President Trump’s historic speech against the mass shooting epidemics lays the first collective brick on the pathway of a national preventing violent extremism program. Addressing the nation on Monday August 5th, 2019, President Trump declared that “these sinister ideologies must be defeated.”
The sinister ideologies (white supremacism, Neo-Nazi supremacists, Antifa, Islamist extremism) in many ways mirror the frameworks of cults and gangs. While the latter has often been confined to specific demographics or otherwise contained in a pipeline, ideological extremism bleeds through and recruits every vulnerable mind through either recruitment or self-radicalization. The president’s defining speech sets the stage for a national bipartisan conversation on extremism, arriving with urgency at the heels of another shooting spree over the weekend.
On Saturday, August 3rd, a gunman opened fire in a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing at least 20 people including the parents of a two-month whose parents used their bodies to shield their newborn. The El Paso gunman posted a manifesto online shortly before the attack, not unlike the New Zealand Christchurch shooter who walked into a mosque and destroyed the lives of peaceful worships, all while live steaming the attack in some disjointed reality in which he imagined himself a hero. The second attack took place in Dayton, Ohio, which killed at least 9 people. Both attacks come within a week of a shooting spree at a garlic festival in Northern California that took the lives of three people, including a six-year-old boy.
Ideological drivers behind the attacks are complex but both pushed the theory of acceleration, which looks to force society toward the brink of destruction in what can be classified as the war of extremes. Yet, outright ideological extremists launching domestic terror attacks aren’t alone in that drive toward annihilation.
Less than 48 hours after domestic terrorist attacks, agitators took to Twitter to incite violence. In a tweet, One American News Network host Jack Posobiec pointed to “Antifa leader” Daryle Lamont Jenkins. Also in a tweet, Jenkins urged his followers to show up at a Baltimore clean up event organized by conservative activist Scott Presler and attended by other conservative personalities who all pitched in to help clean up a city that has been attacked in recent headlines for its dilapidated condition.
Jenkins is just one example among many, especially in a climate that has seen Antifa attacks against journalists go unpunished with congressional leadership refusing to denounce Antifa.
Domestic terrorism has many faces. Speaking to the rise of domestic terrorism, Brian Levin, the director of Cal State San Bernardino’s Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism observes, “We’re seeing a coalescence of traditional hate crime with political violence.”
For many, simply holding a different political opinion can make you a target or force you into alienation from your community. In some cases, as we’ve seen with freshman Democratic Congresswomen, there is an open nod to violence against political opponents. In fact, as I recently shared with Laura Ingraham and Candace Owens, political divisions have become a gateway drug to radicalization in that violence is tolerated as a means to an end.
Domestic terrorism also doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It’s often a reaction to larger failed conversations and policies that have pushed individuals toward the fringes of society. Disruptive dog whistles, for example, pull the trigger assaulting our collective consciousness long before a literal trigger is pulled. The mind is the weapon, while the behavior is the vessel and the gun is the tool. Rather than focusing on the ideological weapons, to date the conversation has been a tug of war hinged on a gun debate that undermines the constitutional fabric of our society at a time when loose threats are already being pulled at by those who would like radical ideological changes both within and without government. A conversation on national security against domestic terrorism deserves to be much bigger than that; it deserves to be honest and and move with integrity.
Instead of honest conversations, mainstream narratives represent a national dialogue as reactionary sound bytes that pin white supremacist attacks on political conservatives. The truth is more complex. The El Paso shooter, for example, was an Elizabeth Warren supporter whose manifesto echoed anti-corporation themes.
However, in the problem we also see the solution. The fact that the portrait of a domestic extremist is complex (and falls across the spectrum of ideological extremisms), tells us that we need to be looking at broader vulnerabilities.
For starters, discordant and distorted rapid fire online exchanges have broken down conversation pathways, compacted in part by the 24/7 instant connectivity of the internet. At the same time, violent attacks by domestic terrorists are often seen as isolated and unconnected incidents when in fact the two are co-dependent factors. What this tells us is that to prevent violent extremism, we’re going to need to shift beyond the online space and return to real time, to communities and families.
In July of 2019, I traveled with Clarion Project to meet with congressional and senate leaders to introduce a preventing violent extremism training program rooted in community resilience. The program is designed to bring together key stakeholders across law enforcement, education, clergy, civil leaders, and business. Our nationwide pilot program launches out of Georgia, where bipartisan leadership is invested in cultivating initiatives that inform their sectors about identifying and intervening against signs of ideological extremism.
The second prong of the preventing violent extremism (PVE) program goes further and caters specifically to youth. Speaking with school administrators, it was clear there was a pressing need to develop viable counter messaging against the rise of neo-Nazi incidences on high school and junior high campuses. With co-collaborators that include a Native American elder and a Samurai warrior to name a few, I’ve co-created a series of 18 workshops to help cultivate empathy, listening skills, perspective shifting, and tolerance among children as young as nine-years-old. Those workshops are built on, inviting youth to a conversation across themes of human dignity in way that captures the heart and mind of a child.
This is the first step, but additional steps must to be explored if we’re going to flank the problem of domestic extremism in the spirit of American excellence that has always applied ingenuity and imagination toward every problem.
Cameron Sinclair, the managing director at Armory of Harmony, encourages political leaders to avoid “jamming bills together as political leverage” in what will inevitably be a politically charged conversation going into the 2020 election. Speaking privately, Sinclair adds, “As someone who is creating a solution to the perversive nature of gun violence, I look to the path of least resistance, so should politicians. Focus on clear mandates and act swiftly.”
While conservatives have not been shy about calling out other forms of ideological extremism, including Islamist radicalization, as a nation we have been slow to develop solutions to address the problem domestically. We can’t afford to fall behind the curve of extremist acceleration when it comes to white supremacism, as we had been even after the April 2019 congressional hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Rise of White Nationalism,” where the conversation reinforced many of the same tropes we’re struggling with in the public space while without the mention of any tangible data-driven solutions.
One solution is a national mandate for preventing violent extremism programs that pairs community driven program with education initiatives. That solution must come with the patience and understanding that it is a long game invested in relationship building to restore and empower the community as the frontline defense against ideological extremism.
A second solution comes from Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang in the form of his universal basic income, the Freedom Dividend, which grants $1000 to every American over the age of 18. In his yang2020.com policy position, he shares how the dividend would offer security while opening up lifestyle pathways for Americans that help them escape the gridlock of day to day living.
Yang believes universal basic income (UBI) models can help curb extremism among youth. In conversation, he shares, “The less our system appeals to the downtrodden, the weaker we are in the ideological war. When people give up hope in a current system, they are more vulnerable to finding hope in another system or ideology.”
Yang’s theory is supported by academic findings on the push and pull factors that drive extremism. Disaffection and alienation, a failure to belong to mainstream society, is often what drives youth to seek alternative and fringe ideological models. What we’re seeing with the shootings over the weekend is a Frankenstein-like mash up of different extremist leanings with no clear orientation other than a desire accelerating civilizational downfall.
What Yang is essentially offering in UBI models is a counter message that pivots away from simply taking away the threat. While there are many debates around gun restriction and now video game restriction as a means to curb violence, what I see with the rise of hate in school campuses is that the lack of a counter message is literally killing us. If we want to move forward as a nation, we must look at how we can empower the building blocks of society: the communities. From there we need to look at how we’re incentivizing youth with philosophy that prepares them for the world they’re walking into while also rewarding them with means to invest in their future.
Shireen Qudosi is a conservative writer and speaker on faith, identity and belonging. Follow her on Twitter @ShireenQudosi.