Commentary

‘Violent Extremism’ and the Indoctrination of Our Fighting Forces

By Kenneth Kopf | August 4, 2015 | 2:59pm EDT
President Barack Hussein Obama gives a speech on "Violent Extremism." (AP Photo)

On July 15th, the House Homeland Security committee passed out of the committee the Countering Violent Extremism Act of 2015 (“CVE”).  The Purpose of this Act is intended to amend the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (6 U.S.C. 101 et.seq. Public Law 107-296)(“HSA”) and “authorize the (creation of an) Office for Countering Violent Extremism” within the Department of Homeland Security. 

Even prior to and especially since “9/11,” the United States has suffered a series of deadly attacks, at home and abroad, emanating from various entities and individuals.  Some are associated with known and identifiable groups, while others are perpetrated by what has been come to be known as “lone wolfs.”  These latter individuals and groups may or may not be associated with larger groups.  Regardless of their affiliation (or lack of), the acts conducted all have the same intent in common – to utilize “terror” to instill fear, to intimidate, to cause personal injury and death or damage to property, and to further some political, social and/or religious agenda.

Since 2002, there have been few other topics of such extreme concern and debate than “terrorism” – of all kinds.  Congress, rightly, has responded to “9/11” with the Homeland Security Act of 2002.  It is a comprehensive piece of legislation which has been the legislative “backbone” of U.S. security ever since its passage.  The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was intended to establish, operate and control the critical infrastructure to ensure the security of the U.S. and its citizens.

The debate surrounding what constitutes “terrorism” will continue for as long as it exists. The problem to combatting terrorism is the identification of it. There is no universal agreement as to the elements that constitute terrorism or who conducts it, how to identify it, or how to prevent it. However, as with any (perceived or real) “problem,” Congress will inevitably try to legislate a “cure.”  Unfortunately, not all cures are wise or well-crafted, nor should some even be instituted.  These admonitions should have been well-heeded prior to crafting this piece of legislation. While there is no higher duty of the government than protecting our Nation from all enemies – domestic or foreign, Congress needs to ensure that any legislation it enacts creates a legal, practical and workable solution; does not create unnecessary duplication in effort; does not increase the size of government, its budget or debt; does not create or perpetuate inefficiencies; does not create ambiguities; and does not establish an opportunity for misapplication or mischief.  Unfortunately, this Act is ill-conceived, poorly constructed, unwise and quite possibly harmful instead of helpful.  Rather than rushing to pass something – anything – simply to tell the voters in their districts that they “are doing something” about the terrorist problem, Congress should clearly identify the problem, and then craft a legally sustainable, logical and coherent solution.

Below are a couple of the major defects in this legislation which should be cured prior to passage.

1. Much of the debate (at least in the U.S.) surrounding terrorism relates to its definition.  How should “terrorism” be defined, and what are its elements? There has been a hesitancy by this administration to adhere to a steady definition of terrorism (as defined by the DHS).  It has inconsistently characterized similar violent acts as “work place violence,” a routine criminal act or (unspecified) terrorism. This nonsensical “political approach” undermines our ability to identify, control and prevent such attacks in the future. It also generates a sense of insecurity, confusion and anger in the citizens of the U.S. (One might question whether there is an intentional political agenda behind creating a differentiation between “terrorism” and “violent extremism” so that Islamic terrorism could be classified as simple “extremism.”).  While the DHS maintains a definition of “terrorism,” the question still remains – can terrorism be a simple “belief” – an “act” alone – or does it require a violent act with a direct dependency on an “extremist” belief?  Is its genesis required to be rooted in unwavering religious beliefs; political dogma; or forcing a social or economic agenda?

    The stated fundamental element behind the CVE is the concept of “violent extremism.”  This Act intends to amend the HSA (Title I) and establish within the Department of Homeland Security, an Office for Countering Violent Extremism. The HSA was enacted as a result of an act of Terrorism (later called Islamic Terrorism).  Under the HSA (Title I) “definitions” (§212), it defines “terrorism” as an act that “is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources … and is intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction … .”  Therefore, a fair reading of the elements of the HSA definition of “Terrorism” would already include any act that is “violent” and “extreme.”  Any act that would be dangerous to human life and be intended to intimidate or coerce or use weapons of mass destruction would be already considered “extreme.”

    Nowhere in either the HSA or the CVE (or for that matter anywhere in the United States Code or Code of Federal Regulations) is the term “violent extremism” even defined, even though the CVE’s operative and sole purpose is to establish a new HS infrastructure to identify, and develop plans to “counter violent extremism.” Indeed, the only place where “violent extremism” is mentioned is in the President’s Executive Order No. 13584, Developing an Integrated Strategic Counterterrorism Communications Initiative and Establishing a Temporary Organization to Support Certain Government-wide Communications Activities Directed Abroad. If violent extremism is not defined, it raises even more serious concerns. Such concerns are, among others: the Act could possibly be declared unconstitutional for vagueness; it’s application could be determined to be in violation of certain Constitutional rights; or an undefined term such as “extremism” could be abused in the application of the law by an in-power political party. 

    Since “violent extremism” is not defined under the CVE, the application of that term, in all regards, is open to interpretation (or misinterpretation).  What is the practical difference between the two terms? DHS website states: “Violent extremists are defined as ‘individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals.’” Question the practical difference between this and “terrorism”? Terrorists deal with acts of violence.  Violent extremism deals with acts of violence and both instill terror as a means of achieving their ends.  Isn’t an act of terrorism a violent act (to persons, property or infrastructure)? Isn’t an act of terrorism an extremist act?  Then, why is there this artificial distinction?  Could a group’s beliefs be considered “extremist” simply because the current president opposes them?  How far must a group or individual’s beliefs be out of “mainstream” before it is considered “extreme”? Must those beliefs be “harmful,” actionable or illegal? Should we be delegating to a political appointee the arbitrary authority to define or determine what beliefs are “extreme”?  As is contained in the definition of “terrorism,” the gravamen of that word rests with an “act” – not a belief.  One could have far “right” or “left” beliefs but that alone does not mean it is “extreme” or “violent.” In fact, our Constitution protects such beliefs and speech. After an analysis, the fundamental principle here is that there is no practical or effective difference between “terrorism” and “violent extremism,” and thus no practical purpose is served by this legislation.   

    Since the HSA already establishes a comprehensive infrastructure to identify, track, and establish plans to prepare for and combat terrorism, it seems that the current infrastructure would be sufficient to also include “violent extremism” within their mandate (if there is a difference), without creating yet another separate “office” within the Department.  Without a cogent, differentiating need, the CVE is simply multiplying the size and cost/debt of government, and creating yet an additional layer of bureaucracy, which could potentially cause inefficiencies, delay, redundancies, and confusion. 

    Upon reviewing all the proposed “Responsibilities” (subsection “(d)”) of the new Office for Countering Violent Extremism, it appears that they are all repetitive of tasks that currently exist in the Department infrastructure (and tasked under the HSA).  Therefore, unless a legitimate case can be made that violent extremism and terrorism are independent conditions, there is simply no basis for the establishment of yet another “agency.”  As a minimum, HR 2899 could have simply amended the HSA definitions to include “violent extremism” in every application of the term “terrorism” under the HSA, and added any new “responsibilities” that Congress believes requires being added.

    It should also be pointed out that subsection “c” of the Bill does not even include the Interagency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group or the National Counterterrorism Center (among others) as members of the Office for Countering Violent Extremism liaison group. Therefore, this new Office would be missing critical input and liaison.

    2. Also notable, is that without a concrete definition, it is subject to political mischief. Since the CVE does not modify §212 – Definitions – to add a separate definition for “violent extremism,” and the CVE does not limit it’s application to the existing definition of “terrorism,” the definition and application of “violent extremism” is subject to the whim of the Secretary of HS and/or the new Assistant Secretary for Countering Violent Extremism.  If a political agenda is ever intended to control or silence a “political enemy,” it would be simple to utilize that addition. Before I am labeled as paranoid or a conspiracy theorist, let’s look at what the Obama administration has already disclosed as its views on this subject.

      The Department of Homeland Security produced its own 2009 Assessment (Unclassified/For Official Use Only) “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”  This intelligence assessment was produced by the Extremism and Radicalization Branch, Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division. In evaluating the 2009 economic and political climate, the report identified as a “threat” “rightwing terrorists” because they may engage in “rightwing extremism.”  They footnote the following:

      “Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.”   

      The report also concludes: “Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists.  DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.”

      The report’s attempt to link “rightwing” individuals to “extremism,” lists: the 2009 shooting deaths of 3 police officers based on the shooter’s “racist ideology” and gun rights; rightwing internet chatter regarding the economy; rightwing “extremist” beliefs and “stance” on issues such as immigration, minority social programs, 2nd Amendment rights, and “expressing concerns about the election of the first African American president.”  The Report likens rightwing extremists to the “threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells.” The Report then concludes that, “DHS/I&A has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat.”  Not one comment or conclusion deals with liberal extremism. 

      Similar to this “Report,” the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center’s report, “Challenges From the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right” further supports the DHS’ faux conclusion that white supremacists and “Christian identity” groups who “value the personal liberties guaranteed in the Constitution” are to be labeled as “extremists.” These reports sardonically remind me of one of a Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy lines: If you are a Christian and believe in individual Constitutional rights – “you might be a violent extremist.”

      Finally, Obama’s Department of Defense similarly indoctrinates our fighting forces that people who embrace “individual liberties” and honor “states’ rights” are potential “extremists” and are likely to be members of “hate groups.”  This propaganda is spewed in Air Force training and lesson plans entitled “Extremism.”  It was distributed by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute.  The materials go on to define extremists as “a person who … advocates supremacist causes based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender or national origin; or otherwise engages to illegally deprive individuals or groups of their civil rights.”  It lists as examples, our colonists who sought to free themselves from British rule and the Confederate states who sought to secede from the union. 

      Based on the above recent position statements of the Obama government on what is “extremism,” it would not be a stretch for an agenda-driven president to utilize this un-defined CVE legislation to attack a specific entity or group.  This legislation as drafted is a serious mistake.  It is creating a vehicle by which attacks against individual beliefs could be investigated and labeled as prohibited if not criminal.  This Bill should be set aside and, if necessary to add “violent extremism” (which I do not think it is), the legislation should be re-crafted to simply (and only) include that term with and under the term “terrorism.”  The current homeland security infrastructure is more than robust enough to include the tasking outlined in the CVE, without adding to all the problems listed infra. 

      While all necessary and constructive efforts should and must be taken to protect our Nation from those who conduct acts of violence, Congress should stop passing laws simply to show they are “doing something” and actually pass laws that are necessary and demonstrate some thought.

      The DHS webpage confirms they already have a program to counter “violent extremism.”

      “The Department’s CVE efforts have continued to adapt as the threat has evolved.  Efforts have been undertaken to catalogue, coordinate, and institutionalize CVE efforts and resources across DHS.  In furtherance of this, a CVE Working Group (reflecting the missions of components and equities across DHS) led by a CVE Coordinator has been formalized to oversee and coordinate all CVE activities.  The Department’s CVE efforts are comprehensive and fall into four function areas:

      • Policy Formation and Coordination Activities
      • Strategic CVE Activities (those explicitly conducted for the purpose of CVE) 
      • CVE Support Activities (those that aid the department and its partners in conducting their CVE missions)
      • CVE-Relevant Activities (the regular activities of DHS components shaped to improve CVE or lessen the negative impact on CVE.  For instance, training of screeners, better redress procedures, and proper messaging of policies that could impact communities where VE occurs.)”

      Kenneth Kopf, Esq. is an attorney that has been practicing international law for over 30 years, has authored numerous writings on various U.S. and international political subjects, was a candidate for U.S. Congress, and has served as a Russian linguist within the U.S. intelligence service. @kennkopf

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