Hillary Clinton cited efforts already underway in Minnesota as an example of how to fight domestic recruitment of terrorists, using a Minneapolis speech on Tuesday to call for a stepped-up effort but one that respects people of different backgrounds.
“We cannot let fear push us into reckless actions that end up making us less safe,” Clinton said in a 45-minute speech at the University of Minnesota. Her campaign billed the speech as a major address on counterterrorism and preventing the radicalization of U.S. citizens into global jihad. “Americans are going to have to act with both courage and clarity.”
Speaking to a supportive audience of about 500 people at the McNamara Alumni Center from a stage festooned with U.S. flags, the Democratic presidential front-runner laid out a five-point plan aimed at making Americans safer at home and abroad. Before the speech, Clinton met with several Minnesota Muslim leaders who shared concerns and insights from a community that has watched as a handful of its young men were radicalized and lured overseas to fight in the Middle East and Africa.
“There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families and paying taxes in our country,” Clinton said. “These Americans may be our first, last, and best defense against home-grown radicalization and terrorism.”
At least 12 Somali-American men from Minnesota have been charged with attempting to go abroad to fight for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Minnesota is part of a nationwide pilot project, a collaboration of federal and local law enforcement, Muslim religious leaders and youth groups trying to intervene with young people who might be vulnerable to recruitment. Clinton praised the program and said it should be better-funded.
“I think people are scared and they just need to give us a chance,” said Fartun Weli, a local Somali activist who was among those to meet privately with Clinton. The group included Minneapolis City Council Member Abdi Warsame.
Replicating those efforts on a large scale are one part of Clinton’s five-part plan. The others are shutting down domestic ISIL recruitment, stopping would-be jihadists from getting training overseas, disrupting terror plots before they’re carried out, and supporting law enforcement officers who are the first line of defense against domestic terror.
In a nod to a recent Minneapolis controversy, Clinton said cases like the Nov. 15 fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police officers show there’s more work to do to build trust between law enforcement and the communities they police.
“I understand an investigation is underway,” Clinton said. “Whatever the outcome, tragedies like this raise hard questions about racial justice in America and put at risk efforts to build the community relationships that help keep us safe from crime and from terrorism.”
Clinton was critical of Republican presidential candidates, particularly billionaire businessman Donald Trump, for recent remarks and proposals that she said have demonized Muslims and brought unneeded heat to an already unstable global situation. At the same time, she also hit Republicans for opposing gun control measures that she said are needed to help prevent mass shootings like what happened this month in San Bernardino, Calif., which was carried out by supporters of violent jihad.
“I have this old-fashioned idea that we elect a president in part, in large part, to keep us safe — from terrorists, from gun violence, from whatever threatens our families and communities,” Clinton said. She said Americans on the federal no-fly list should not be able to buy guns, and she also called for the renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, which expired several years ago.
As U.S. military efforts against ISIL in Syria and Iraq intensify, and fears of retaliatory domestic terror rises in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino and in Paris, foreign policy and domestic security are poised to be dominant issues in next year’s election.
After four high-profile years as President Obama’s chief diplomat at the State Department, Clinton is prepared to argue that she’s well-positioned to manage the trouble spots boiling around the world while also snuffing out terror at home.
Republicans will tie Clinton to foreign policy controversies and setbacks during Obama’s term, as the Republican National Committee did in response to the Minneapolis speech.
“Clinton ignored the [ISIL] threat as it grew on her watch,” read a news release from the Republican National Committee. Keith Downey, chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, echoed the attack.
“Hillary’s warmed-over Obama-Clinton strategy won’t work, and voters know it,” he said.
Several GOP candidates have been focusing on rising terror fears, from Trump and his widely condemned call to block Muslims from entering the U.S.; to Florida’s U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who has criticized Obama and Clinton’s foreign policy chops from a more traditional Republican bearing; to Texas’ U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who has been similarly critical.
The Republican candidates were debating Tuesday night in Las Vegas following Clinton’s Minneapolis speech. Cruz is scheduled to hold a campaign rally in St. Paul on Thursday.
After the speech, Clinton attended a private fundraiser in the North Loop. She was then headed to Nebraska, where she’s participating in an event Wednesday with billionaire businessman Warren Buffett.
Clinton’s opponents in the Democratic presidential race are U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but she has held a hefty lead in most national and early state polls. Tuesday’s campaign event was crammed with party notables, from former Vice President Walter Mondale — who introduced her — to U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges and numerous activists and state lawmakers.
“People around the world will be paying close attention to this speech,” said Lynn Wilson, a veteran DFL activist from Rochester.
Staff writers Abby Simons and Allison Sherry contributed to this report.