Following the attacks on Capitol Hill last year, the Biden administration has thrown its full weight behind the expansion of the Countering Violent Extremism Program.
President Joe Biden marked the first anniversary of the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill by giving a speech on the importance of protecting democracy and “the will of the people” in the United States.
“I will defend this nation. I will allow no one to place a dagger at the throat of democracy. We will make sure the will of the people is heard,” Biden said from inside the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol.
But has the will of the people been heard in addressing the threat of white supremacist violence that led to the attack in the first place?
Following the Charlottesville attack in 2017, calls grew for white supremacist violence in the US to be officially acknowledged as a domestic terrorism threat.
However, many activists and journalists raised concerns that expanding the terrorism label would also expand the surveillance and counterterrorism systems that have historically disproportionately targeted and impacted minority groups across the country.
A report released by the Muslim Justice Leauge, an advoacy group based in Boston, highlighted some of Biden’s policy changes in response to January 6 so far.
They include: increased budgets for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ), added social media monitoring and surveillance power to the DHS and the expansion and re-branding of the Countering Violent Extremism Program (CVE).
The criticism held against these measures is that these very systems have, since their inception, contributed to and upheld white supremacy in the US by criminalising marginalised communities.
“Inclusion of programs focused on white supremacist bigotry into a larger system of state surveillance that upholds institutional white supremacy through its criminalisation of entire marginalised communities will fuel the system upon which overt bigotry thrives,” Executive Director of the Muslim Justice League Fatema Ahmad wrote in a statement following the Charlottesville attack.
In response to #January6th, Biden is increasing policing & surveillance instead of really addressing white supremacy. There's no equal opportunity surveillance, expanding DHS & DOJ will expand white supremacist violence.— MuslimJusticeLeague (@MuslimJustice) January 6, 2022
CVE cannot be rebranded. #StopCVEhttps://t.co/F1luOP97cd pic.twitter.com/iqDEH8Qh7s
Equal opportunity surveillance
Law enforcement under the DHS and DOJ have long held ties to white supremacist groups like The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the Proud Boys, most recently exposed by former FBI informant Joseph Moore who uncovered a network of Klansmen working in Florida law enforcement.
Police violence against Black communities throughout the US is what launched the Black Lives Matter movement, which the Muslim Justice League says is in danger of being equated with groups like the KKK and the proud boys under the US government’s expanding definition of “violent extremism”.
The concepts of religious and ideological extremism and radicalisation developed as counterinsurgency efforts were aimed at Muslim Americans after 9/11.
The Obama administration launched the Countering Violent Extremism Program in 2015 through the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security.
The program was criticised for treating all Muslims within the country as a potential threat, and therefore criminalising an entire demographic, and for inciting and justifying Islamophobic atitudes.
In response to criticism, the CVE program has been rebranded and expanded numerous times to include all “at risk” and “disenfranchised communities” - also known as equal opportunity surveillance.
In 2017 the Denver Police Department received a grant from the CVE program and included the Black Lives Matter movement, refugees and LGBTQ+ as being “at risk” of violent extremism.
Under the Biden administration the CVE program is now called the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3).
A report from the DHS released on August 25 2021, states that the CP3 program “provides technical, financial, and educational assistance to empower local efforts to prevent individuals from radicalising to violence and intervene with individuals who may be on the path toward believing that violence is the only solution”.
The program’s indicators for violent extremism have been debunked and rejected as valid risk factors by activists, legal advocates and academics.
Yet, extremism prevention programs have remained in place and have now lumped the threat of white supremacist violence together with marginalised communities.
In a most recent report published by the Muslim Justice League, Executive Director Fatema Ahmad refers to equal opportunity surveillance as a trap as it expands the very systems accused of upholding white supremacy throughout the US.