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Elizabeth Neumann, the former assistant secretary of counterterrorism and threat prevention, told NPR’s Steve Inskeep that the Trump administration is allowing domestic terrorism to flourish in the country. She resigned from her position in April after serving three years total at the department.
The former official said if “clear voices” from the president and other leaders of the Republican Party condemned right-wing groups, “it would somewhat inoculate people from that recruitment and that radicalization.”
"But instead, we have the opposite effect. We have the president not only pretty much refusing to condemn, but throwing fuel on the fire, creating opportunities for more recruitment through his rhetoric,” she added.
The shooting at an El Paso Walmart last year marked a major juncture during which Neumann sought funding to combat domestic terrorism. Neumann said her team was invited to the White House after working on a strategy for a year and a half.
In her NPR interview, she claimed that the El Paso shooter’s anti-immigration rhetoric aligned with the president’s during campaign rallies, and while she agrees immigration is a national security issue, she said Trump’s language stokes fear.
The Texas shooting left 23 dead and about two dozen injured in the Walmart parking lot.
The White House backed her team’s proposed strategy as long as the term “preventing violence” was used instead of “domestic terrorism.”
“My sense was they were doing that pragmatically," Neumann told NPR. “They seem to understand that for whatever reason, if we use the term 'domestic terrorism' or we talk about the white supremacist language, that seems to derail things at the White House."
The former DHS official also expressed concern about a second Trump term, saying there are “no officials” with “the experience and gravitas” to challenge his proposals that could “lead us to war.”
Neumann, a lifelong Republican, voted “very reluctantly” for Trump in 2016 but joined the department in February 2017 due to her almost 20 years of experience in homeland security. She said she noticed the rise in domestic terrorism and specifically “anti-Semitic hate crimes” upon her arrival working as the deputy chief of staff to then-Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
Neumann moved to her other position focused on counterterrorism and threat prevention in March of 2018. She told NPR that she noticed during her work that the right-wing extremists were hard to pinpoint because they behaved more as a movement than a traditional organization.
She compared their cohesion to ISIS’s group behavior, telling the news outlet, "They borrowed from ISIS's playbook and they learned how to radicalize people online.”
NPR noted that Trump first used the term “domestic extremism” this summer to describe the violence and looting that arose out of the protests over police brutality. The president has repeatedly attributed the violence to the left-wing movement “antifa.”
White House spokesperson Alyssa Farah said in a statement that federal law enforcement, national security and intelligence officials "work around the clock to monitor every range of threats facing our nation, including domestic terror."
"This sounds more like a case of this former disgruntled employee being ineffective at their job, than an indictment of the career professionals who swear an oath to work every day to protect our country from threats foreign and domestic," she said.
--Updated at 3:09 p.m.
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