Brian Levin, professor of criminal justice and director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, was one of four counter-terrorism experts who called for Congressional lawmakers to focus on the growing threat of white supremacists with the same vigor as they do with foreign terrorist organizations.
Levin testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 10 – one day before the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and the nation’s capital – to discuss the center’s latest findings on extremist threats to the U.S.
In his opening statement, Levin said, “White supremacist/far right extremists are now the most ascendant transnational terror threat facing the homeland, in a fluid and somewhat diversifying risk matrix. According to (Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism’s) preliminary data, white supremacist/far right extremist motivated homicides have killed at least 26 people so far this year.
“More people were murdered domestically so far in 2019 by just a handful of white supremacists than all of those killed in the whole of calendar year 2018 in every extremist/hate homicide event,” he said.
Levin was joined by journalist Peter Bergen, who is also vice president for global studies and fellows at New America; former FBI agent Ali Soufan, now the CEO of the Soufan Group; and Thomas Joscelyn, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
The committee’s chair, U.S. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss), also echoed the sentiment of the panel in his opening statement. Citing the recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, that left 22 dead in a Walmart, and in Poway, Calif., on a synagogue – both attributed to white supremacists who targeted Latinos (El Paso) and Jews (Poway) – Thompson said, “These attacks did not originate in a vacuum. Both of these white nationalist terrorists who killed people in Poway, Calif., and El Paso, Texas, cited Brenton Tarrant, the terrorist that carried out the Christchurch mosque attacks in New Zealand as an inspiration.
“And sadly, these are just a few of the deadly domestic terrorism attacks linked to white supremacy extremism from this year,” the congressman said. “Over the last decade, over 70 percent of extremist-related killings in the U.S. were committed by right-wing extremists, many of whom flock to social media and online platforms to espouse their hateful and violent rhetoric.”
The hearing focused on how individuals become radicalized; the similarities between domestic and foreign extremists; the role of the internet and social media; the influence of foreign extremists groups; how federal, state and local law enforcement can cooperate and share intelligence; and possible steps lawmakers could take to stem the threat from domestic and foreign terrorists.
For example, committee member Xochitl Liana Torres Small (D-New Mexico), asked about the influence of foreign extremists on domestic extremists, citing the ties between the suspects in New Zealand and El Paso. Both posted online manifestos prior to their attacks.
“If you look at actual words of the terrorist in the El Paso attacks, he said exactly why he was doing it,” Levin said. He pointed out that one of the common influences was “a book (about) this doctrine, ‘the great replacement,’” the notion by a French writer Renaud Camus that Muslim immigrants in Europe were taking over, and the idea of a white genocide.
“And what has happened was this has become a worldwide template,” Levin said. “In the United States, with this (El Paso) terrorist and Latinos; we’ve also seen them talk about conspiracies and (philanthropist George) Soros. The killer that murdered congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue (in Pittsburgh) spoke about immigration, because Jews were supporting immigrants.
“So the bottom line is, just like the violent Salifist jihadists, there is a template of grievance, and this fear, as America changes,” Levin said. “We have ceased to be a white majority Christian nation. And there’s going to be some tension not only with that kind of thing, but also political change.”
The panel was also asked to react to some breaking news. During the hearing, Thompson announced that President Donald Trump had fired his national security advisor, John Bolton, who was the third person to hold the post since 2017.
“When I spoke in Europe, one of the things that came up was the disorganization that is occurring with regard to issues of international security,” Levin said. “This kind of rotation is troubling.”
Levin has posted his prepared remarks at “Statement of Professor Brian Levin to the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, (September 10, 2019 )” on the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism website.
A video of the hearing, which was streamed live and lasted nearly three hours, can be seen on the “Global Terrorism: Threats to the Homeland, Part I” webpage.