If you want a quick rundown of some of the ways Donald Trump’s team of hard-right conservatives has sought not just to downplay far-right domestic terrorism threats but to weaken the ability of government to investigate them in the first place, the Los Angeles Times’ Molly O’Toole has you covered.
From the beginning moments of Trump’s administration, his appointees moved to shift government resources away from investigating white nationalist and other far-right threats to focus near-exclusively on foreign-based, and specifically Islamic, terrorism. Trump’s team shifted Homeland Security grants to combat extremist radicalization so that nearly all—85%—were aimed at Muslim and non-white groups. Trump himself was blunt about the intent, originally seeking to rename the program itself from “Countering Violent Extremism” to “Countering Islamic Extremism.”
In subsequent years, Trump’s team has all but shuttered a Homeland Security office devoted to domestic terrorism prevention, slashing the budget from $24 million to $3 million.
This did not happen either in a vacuum or coincidentally. An Obama-era counterterrorism report that identified right-wing extremism, i.e., white nationalism, as a breeding ground for domestic terrorism was met with such fury on the right that the counterterrorism expert responsible was hounded out of government. According to conservatives (and Fox News hosts), the report on the far-right racist fringes of the nation was an attempt to demonize conservatism itself and could not be stomached; why those conservatives identified so strongly with those radical extremists was, of course, not considered a polite question to ask.
That outrage lodged in the heads of the Fox News crowd as yet another of the hundreds of conspiracy theories that the movement is now premised on, and when Trump surrounded himself with those same conspiracy theorists, one of their first acts was to take steps to ensure that law enforcement officials did not monitor far-right extremists with the same urgency as they did foreign far-right groups. The far-right was, after all, now Trump’s “base.”
It was the foreigners, Trump and his team insisted, that were the only true threats. Trump continued his election-trail insistence that southern-border migrants were an existential danger to the nation and that Muslims worldwide were a similar menace. He lied outright in his first speech to Congress, claiming that the “vast majority” of those convicted of terrorism were foreign-born; this was and is flatly untrue.
We are now living with the results of that approach. Conservatism has been focused, relentlessly, on normalizing the movement’s new extremism and explicitly race-based paranoias. Those who warn of the predictable effects continue to be demonized; White House officials and Republican lawmakers continue to dismiss the notion that daily doses of toxic conspiracy-laced racism from top government officials have nothing to do with violent gunmen repeating those same phrases and conspiracies. The base, the apparatus of the party, the punditry, the media, and the teetering-toward-violence fringes are blending together into an entity that is willing to undertake horrific acts (“zero-tolerance” family separation policies) premised on white nationalist conspiracies (“replacement”) and that washes its hands of violence when it does happen, claiming it is not involved.
The party is right: This violence cannot be blamed on guns alone. This time the violence can be traced, word for word and phrase for phrase, to the top propagandists of its movement. We are again testing whether the party considers its anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-minority rhetoric to be worth ancillary violence, and a body count, and Fox programs are giving no indication that the answer will be different this time around.