Dara Lind writes:
“The president of the United States finally condemned white supremacist violence in Charlottesville on Monday, two days after an initial statement that blamed “both sides” for violence largely instigated by far-right activists (including a car attack on counterprotesters that killed one person and injured 19).
But the only part of his remarks that appeared to promise that he was devoting not just words, but action, to the problem of right-wing extremism in America — “We will spare no resource in fighting so that every American child can grow up free from violence and fear” — was actually the most hollow.
On Saturday, too, Trump promised to get to the root of the problem: “We want to get the situation straightened out in Charlottesville, and we want to study it. And we want to see what we’re doing wrong as a country where things like this can happen.” The problem is that his administration has already indicated that it thinks it knows the answers to these problems. It’s cut funding for outreach to counter white supremacism, while pushing punitive “law and order” responses to civil unrest.
Trump’s willingness to explicitly say that white supremacism is bad (even if it’s only offered in response to criticism) is worth at least something — it’s a nod in the direction that white supremacism is an ideology that ought to be ostracized. But his administration’s actions threaten to undermine any value in countering white supremacism that Trump’s rhetoric might have had.
The Trump administration has systematically rejected efforts to counter right-wing violence
Barely a week after President Trump was inaugurated, rumors began to swirl that he was going to change the name of the federal “Countering Violent Extremism” task force, located in the Department of Homeland Security, to “Countering Islamic Extremism” — and that the task force would accordingly “no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.”
The task force’s name hasn’t changed. But its function has. After a review of grants provided by the task force, the Trump administration preserved most of the grants (which involved Islamic communities) — but killed a $400,000 grant to Life After Hate, a group that attempts to “deradicalize” young men drawn to white supremacism.
It’s not that the Trump administration didn’t have evidence that right-wing extremism was a potential problem for public safety. According to Foreign Policy, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI issued a report on May 10 called “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence,” which noted that white supremacists “were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016 … more than any other domestic extremist movement.”
But among conservatives skeptical of “identity politics,” there’s been a longstanding resistance to any government warnings about far-right extremist groups. When the Department of Homeland Security published a report in 2009 warning of increased racist extremism after the election of President Obama, the backlash was so intense that the department had to formally retract the report.
. . . .
There’s been a similar turn away from community engagement and toward punitiveness on other fronts. Under Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly (who’s now White House chief of staff), Trump administration officials were indifferent or hostile to concerns that aggressive immigration enforcement might be discouraging victims of crime from reporting to police. Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice has stopped supporting legal “consent decrees” between police departments and local governments to rebuild public trust, while Sessions himself has advocated for a return to maximal punitiveness in criminal punishment and explained that African-American communities need to do a better job of trusting police to protect them.
In both his initial statement Saturday and his remarks Monday, President Trump presented the violence in Charlottesville as primarily a problem of social disorder — something that more and better policing, and more public trust in policing, could solve. It’s an old theme for Trump; “law and order” has been the theme of some of his biggest public moments on the campaign trail and as president. According to the Daily Beast’s Asawin Suebsaeng, Trump was particularly insistent that his Saturday statement on Charlottesville adhere to a “law and order” theme, because he remembered it fondly from the campaign.
Trump may see “law and order” as the solution to everything because it reminds him of his electoral success. Other members of his administration see it as the solution to everything because they believe the fundamental problem is “social disorder,” not racism or white supremacism.
Trump’s willingness to criticize white supremacists by name is welcome and important. But if his administration has already decided what caused the problems in Charlottesville over the weekend, it’s hard to imagine that their attempts to “spare no expense” will get to the root of the problem — and won’t end up targeting the same nonwhite Americans and immigrants that the white nationalists themselves wish to intimidate.”
Read Lind’s entire article at the above link.
I also think the Lind’s observations about Jeff Sessions are “spot on.” I have read other commentators suggest that because Sessions is such a “law and order guy” he can be trusted to prosecute the Charlottesville gang to the fullest extent of the law. That might well be true in this particular case. Clearly, Sessions is someone who historically has and continues to get his jollies from throwing folks in jails of all sorts (unless he can seek the death penalty which excites him even more).
But, Sessions has spent a career on the wrong side of racial history and hung around with immigration restrictionists and White Nationalists like Bannon and Steven Miller (who actually worked for him). He has wasted no time in essentially dismantling the Civil Rights enforcement mechanisms at the DOJ and turning the resources to looking for ways that whites can use civil rights laws for their advantage and to keep blacks and other minorities in their respective places. Further, he shows neither respect for nor acknowledgement of the tremendous achievements of American migrants, both legal and undocumented. In plain terms, he has faithfully carried out key elements of Trump’s White Nationalist agenda, to the delight of white supremacists and racists. And, it’s certainly not like Sessions isn’t aware of how his actions “play” in both the white and non-white communities.
Sessions is far too compromised ever to be an “honest broker” in combating white supremacists and racial hatred in the United States. Even if he throws the Charlottesville perpetrators in jail and throws away the key, he’ll never be credible as a defender of decency, tolerance, and civil rights in the face of White Nationalism or its first cousin white supremacism.