In a year in which the pace of mass murders were less relentless, what motivated Sayfullo Saipov to mow down eight people on a New York City sidewalk on Oct. 31 might still be front-page news.
Tragically, it took only five days for another attack to eclipse the carnage Saipov inflicted with a rented truck. The following Sunday morning, Devin Kelley, a veteran with a history of domestic abuse, took a military-style AR-15 rifle into a Sutherland Springs, Texas, Baptist church and executed 26 people as they worshiped.
A nation still reeling from the Oct. 1 Las Vegas shooting is understandably overwhelmed by the horrors this autumn has wrought. But even as they grieve, Americans need to demand that everything possible is being done to prevent the next attack.
The Texas and Las Vegas shootings have lent understandable urgency to gun-control measures. But there ought to be similar momentum for efforts to stop violent people from being radicalized by extremists — such as the Islamic State group or white supremacy movements — before they kill. Saipov, for example, had videos from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria on his phone.
That’s why it is so disturbing to find what appears to be diminished investment and support in much-needed “countering violent extremism” (CVE) programs under President Donald Trump. Minnesota has an outsized stake in the vitality of these efforts because recruiters from ISIS and other groups have preyed on the state’s large Somali-American community.
CVE programs fill an important “pre-criminal” space in preventing violence by extremists. Yes, law enforcement’s ability to interdict and arrest perpetrators is critical. But public safety is also well-served by preventing people from succumbing to violent ideology, especially when this propaganda is easily accessed online. A 2015 Star Tribune editorial series advocated for greater investment in prevention.
CVE’s “soft” approach seeks to build a coalition of businesses, nonprofits, local government and law enforcement to strengthen at-risk communities and build resilience in individuals who might be targeted by recruiters. It’s a strategy rooted firmly in prosperity and hope, that jobs, education and community connectedness are powerful antidotes to terrorists’ lies about the glory of their cause.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security awarded an inaugural round of $10 million in community grants for CVE efforts. Two grants went to Minnesota organizations: the nonprofit Heartland Democracy and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. The money awarded to these two totaled $770,000.
It does not appear that there will be additional federal money for community grants. The Trump administration has not requested funding from Congress. That’s unfortunate. There were more than 200 organizations seeking $100 million in the initial round of grants for this vital work. The lack of ongoing support puts these fledgling ventures at risk.
CVE leadership within Homeland Security also remains a troubling issue. There is still no permanent replacement for George Selim, a well-respected CVE advocate who resigned last summer. Additionally, efforts to coordinate CVE efforts within Homeland Security have foundered, and an organizational restructuring appears to give these staffers less access to top officials than they had under the Obama administration.
John Kelly, who served as the head of Homeland Security before becoming Trump’s chief of staff, merits credit for issuing the community grants earlier this year after pausing to review them. Kelly has a full plate right now, but he needs to ensure that CVE survives. It’s fine if the Trump administration wants to come up with its own playbook, but neglecting CVE is not an option.