5 pragmatic ways Trump can prevent radicalization at home

With Retired Marine general John Kelly now tapped to serve as the next Secretary for Homeland Security, the number of generals on the President-elect’s national security team is now three.

These appointments signal that the counterterrorism legacy President Obama outlined this week at MacDill Air Force Base, one of which is a recognition that the United States cannot kill or arrest the threat of violent extremism away, could be in jeopardy.

Kelly’s appointment immediately shines a spotlight on the future of the current administration’s efforts to prevent radicalization at home, a threat underscored by last week’s attack at Ohio State University and the ongoing FBI ISIS-related investigations in all 50 states.

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The new administration and DHS Secretary will need to determine what to do about activities that have come to be known as “Countering Violent Extremism” or “CVE.” This is a collection of various non-security measures aimed at preventing people from being inspired to join the terrorist groups or to commit violent acts.

Begun during George W. Bush’s tenure, these efforts gained prominence in an Obama administration that emphasized the need to work with communities to address the roots of violent extremism and not simply its symptoms.

The current White House deserves a lot of credit for elevating CVE as a policy priority.  However, its domestic CVE record is mixed. On the positive side, they put in place a national framework that emphasizes the key roles of communities, created a task force to better coordinate federal CVE efforts, fostered local prevention activities in a small number of cities across the country, and started the first-ever federal CVE grants program to support community-based programs.   

However, despite the energy from the White House and from within Washington, CVE efforts have been hampered by inconsistent leadership, lack of coordination, resourcing issues, the dominance of law enforcement, and early missteps that made it difficult to bring on non-law enforcement partners– from faith leaders to mental health professionals and teachers – that are critical for prevention efforts. Moreover, the approach often seemed more directed at continuing the dialogue in the Beltway, rather than initiating solutions that benefit and are led by local communities.

Regardless of past experiences, one thing is clear: the Trump administration is likely to change the approach.

Rep. McCaul, the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee has declared Obama’s program “a failure” and vowed to “repeal and replace.”

To be sure, in order to be successful, the new administration must move beyond the President-elect’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant campaign rhetoric and face the whole threat.

Prior to the June attack in Orlando, white supremacists had been responsible for more incidents of terrorist violence in our country than Jihadists since 9/11 and hate crimes have been surging since the election.

To keep us safe from terrorism, they must engage and involve our diverse communities, including the parents, advocates, and professionals within them, in addressing vulnerabilities to radicalization before violence occurs.

But government and law enforcement are unlikely to get cooperation from Muslim Americans if the prevention is only focused on “radical Islam” and Muslim communities: without that cooperation, prevention, and the extra layer of defense it offers, will not succeed.

Thus, hopefully the President-elect and his team will choose pragmatism over politics and security over sound-bites.  Below are 5 practical, and mutually exclusive, recommendations for changes that they might want to pursue.

1) Change the Focus. To better ensure safety and security, as well as broaden and deepen the involvement of communities and professionals in this work, efforts should be anchored in a broader strategy of preventing targeted violence, addressing the full spectrum of ideologically inspired Islamist, far right and far left violence as well as non-ideologically inspired violence.

2)  Focus and Diversify Federal Efforts. The federal government is best positioned to serve as a resource to local efforts to develop community-specific solutions; federal efforts should be focused around providing this support through a robust group of stakeholders who are able to holistically offer guidance on the full spectrum of issues that often are involved.

In this, the Washington CVE Task Force should be remodeled completely to involve public health, mental health, and education  representation, as well as leadership from relevant associations (e.g., colleges, teachers, mayors), state and local authorities, and communities themselves.

3) Enhance Support to Local Law Enforcement. Local first responders are often not only the first to respond to events, but in the best position to work with communities to identify individuals.

Training for local law enforcement on community policing strategies and tools identifying resources to prevent violent extremism should be scaled up, thereby enhancing officer safety and community security. More resources need to be invested in providing local police with the skills and knowledge to engage effectively with rather than alienate the local constituents.

4) Create Networks. Link professionals, community advocates, and local authorities working in violence prevention or related fields from around the country with experience working to prevent violent extremism or in related fields.

These networks could draw on lessons from the EU’s Radicalization Awareness Network and develop new practices, establish best practices, and work together to bring them to communities, such as national-state-local hotlines for concerned families to call, with callers able to access local or regional rapid intervention teams (with mental health professionals).

5) Build community expertise.

To build expert capacity in communities to address the present and future threat,  jump-start community-based prevention, intervention, rehabilitation programs for violent extremism that are rooted in the public and mental health approach to violence prevention and are evidence and best practices-based and work collaboratively with law enforcement.

At the end of the day, President Trump will set the tone for the approach to terrorism, and General Kelly will bring expertise from his four decade military career and his record of speaking “truth to power”. The truth is that what’s needed is a pragmatic approach to violent extremism that relies on more than just law enforcement and aims for prevention and works not just for any one group, but on behalf and with the support of our whole nation.

Eric Rosand is director of the Prevention Project and non resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Dr. Stevan Weine is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.