The Department of Homeland Security, long relegated to pursuing phantoms of antifa and going after Islamic radicals under the Trump administration, took a significant step this week towards reorienting itself against the fight with domestic terrorism.
DHS announced on Wednesday that it is refocusing its terrorism prevention grants, money given to local law enforcement and community organizations to fight violent extremism, away from foreign threats and towards white supremacist violence, CNN first reported.
“They seem to be acknowledging the intelligence that white supremacists are the most lethal threat, that they need to do something about that, and those are big shifts compared to a few months ago,” Ryan Greer, a former DHS official and a director at the Anti-Defamation League, told TPM.
The new initiative comes as part of the Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention grant program.
The award itself says that “the terrorist threat has evolved” over the past decade, noting that “domestic terrorists have caused more deaths in the United States in recent years than have terrorists connected to foreign terrorist organizations.”
In the description, DHS adds that domestic violent extremists and white supremacists are “the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”
The grants constitute a total of $20 million in funding, with a max of $2 million per requester. That’s a $10 million increase from what was available under Trump.
“They want to make sure the funds are being distributed proportionate to the threat posed by terrorist organizations, not by any sort of racial or ethnic community,” Greer said.
The funding focuses on stopping “narratives” that radicalize people online, domestic violent extremism, and helping state and local law enforcement get better at detecting threats.
The shift comes as the Biden administration gears up to combat domestic violent extremism in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
In a declassified report summary released last week, the intelligence community said that domestic extremists would be “emboldened” by the imagery of Jan. 6 to carry out further attacks this year.
Within that, intelligence officials warned, militias and white supremacists are likely to be the most violent.
After the Capitol insurrection, former DHS officials told TPM that the agency’s intelligence unit missed what was coming in part because Trump appointees had effectively “disbanded” it, in the words of one former official, and redirected what was left to focus on antifa and Islamic terrorism.
Biden had promised to end the anti-terrorism program during his campaign, saying that it had been used to unfairly target Arab-Americans and other immigrant groups. But Congress authorized $20 million in spending on it before he took office.
So DHS has instead used the money to address its priority of combating domestic extremism.
“This funding was fought for by congressional Democrats when Trump was in office, and now that funding is online. What the administration is signaling is they’ve heard the concerns of communities,” Greer said, adding that further, larger grants targeted at communities would help combat the problem “at scale.”
During a hearing with DHS on Wednesday, Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL) pointed out that in the aftermath of the Trump administration, many immigrant and minority communities remain wary of engaging with DHS.
“The tone of DHS seems to have changed, but we need to see if they keep following that up in practice,” Greer added.