are treating as an act of domestic terrorism and possibly a hate crime, allegedly perpetrated by a white supremacist.

Meanwhile, The LA Times reported this week that the administration has taken resources away from efforts to counter anti-government, far-right and white supremacist groups and directed more toward Islamic extremism.

"You know the president is so quick to blame people from other countries, but doesn't always want to look at the activity that's going on right here at home," she says.

In the wake of last weekend's shootings, Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine has criticized the Trump administration for disbanding a domestic terror unit within DHS that monitored burgeoning terror plots and coordinated with local law enforcement to help stop them.

In April, acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan announced that a new unit had been created, but The LA Times reported this week that it has far fewer resources: the former unit had 40 full-time staff and a $24 million budget. The new one has 10 full-timers and a $3 million budget.

Pingree says that's woefully insufficient.

"At a moment when the FBI is saying we have to have more investigation of this, and we have to follow some of the activity that's going on on the internet and make sure we're calling this what it is, an act of domestic terrorism in our country," Pingree says.

In an interview with CBS This Morning earlier this week, McAleenan acknowledged that more funding is needed.

"We need to invest more, no question,” he said. “In my first week as acting secretary, we stood up that office. I've asked Congress for an out-of-cycle budget request to help bolster it."

That request is pending.

Independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who has called disbanding the old terror unit a mistake, says he hopes President Trump will see that the new funding goes through.

But King is also skeptical of the president's commitment to the cause.

"My observation of the president has been that if he's reading from a teleprompter, he may not mean it," King says.

Originally published Aug. 9, 2019 at 3:57 p.m. ET.