Two Minneapolis nonprofits will receive a share of $10 million in federal Homeland Security grants in an ongoing but controversial federal campaign to address homegrown extremism.
Ka Joog, a local Somali youth organization, and Heartland Democracy, which created the nation’s first rehabilitation program for a defendant in a terrorism case, were among 31 proposals announced on Friday.
Both organizations applied under the focus of “developing resilience,” one of five areas outlined when the department announced the grant in July. Ka Joog will receive nearly $500,000 and Heartland Democracy will get $165,435.
Heartland Democracy Executive Director Mary McKinley said the group plans “to work with young people on issues of identity, community connections and civic engagement” by matching its team of mentors with established neighborhood organizations, schools and after-school programs.
“The same issues that we have all been talking about for so long — disconnected youth and youth without direction, young people who feel like they don’t have a future here or their future is not very bright here, and what does that mean?” McKinley said.
In a statement Friday, Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said awardees included organizations that specifically seek to target recruitment by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
“In this age of self-radicalization and terrorist-inspired acts of violence, domestic-based efforts to counter violent extremism have become a homeland security imperative,” Johnson said.
Ka Joog will use the funds to assist Somali youth and families with a range of community activities to undercut recruitment efforts by terrorists abroad. Ka Joog Executive Director Mohamed Farah, who is also now campaigning for the Minneapolis City Council’s Ninth Ward seat, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Though praised by law enforcement leaders and some community groups, local efforts to counter terrorism recruitment have also been met by protest over concerns that they unfairly target the Somali community. A flier circulated late last year called for the boycott of groups, including Ka Joog, that received funding tied to the local pilot project.
The title of the program, “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE), has itself drawn controversy: U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger changed the name of the Minneapolis pilot project on the recommendation of a local imam early during the project’s implementation.
Critics of the Obama administration’s CVE guidelines have also warned that the program lacks adequate civil liberties protections and can divide Muslim communities by spreading suspicion.
Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, said the current CVE framework does not ensure that its programs are not being used for intelligence gathering by law enforcement. German has criticized domestic counterterrorism initiatives as too focused on shaky predictors of terroristic motivation, like mental health, and not enough on how foreign policy inspires terrorism worldwide.
“The concept of resilience is flawed in its application here,” German said. “What you’re doing is you are causing resentment in the community when one group points the finger at the other group and says there is a problem.”
Los Angeles-based organizations — including the city’s public safety office — were the most widely represented awardees, receiving more than $1.6 million in grant money. Several groups received funding to conduct work nationwide.
Another group, Life After Hate, will get $400,000 to bolster efforts to rehabilitate former neo-Nazis “and other domestic extremists in this country,” Johnson said.
Minneapolis was selected in 2014 as one of three pilot cities for community-focused counter-extremism programs, alongside Los Angeles and Boston, whose Police Foundation will also receive a $463,185 CVE grant.
The two Minneapolis grants announced Friday are more than twice the amount of federal and private funding given to six Somali projects last year as part of the Building Community Resilience pilot project.
Donald Trump’s incoming administration has meanwhile stirred reports that federal CVE strategy may be reset to specifically focus on Islamist terrorist recruitment and radicalization.
Minneapolis has been a focus of counterterrorism work since more than two dozen Minnesotans first either joined or tried to join Al-Shabab nearly 10 years ago, and has remained in the spotlight with a recent spate of cases related to ISIL. Nine young Twin Cities men were sentenced late last year after being convicted of trying to join ISIL — including Abdullahi Yusuf, who underwent a rehabilitation program offered by Heartland Democracy shortly after his 2014 arrest.
Luger has previously cited both Heartland Democracy and Ka Joog as examples of prominent community organizations to which his office has referred Twin Cities families. “Community organizations in Minnesota are taking a leadership role on these issues and will continue to make progress on this important work,” Luger said in a statement Friday.
McKinley said Heartland Democracy also recently received $50,000 in funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a charitable group whose focus includes disadvantaged children. In pursuing the Homeland Security grant, the opportunity to join a national collection of groups seeking to pilot resilience efforts outweighed concerns over the language of CVE for Heartland Democracy.
“This is a national and international conversation around violence and around extremist political thinking that can lead to violence,” McKinley said. “When that affects young people in your community that needs be talked about and that needs to be addressed.”