Categorized | USA

White House official: terrorism prevention starts at home

Lisa Monaco

Lisa Monaco

BOSTON (Press Release) –President Obama’s assistant for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, told a forum at Harvard’s Kennedy School that to prevent terrorism families and communities must be aware and ready to intervene when someone’s behavior lurches towards violence.

Following is a partial text of her speech, delivered Tuesday, April 15:

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“We’ve faced violent expressions of extremism throughout our history, including 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City. And, sadly, we continue to face it, as we saw just two days ago in Overland Park, Kansas, when a gunman—allegedly a white supremacist with a long history of racist and anti-Semitic behavior—opened fire at a Jewish community center and retirement home, killing three. And, while the American people continue to stand united against hatred and violence, the unfortunate truth is that extremist groups will continue targeting vulnerable populations in an effort to promote their murderous ideology.

“That’s why stemming domestic radicalization to violence has been a key element of our counterterrorism strategy from day one. President Obama has been laser-focused on making sure we use all the elements of our national power to protect Americans, including developing the first government-wide strategy to prevent violent extremism in the United States. At the same time, we recognize that there are limits to what the federal government can do. So we must rely on the partnership of those who are most familiar with the local risks, those who are in the best position to take action—local communities.

“Local communities are the most powerful asset we have in the struggle against violence and violent extremism. We’ve crunched the data on this. In the more than 80 percent of cases involving homegrown violent extremists, people in the community—whether peers or family members or authority figures or even strangers—had observed warning signs a person was becoming radicalized to violence. But more than half of those community members downplayed or dismissed their observations without intervening. So it’s not that the clues weren’t there, it’s that they weren’t understood well enough to be seen as the indicators of a serious problem.

“What kinds of behaviors are we talking about? For the most part, they’re not related directly to plotting attacks. They’re more subtle. For instance, parents might see sudden personality changes in their children at home—becoming confrontational. Religious leaders might notice unexpected clashes over ideological differences. Teachers might hear a student expressing an interest in traveling to a conflict zone overseas. Or friends might notice a new interest in watching or sharing violent material.

“The government is rarely in a position to observe these early signals, so we need to do more to help communities understand the warning signs, and then work together to intervene before an incident can occur, while always respecting our core commitment to protecting privacy and civil liberties. During the past several years, that’s what we’ve attempted to do.

“We’ve built partnerships and expanded our engagement with communities across the nation, especially those that may be targeted by extremist groups. We are working to improve our understanding of how and why people are drawn to violence. And we have made it a priority to uphold and defend the qualities from which we draw strength—our openness, our diversity, and our respect for the equal rights of all Americans.

“We know all too well that Muslim-American, Sikh-American, Arab-American communities and others, including Jewish-Americans, have been victimized by violence that is rooted in ignorance and prejudice, in suspicion and fear. American Muslims and Americans of all faiths have enriched our way of life – contributing to our safety and security as patriotic service members, police, firefighters, first responders. Violent extremism is not unique to any one faith. And, as Americans, we reject violence regardless of our faith.

“Here in Massachusetts, over the past decade, government and law enforcement officials have built a dialogue to reinforce that shared commitment to non-violence and to build trust with a range of Boston-area communities. The local U.S. Attorney’s office brings together representatives from federal agencies with community leaders, some of whom I just had the opportunity to meet. I can tell you, the benefits go both ways. Law enforcement is better able to understand the specific challenges these communities face, and community participants can bring their concerns directly to the government. We all care about keeping our families and neighborhoods safe.

“These connections were critical in the chaotic days after the (Boston Marathon) bombing – helping to minimize the potential for backlash against Muslim and Sikh communities. In Malden, after a local Muslim woman was assaulted, purportedly in retribution for the bombings, the Department of Justice Community Relations Service worked with local officials to request additional security for the local mosque. The Malden Chief of Police personally stood watch the first night.

“Still, despite the broader security improvements we’ve put in place since 9/11, despite our outreach to reduce the risk of radicalization to violence, more work remains. We need a comprehensive prevention model that allows us to work with communities and intervene with at-risk individuals before violent extremism takes root. And we need to meet the evolving challenge, including terrorists’ use of the internet to recruit those who are most vulnerable to violent extremist ideologies, whether it be from neo-Nazis or groups like al-Qaeda.

“So today, as we honor the memory of all those who were killed and injured one year ago, we recommit ourselves to building greater resilience into our communities to resist the pull of violent extremism. We will continue to work closely with community leaders, local law enforcement and partners outside government who work with at-risk populations every day. Faith leaders, school teachers, police chiefs – and especially mothers and fathers and families – will always be the best positioned to identify individuals in a community who might be susceptible to radical messages and violence—and to help them resist hateful ideologies. So we must do more to connect those leaders to resources they need to be part of a comprehensive approach. Let me just briefly describe a few of the steps we’re taking along those lines.

“First, the Department of Homeland Security is building partnerships with key cities across the country to establish a locally-based envoy dedicated to coordinating government engagement on the threat of homegrown violent extremism. Piloted in Los Angeles, this effort has already helped focus our resources and strategic efforts by streamlining federal, state, and local outreach. And tonight I’m proud to announce that the next such DHS envoy will be based in Boston.

“Second, DHS is also going to make more resources available to officials countering violent extremism in their communities. Every year, DHS offers hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money to local law enforcement to bolster homeland security at the municipal and county level. Now, in addition to preparing to respond to an attack once it’s happened, state and local officials can apply for these grants to explicitly develop models for preventing violent extremism in their communities, drawing on the expertise of social service providers, education administrators, mental health professionals, and religious leaders…”

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