The Pentagon Can't Counter White Supremacy: Government programs threaten Black and Muslim communities in the name of countering extremism.

AuthorTaylor, Vanessa

After the January 6 insurrection, a CBS News analysis found that at least eighty-one of the more than 700 people charged in relation to the attack were current or former armed service members. In response, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin committed to addressing extremism within military ranks. But the Biden Administrations approach, which draws on a long and fraught history in the United States of targeted surveillance in the name of protecting national security, only risks traumatizing the same communities it claims to keep safe.

Upon taking office, President Joe Biden backtracked on campaign promises to end the Trump Administrations Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program. Instead, the program became the Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3), part of federal efforts to "comprehensively combat domestic violent extremism, including violent white supremacy."

Civil rights advocates were immediately wary of CP3, citing previous counter-extremism programming's surveillance of primarily Black and Muslim communities. The federal government has already tried to rebrand counter-extremism as the antidote to white supremacist activity. Its efforts largely focused on funding the nonprofit Life After Hate, which claims to help people leave white supremacist groups. In 2016, the group applied for a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant with plans to expand its work to target "jihadism." In January 2022, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told NPR he was "very cognizant of the trust deficit" related to counter-extremism and "that is precisely why we created CP3."

However, the program was created to combat so-called "domestic violent extremism." Historically, this nebulous category has been used to clamp down on social movements. Federal agencies like DHS and the FBI have a long history of targeting racial justice and pro-choice activists, referring to them, for example, as "black identity extremists" or "abortion-related violent extremists."

While there are few studies on specific counter-extremism programs, the negative psychological impacts of surveillance are widely documented.

We can also draw insights from counter-extremism watchdogs in the United Kingdom. In March, I interviewed Layla Aitlhadj, director of Prevent Watch, for a report on the U.K. counter-extremism program...

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