What comes to mind when you hear the word “terrorist”? In the popular mindset, terrorism is associated with Islam. However, terrorist attacks are not limited to any specific ideology. Environmentalists, Japanese cult members, governments, and opponents of abortion have all committed acts that could be labeled as terrorism.
According to a report by the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, most terrorist attacks are committed by white supremacists and other “alt-right” organizations, which are an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism. However, Trump has chosen to ignore this problem. In a move that would promote Islamophobia and embolden white nationalists, he plans to change the mission of Countering Violent Extremism — a program designed to prevent terrorism — to focus entirely on Islam.
This is already making Muslims respond in a perfectly predictable and justified manner. At least four Muslim nonprofits are refusing to accept money from CVE grants, because they did not want to align themselves with an administration that they felt did not support them. “It all came down to principle,” said Mohamed Farah, executive director of Ka Joog, a nonprofit that supports Somali youth. “We work with immigrants, we work with refugees, we work with Muslims. And we believe that this new administration is against everything that we stand for.”
Journalist Adam Ragusea points out in an article for Slate that the word “terrorist” has become so loaded that journalists should avoid it entirely, as many Americans see terrorism as a worse offense than other acts of violence. By categorizing violent Islamic extremism as terrorism, but not categorizing violent extremism tied to other ideologies as terrorism, this country would further legitimize a bias against Muslims in the justice system.
American society has continuously minimized white supremacist violence, often jumping to the conclusion that such attacks are motivated by other causes. For example, when white supremacist Dylann Roof shot nine people in a black church, his attorneys and the media blamed his actions on mental illness. Also, when far-right nationalist Alexandre Bissonnette killed six people and wounded 19 at a mosque in Quebec, the shooting was quickly blamed on the Moroccan Muslim at the scene who called 911.
By changing the CVE program to ignore white supremacists, Trump is further minimizing the dangers they pose to the United States. He’s also made them happy. “Donald Trump is setting us free,” said the editor of the neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer in response to the change. “This is absolutely a signal of favor to us.”
It’s debatable whether the CVE is even effective. The American Civil Liberties Union says CVE programs are “based on discredited and unscientific theories,” and “threaten fundamental rights, divide communities, and cast suspicion on law-abiding Americans.” Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed cites a variety of studies and scientific reviews, such as a UN report calling CVE “simplistic,” and a 2006 review that found a mere three percent of peer-reviewed articles on terrorism “appeared to be based on some form of empirical analysis,” to argue that the science behind CVE is “astonishingly crap.”
Whether CVE worked in its original form or not, the change sends a message that violent extremism is okay, as long as it’s done by the right people. If they must keep the CVE program, they need to make sure it counters all violent extremism equally.