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Don't Rebrand the 'Countering Violent Extremism' Program—Just End It

The question shouldn't be which groups the program ought to target. It's whether the program should exist at all.

U.S. Mission Photo/Eric BridiersU.S. Mission Photo/Eric BridiersFor the Southern Poverty Law Center, the move suggests that "President Trump wants the government to stop its efforts to prevent terrorism by far-right extremists." For Jezebel, it's "another victory in a long series of wins for Neo Nazis, the KKK, and other violent and terroristic groups." Salon calls it "pandering to white supremacists." The target of their ire: a plan to rebrand the federal government's Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. According to Reuters, which cites "five people briefed on the matter," the Trump administration wants to rename it "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism," or maybe just "Countering Islamic Extremism," and to focus its attention on Muslim terrorists rather than the various domestic right-wing kinds.

In practice, CVE's efforts are already focused overwhelmingly on Muslims. But the big question here shouldn't be which groups ought to be the program's targets. It's whether the program should exist at all. No matter whether it's aimed at Islamists, white nationalists, or anyone else, the CVE approach has two big problems.

First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight "radicalization." This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn't have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas.

Second: That focus can lead to some serious civil liberties problems. "Even though the agencies running the programs promised that they wouldn't use CVE for intelligence purposes (as they did in earlier iterations of it), the program itself is designed to teach community members, teachers, police, social workers, and religious leaders to identify and report to law enforcement people showing signs of 'radicalization,'" comments Michael German, a former FBI agent who now hangs his hat at the Brennan Center for Justice. So in practice, he argues, you get "soft surveillance," and that surveillance "is intended to suppress ideas, which is likely to cause more problems than solve them. It encourages the identification, reporting, and 'treatment' of people with bad ideas, which will only lead to misuse of security resources and deprivation of civil liberties."

Needless to say, that sort of surveillance can itself radicalize people. So CVE also runs the risk of contributing to the very process it's meant to stop.

Rebranding "Countering Violent Extremism" as "Countering Radical Islamic Extremism" won't solve any of these issues. Indeed, it could conceivably make the effort even less effective. (German points out that the new name could alienate many of the Muslim groups whose cooperation the program relies on, since they could construe it as a sign the program is "antagonistic to the community.") But neither would it be a good idea to expend more CVE attention on the radical right; all the same problems would be in place there too. Better to drop the approach. End it, don't mend it.

Photo Credit: U.S. Mission Photo/Eric Bridiers

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  • esteve7||

    How about you defund higher education if you want to fight radicalization?

  • BakedPenguin||

    If Trump really wanted to piss off the left, he should rename it 'Countering Violent Antifa Rioters.'

  • ||

    Thank you, Jesse, for proposing an actual libertarian policy change to a shitty program that existed under previous administrations that the Trump administration wants to make shittier. This is what reason is supposed to be about.

  • esteve7||

    ^ This.

    There are plenty of things to oppose Trump on, but freaking out over every little thing, including a joke at the Prayer Breakfast, is not one of them

  • BakedPenguin||

    Yes, and calm discussion is far preferable to hysteria.

  • Swiss Servator||

    IT IS?!!?!?!?!

    AUGH!!!!!!!!!

    *runs in circle, flapping arms*

  • Just Say'n||

    Agreed.

  • ||

    Yes.

  • Trshmnstr hates nurse beaters||

    Cosigned

  • Uncle Jay||

    RE: Don't Rebrand the 'Countering Violent Extremism' Program—Just End It
    The question shouldn't be which groups ought to be the program's targets. It's whether it should exist at all.

    Good luck to "countering violent extremism."
    Simply passing a law against violent extremists will not make them go away or stop them from committing terrorists activities.
    Don't we have enough counter-terrorists laws already in existence?
    This act could also become politicized very quickly with one party ignoring the acts of a group the sympathize with and going after other groups they do not like.
    To me, this is just another example of political grandstanding bullshit.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    It's not a law, it's a government program run by DHS complete with grants and other gov't goodies:

    CVE aims to address the root causes of violent extremism by providing resources to communities to build and sustain local prevention efforts and promote the use of counter-narratives to confront violent extremist messaging online
  • CampingInYourPark||

  • Swiss Servator||

    providing resources to communities to build and sustain local prevention efforts and promote the use of counter-narratives to confront violent extremist messaging online

    *bangs head on table*

    Oh FFS. "violent extremist messaging online"....locally?!

    "Hey, lets give Plainfield, Illinois $30,000 to help hire a Social Media consultant to fight ISIS!!!!!"

  • ||

    "...by providing resources to communities..."

    Yeah. It is about passing out money which always means passing out money to favorites.

    End it.

  • Uncle Jay||

    This is nothing more than passing out the pork to cronies who supported the right political candidate.

  • ||

    For the Southern Poverty Law Center, the move...

    ...represents yet another opportunity for Morris Dees to add another wing onto his mansion with donation money from naive Progs.

  • Swiss Servator||

    I thought it was time for a new Mercedes?

  • ||

    If you could think big like Dees, you could have enough money to buy your way out of indentured servitude to those cheese and cuckoo clock barons.

  • Swiss Servator||

    Hey, you have any idea how long it takes to save up the 100,000 Ricola cough drops it will take to buy my freedom?!?!?

  • Swiss Servator||

    If Trump really wanted to troll, he would rename it Countering Advanced Islamic Radicalism...

    I think just shutting the damned thing down would be best. Think of it as a start in laying off Fed employees and cutting costs!

  • Zunalter||

    Haha, I see what you did there, and I approve. If we are going to keep this garbage fire intact, we might as well get maximum troll value out of it.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Semi OT: FEE had a decent article on Muslim immigration.

  • John||

    First: It rests on the idea that the best way to root out terrorism is to fight "radicalization." This idea has support among both Democrats and Republicans, but the evidence supporting it is sparse. When investigators at the British think tank Demos (not to be confused with the U.S.-based liberal group of the same name) spent two years studying the differences between violent and nonviolent radicals, they found that while nonviolent radicalism can be a stepping stone to terrorism, it can draw people away from terrorism too. .

    That is to some degree true. What is 100% true, however, is that all Islamic terrorists are radical Muslims. Not all radical religious Muslims are terrorists but all Muslim terrorists are radicals. You don't go from being a moderate peaceful Muslim one day and then shooting up a gay club the next. You first buy into the ideology. Only some who buy into the ideology become terrorists and it is impossible to tell which ones. But it is certain that whoever does become a terrorist will fist become a radical.

    So the only way to stop terrorism beyond cleaning up the mess after it happens, is to stop people from becoming radicals in the first place. No amount of monitoring or hoping after they become radicals will help because you cannot tell and never will be able to tell which radicals will actually become violent and which won't.

  • John||

    Meanwhile, there were other forces pulling people into terrorism that didn't have much to do with ideology at all. Other probes have reached similar conclusions. So the focus here is all wrong: Radical ideas do not usually lead to violent tactics, and violent tactics do not emerge only from radical ideas

    And that is a deceiving sentence Jesse. It makes it sound like not all terrorists are radicals. No. All Islamic terrorists are radicals. All these studies found was "well we don't know totally why they did this and there were other motivations beyond them being radicals". Maybe so. But the fact remains moderate Muslims are not out committing acts of terror despite the fact that they presumably have other motivations for terror as well. Yet, oddly, they never seem to act on these motivations.

  • Lachowsky||

    I don't the government has any business at all countering any ideologies. Be they radical or not. That's kinda like thought policing.

  • John||

    It is thought policing. It is not like it, it is. And that is the position that having radicals in your population puts you in. You either police thought and eliminate them as best you can before they cause you any harm or do don't do that and live with the harm they cause when some percentage of them act on their violent beliefs.

    There are no good answers here. The best is to keep your population of Muslims and by extension radicals as small as you can.

  • Lachowsky||

    I would take the second option. Punish people for what they actually do, not what they believe.

    Thought policing is bad. Maybe today it is against violent islamics, but tomorrow it is against fundamentalist christians. I'd prefer to keep the government out of my thoughts.

  • Half-Virtue, Half-Vice||

    This is a stuck in the box answer.

    There are ways, some more or less feasible, but nonetheless not impossible approaches to terrorism besides thought policing. I'm just spitballing here but reducing law enforcement reaction time via authoritarian methods like: government cameras on every street corner, guards in every building, facility lock-down features in every building.

    Now I wouldn't advocate any of this increased 'security' without a trade off of more liberty from the state. But the point is, there are methodologies and tactics that are not impossible and would cut into both terrorism and crime.

    This might be considered fucking insane, I get that, but the thing I keep coming back to in long meditations on criminality is that: there is nothing literally impossible about ending crime -- it's only figuratively impossible.

  • Bra Ket||

    It isn't thought policing until they impose some kind of punishment. Doesn't really seem like their domain, though the article says very little on this.

    Definitely in the category of "stuff I do not want people with diametrically opposed politics and values (versus my own) to have control of". Though that category pretty much includes the entire govt anyway.

    Come to think of it, Islam is a perfect example of everything that is wrong about govt and the abuses govts impose on people. Packaged up with a "word of god" obstinacy against reforms.

  • Jesse Walker||

    John: There is a difference between someone who is led to violence by radical ideas, and someone who's ready for violence and gloms onto some ideas that support it. Ideas are involved either way, but only one path fits the traditional radicalization model.

  • Trshmnstr hates nurse beaters||

    Ideas are involved either way, but only one path fits the traditional radicalization model.

    Absolutely, but I'm skeptical that inherently violent people can glom onto the same idea enough to create a critical mass like has happened with radical Islam. You don't see that in the US with the mass shooters. They're not grouped together as white supremacists or anti-Semites or some other radical group. They're usually lone wolf types who have some hodgepodge of hardly-coherent "beliefs" pasted together from a handful of different radical and conspiracy groups.

    What we see in the ME, and leaking into the West more appears to be much more coherent, much more consistent, much more symbolic, and much more ideologically focused. I'm not saying that they must fit the traditional radicalization model, but I am saying that the radical Islamist appears to be a different beast than the lone wolf mass killer.

  • Unreconstructed (Sans Flag)||

    I disagree. While there is a coherent, consistent, symbolic, ideologically focused group (Wahhabists, primarily), the violent actors that we see here in the U.S. are the violent people who glom onto the radical ideals. ISIS is just a groupthink version of the same thing - a violent band that wants to control people who took up a locally common radical viewpoint to justify their sociopathic behavior.

  • John||

    Sure there is. But the violence is different too. A lot of radicals are former criminals and generally bad guys. Thanks to the radical ideology they go from being ordinary thugs to mass murderers. The ideology gives violent people a justification for being mass murderers.

  • Lachowsky||

    IDK, if I was a powermad government beurocrat, I'd focus on the right wing guys, you know, the second amendment people. They are the ones who are the actual threat to my power.

  • ||

    "terrorism by far-right extremists."

    Examples please.

    *Turns to teevee to watch Berkley burn *

  • Microaggressor||

    These people live in an alternate reality where Hitler won the war. It makes a lot more sense.

  • Swiss Servator||

    "Hey, Mr. Demonstrator...you know The Man in the High Castle is fiction, not a documentary...right?"

  • Authoritarian Fries||

    "terrorism by far-right extremists."

    Examples:

    Islamic terrorism.

  • Authoritarian Fries||

    Socially conservative people are murdering and torturing people all over the world.

  • Bra Ket||

    How about Reductionist terrorism and its offenses against common sense and semantics?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    We have nothing to fear but fear itself interruption of our funding stream.

  • Swiss Servator||

    ^THIS^

  • ant1sthenes||

    Countering extremism is a job for civil society, not a state thought control agency. Focus on catching criminals.

  • Karen24||

    From what I can tell, this program is really close to arresting people for having ugly opinions. It's not even devoted to studying what facts we have about the already-identified violent radicals. (FWIW, most of 'em have a history of domestic violence. They are also, almost always, young men between 18 and 30 years old. One of those things is an issue for law enforcement.) It's one thing for experts to see if there is some pattern connecting Timothy McVeigh and Mohammed Atta that could be used in other investigations or to identify actual conspiracies. It is another thing entirely to spend government money collecting information on every unemployed guy who rants about the government on the Internet.

  • Bra Ket||

    I've always secretly wanted this kind of govt program to create fake identities with fake addresses and have them troll the fuck out of extremists by holding staged Mohammad cartoon-offs and koran burnings and that kind of shit until everyone grows up and gets over it.

    Probably be blamed for a war or something though (perhaps for all islamic extremism that ever existed), and be outed by some left-wing whistleblower.

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