Government programs to counter violent extremism (CVE) unfairly targeted Muslims based on flawed studies — even years before the Trump administration signaled it would explicitly focus such efforts on radical Islamists, civil liberties advocates told Twin Cities audiences on Friday.
“The veil has been pulled away,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York. “The program has been discriminatory from the beginning.”
German spoke to an audience at the Mitchell Hamline School of Law on Friday morning and was scheduled to participate in a panel hosted by the Young Muslim Collective Friday evening in Minneapolis. His visit came amid uncertainty over what shape federal policies aimed at countering homegrown extremism will take under the new administration.
Last month, the Brennan Center published a report recommending that social and educational programming — which it described as beneficial but unproven as terrorism prevention mechanisms — be continued outside “the counterterrorism and law enforcement umbrella” and have safeguards to prevent them from becoming vehicles for intelligence gathering.
“Simply put, CVE is not the right solution for preventing terrorism in the United States,” the report’s authors said. “The way forward with Muslim communities is to treat their integration and success — rather than their ability to spot terrorists — as the goal of government programs.”
Minneapolis was one of several cities chosen in 2014 to pilot federal programs led by the local U.S. attorney’s office. Renamed Building Community Resilience, the pilot had $1 million in federal and private money that included a mentorship program for Somali youth operated by Big Brothers Big Sisters and roughly $500,000 in grants distributed by Youthprise to six Somali community programs.
Former U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said the efforts were the result of multiple outreach meetings in the Somali community, and focused on the community because it was singled out by Al-Shabab and ISIS recruiters.
Luger, who resigned last month as U.S. attorney in Minnesota, is expected to remain active in local debates on countering extremism. He will speak at a panel on “Understanding Deradicalization” on Tuesday at the George Washington University Program on Extremism in Washington, D.C.
Earlier this year, the Twin Cities nonprofit Ka Joog said it would reject nearly $500,000 in federal funds from a Homeland Security CVE grant program after reports that the Trump transition team was considering renaming the program “Countering Violent Jihad” or “Countering Radical Islam.”
Teresa Nelson, legal director for the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter, urged more transparency surrounding any future counter-extremism programs.
Both she and Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the local Council on American-Islamic Relations chapter, also questioned the premise of providing community social services as a means to prevent violent radicalization.
“Saying, ‘By giving this kid this, we will stop that’ — this has to end,” Hussein said.