Discussing his future for the first time since stepping down as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Andrew Luger said Thursday that he plans to remain a player in national counter-extremism efforts and is in talks to build a network of private-sector groups, saying they are better positioned than government to take the lead.
During an interview with the Star Tribune, Luger said he will resume practicing law in the Twin Cities but has told prospective firms that he plans to continue working in the area of preventing violent radicalization and hate crimes.
Luger, who was one of 46 Obama administration holdovers asked to resign last month, described the intended program as a “support network for those who want to engage in early intervention and disengagement across the ideological spectrum.” He said he hoped to firm up plans by summer.
“It will look different in every city,” Luger said. “It will be a bringing together of Jewish community organizations, Muslim community organizations, civic organizations — because this problem spans the ideological spectrum and it spans communities.”
Luger practiced at the Minneapolis law firm Greene Espel before being appointed U.S. attorney in early 2014. On assuming office, he laid out plans to aggressively pursue sex trafficking and white collar crime, but a resurgence of terror recruitment targeting young Somali-Minnesotans quickly vaulted to the top of his priorities.
Luger led one of three federal pilot projects to “counter violent extremism” (CVE), which in Minneapolis focused on bolstering social services in the Somali community. His office also prosecuted nine men who were convicted last year for plotting to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Critics have faulted CVE strategies in the United States for singling out Muslims, even before reports that the Trump administration planned to rename its plan “Countering Violent Jihad” or “Countering Radical Islam.” Those reports prompted groups like the Minneapolis nonprofit Ka Joog to reject $500,000 in funding through a Homeland Security grant announcement days before Trump’s inauguration.
Luger’s two public appearances since leaving office have hinted at his plans. Last month, he introduced a speech at Temple Israel in Minneapolis by Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi from Chicago whose nonprofit, Life After Hate, counsels people trying to leave white supremacist groups. Earlier this week, Luger spoke at the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, describing Minneapolis as trying to form a “loose confederation” of health workers and mentor to try to “off-ramp” suspected radicals before they end up in the criminal justice system.
Luger suggested Thursday that a national network might include groups like Life After Hate and the Minneapolis nonprofit Heartland Democracy, which worked with Abdullahi Yusuf in the first civic engagement program in a terrorism case.
“It gives an opportunity for him to continue the messaging and leadership and coalition-building that he started, while taking off his prosecutor hat,” Heartland Democracy Executive Director Mary McKinley said. “Which I think is what most people were hesitant about.”
Luger began the discussions in January, with talks ramping up after his resignation. He said he has sought to broaden counter-extremism efforts in Minnesota to address white supremacists and hate crimes.
Seamus Hughes, deputy director for George Washington’s Program on Extremism, called Luger a rare official able to court private funding for such work, which can be complicated by liability concerns, and praised his decision.
“Andy, with his background, could have chosen 1,000 different avenues to live a very nice comfortable life but instead is going this route that is covered with controversy and will be hit from all sides,” Hughes said. “There’s not much upside other than he knows from meeting with these families that he had an obligation to find a different way.”
Minnesota is among 93 U.S. attorney’s office locations being led on an interim basis as the Senate awaits nominations for each post from the White House.
On Thursday, Luger said he began thinking about his future following November’s election, but opted to stay until being asked to leave.
“I didn’t feel like I needed to make that decision after the election,” Luger said. “I was going to make other people make that decision.”