Vermont’s senior senator is among two dozen Senate members pressing the Trump administration on its responses to domestic terrorism.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., led a group of Democratic senators in questioning the administration’s approach to far-right extremist groups, according to an announcement from Leahy’s office.
In a letter sent to acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke last week, the senators wrote that the vehicle assault on a crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left one dead and 19 injured was “likely” an act of domestic terrorism.
“Yet as our nation confronts the problem of growing racial, religious and even political hatred, we are concerned that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) may not be adequately addressing one of the most significant threats of domestic terrorism,” the letter states.
Twenty-three other senators joined Leahy in signing the letter, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
According to the letter, early this year the Trump administration froze Department of Homeland Security grants that fund groups devoted to countering extremism of several types.
When the grantees were announced in June, funding was not extended to the organization Life After Hate, which works to rehabilitate former neo-Nazis and domestic extremists.
“Several new grantees were added, but it now appears the focus on far-right extremism has been significantly reduced, if not completely eliminated,” the letter states.
The senators wrote the trend is “particularly troubling” because of concerns that the grant program for countering violent extremism is focused solely on the Muslim-American community.
The senators suggest there has been a pattern of reducing scrutiny of far-right groups under the current administration, noting that President Donald Trump did not make a public statement after the bombing of a Minnesota mosque earlier this month.
“Far-right extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, white supremacists, and other groups motivated by racial and ethnic hatred, present a significant risk of violence and domestic terrorism,” the letter states.
The group asked Homeland Security to provide information about why funding for Life After Hate was withdrawn, as well as information about assessments the department made about potential threats from white supremacists and other far-right groups in the six months before the attack in Charlottesville.
Homeland Security spokesperson Anna Franko said Monday that the department does not comment on correspondence with the secretary “as a matter of policy.”
However, concerning the anti-terrorism grant awards, Franko said the Trump administration’s decision to fund different groups than initially announced by the outgoing Obama administration in January was not based on the specific terror threat each group focused on.
Rather, the Trump administration selected different grant recipients based on proposals’ “effectiveness, sustainability and engagement with law enforcement.” Sixteen of the 26 groups funded through the Homeland Security grant program focus on countering all violent extremism, including violent white supremacists, according to Franko.
“Reports in the media falsely claim that a specific organization was not included in the final grantees list because of its ideological focus,” Franko said in a statement. “No applicant was considered or rejected on such a basis.”