Trump faces backlash over plan to exclude white supremacists from anti-terrorism programme
Task force to focus solely on Islamist extremism in proposed revamp
SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON: A Trump administration effort to exclude violent white supremacists from a government anti-terrorism programme and focus efforts solely on Islamist extremism drew a sharp backlash yesterday.
The proposed revamp, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, would rename the multi-agency Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) task force to Countering Islamic Extremism or Countering Radical Islamic Extremism, and eliminate initiatives aimed at other violent hate groups in the US.
"Abandoning efforts to counter violent white supremacist ideology is profoundly misguided and will endanger Americans," New York Attorney-General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.
He also urged Mr Trump to keep the focus on "all extremist threats".
Mr Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said an explicit focus on American Muslims would violate "basic constitutional principles" and suggested that the changes would be met with legal challenges.
The Anti-Defamation League also criticised the plan.
It cited internal research that found that 74 per cent of the deaths caused by domestic extremists between 2007 and last year were caused by "right-wing extremists, such as white supremacists, sovereign citizens and militia adherents".
Facebook, which like many Internet platforms is often used by extremists, has financially supported at least one CVE initiative, but had no comment on the prospective changes.
Meanwhile, postings on white supremacist websites welcomed the potential changes.
Contributors to Stormfront, a white supremacist website, praised the new administration.
"Oh my goodness. Is this for real. Amazing my government no longer targets me as the enemy," wrote one prolific poster going by the username Magog.
Another regular poster, Celtchar, wrote: "Wow. It just keeps getting better and better."
The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) declined to comment on the proposed changes.
Mr Trump has said he wants to put America first but has rejected characterisations of the order as a "Muslim ban".
His moves have already undermined participation in the CVE programme, which is based on working with community groups to identify potential attackers and recruits.
Minnesota-based Ka Joog, a non-profit that provides community-based programmes for Somali youth, on Wednesday became the second group to pull out of the CVE programme, citing concerns about the Trump administration's posture towards Muslims in turning down a $499,998 grant.
"That's a lot of money, especially in the non-profit world," said Mr Mohamed Farah, the organisation's director.
"But at the end of the day it all comes down to principle. I am a refugee, I am a Muslim, I am an immigrant and this president is against everything I stand for."
Last week, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities, a Michigan-based group led by Lebanese-Americans and another grant recipient, declined $500,000 provided by the DHS. - REUTERS