The New York Times has a story up on the struggles faced by the FBI in getting lawmakers and the current administration to take the threat of domestic terrorism seriously, but it’s the quotes by former FBI terrorism-case supervisor Dave Gomez that are the most chilling. Referring explicitly to the “white supremacist movement,” Gomez tells the Times, “There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base. It’s a no-win situation for the FBI agent or supervisor.”
Just as alarming, Gomez cites Trump’s attacks on the FBI over its investigation into Russian election espionage as a reason for FBI reluctance: “I don’t think there’s any faith by the FBI right now that the Justice Department is an independent law enforcement organization. I think the FBI is up to the challenge of investigating white nationalism and white supremacy as a domestic terrorism threat, they just have to be allowed to do it.”
This is, to put it mildly, a hell of a thing. A former counterterrorism official is claiming that FBI officials battling domestic terrorists are “reluctant” to pursue threats because (1) the sitting president believes those potential terrorists to be his allies and (2) FBI officials believe the Barr-led Department of Justice is no longer working in the nation’s interests.
There is not much of a way to normalize that turn of events, no matter how devoted the political punditry may be to doing so. (The Times also interviewed the Department of Homeland Security ex-analyst who was subjected to the full fury of the Republican right in the Obama administration when he authored a memo warning of increasing domestic terrorism risks from the far-right. As you can imagine, he shares Gomez’s bleak view.)
It is important to note, however, that we are not at this point because of Trump’s own actions. Trump could rail against the FBI’s supposed scheming against him until he was blue in the face instead of orange, on Russia and other subjects, and it would have amounted to little if Republican lawmakers were not defending and adopting his same arguments and attacks. It is not Trump alone that is thwarting law enforcement efforts to investigate white nationalist-inspired terrorism, nor even his newly installed lackey Bill Barr. Attacks on the FBI for investigating “alt-right,” far-right, racism-premised violence have been echoing relentlessly through top Republican Party ranks before, during, and after each new incident. Fox News hosts have convinced a sizable portion of the Republican base that the FBI is acting corruptly in warning of far-right violence.
And this is all because white nationalism, as a movement, is indeed a key and valued component of an increasingly extremist Republican Party base. It is not Trump alone who deems the Charlottesville white nationalist marchers to be his potential allies, but hundreds of Republican lawmakers who themselves warn of “invasions” of migrants, “displacement” of whites, the threat of immigrant-borne “disease,” and a dozen other claims taken directly from the ranks of the white nationalist and militia movements. Republicans have courted the same crowd that FBI terrorism experts warn is now becoming an increasing danger to the nation; they are reluctant, if not downright afraid, to break that alliance.