Newly released documents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security detail proposals from two Minnesota groups chosen this year to receive grants in the federal effort to counter violent extremism.
The grant applications, released in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, include successful proposals from the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and Heartland Democracy, a Minneapolis civic engagement nonprofit behind the nation’s first terrorism rehabilitation program.
The grants were announced some months ago, but until now details of the proposals have not been public.
The sheriff’s proposal includes a series of “Radicalization Prevention Workshops” with the local nonprofit Voice of East African Women and the addition of several new community liaison officers. Heartland Democracy proposed a four-part plan that includes mentoring programs at up to five schools or community groups and working with families “directly affected by recruitment or families that believe they are at risk.”
The plans also include a series of workshops featuring the mothers of Twin Cities youths who were recruited by terror groups, and the expansion of the curriculum Heartland Democracy used to counsel a defendant in Minnesota’s large ISIS recruitment case, a program that gained international attention.
While both applications touched on Minnesota’s Somali-American community, they also stressed that radical Islam is not the only form of extremism in the United States — a departure from early signs that the Trump administration intended to focus mainly on Muslim-Americans.
“The problem of violent extremism is not limited to new Americans, any one religion, or gender, or ethnic group,” according to the sheriff’s application, which added that it planned “all messaging, educational efforts, and engagement for all residents.”
Mary McKinley, Heartland Democracy’s executive director, wrote in her application that while much attention will continue to focus on Somali-Americans, her group recognized that “the challenges of this specific community do not exist in a vacuum, nor do the issues we face only exist in that ethnic group.”
In an interview Friday, McKinley added: “We draw participants from all walks of life, and partner with a wide variety of groups who request our programs. We think this history of work, and our past partnerships and community efforts, lent to the success of our proposal.”
The Sheriff’s Office and Heartland Democracy were among roughly two dozen programs nationwide awarded funds from the $10 million Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) grant program after review under then-DHS Secretary John Kelly. The groups were among nine from Minnesota that applied last year, and Hennepin County made the cut earlier this year after the new administration re-evaluated pitches with a greater emphasis on law enforcement.
Heartland Democracy’s “Empowering U” program resonated with officials in Washington for its work with Abdullahi Yusuf, who on Thursday became one of the few Americans to be released from detention so far after being convicted of plotting to join ISIS. But McKinley said Friday that it also planned to launch community dialogues surrounding health care access, education, conflict resolution and discrimination.
In its August 2016 application, Hennepin County envisioned hosting up to six to eight more “radicalization prevention workshops” — something it did twice earlier this year using state funds.
Hennepin County is also hiring more community liaison officers to bridge language and cultural divides with new American communities. The liaisons are not law enforcement officers and will not be used to collect intelligence for law enforcement agencies, the Sheriff’s Office said.
The Sheriff’s Office initially also proposed replicating the London Metropolitan Police Department’s “Red Stop” program, which encourages anonymous reporting of extremist web content, but a spokesman said it has since scrapped those plans.
The two entities are moving forward at a time when federal counter-extremism work faces fresh uncertainty.
The Trump administration has not included funding for such efforts in its fiscal 2018 budget.
George Selim, who previously led the Office of Community Partnerships, left Homeland Security this summer to take a new position at the Anti-Defamation League.
Efforts to counter hate and extremism, he said, may increasingly be taken up by private sector actors.
“We’re establishing a national network that is being activated in the wake of Charlottesville and other similar instances across the country,” Selim said Friday.