SAN FRANCISCO/WASHINGTON – A Trump administration effort to exclude violent white supremacists from a government anti-terrorism program and focus efforts solely on Islamist extremism drew a sharp backlash Thursday, with New York state’s top prosecutor denouncing the move and civil liberties advocates suggesting it is illegal.
The proposed revamp, reported by Reuters on Wednesday, would rename the multiagency Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, task force to Countering Islamic Extremism or Countering Radical Islamic Extremism and eliminate initiatives aimed at other violent hate groups in the United States.
“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, adding that he urged President Donald Trump to keep the focus on “all extremist threats.”
Hugh Handeyside, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said an explicit focus on American Muslims would violate “basic constitutional principles,” suggesting the changes described would be met with legal challenges.
The Anti-Defamation League also criticized the plan, citing internal research that found 74 percent of deaths caused by domestic extremists between 2007 and 2016 were caused by “right-wing extremists such as white supremacists, sovereign citizens and militia adherents.”
Postings on white supremacist websites welcomed the potential changes.
Last Friday, Trump signed an executive order temporarily blocking travel to the United States by people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
Trump’s moves have already undermined participation in the CVE program, which is based on working with community groups to identify potential “lone wolf” attackers and recruits.
Minnesota-based Ka Joog, a nonprofit that provides community based programs for Somali youth, late Wednesday became the second group to pull out of the program, citing concerns about the Trump administration’s posture toward Muslims in turning down a $499,998 grant.
Last week, Leaders Advancing & Helping Communities, a Michigan-based group led by Lebanese-Americans and another grant recipient, declined a $500,000 provided by the DHS.