“Countering Violent Extremism”: Code Phrase for More Big Brother?

This week, the House Committee on Homeland Security will consider the “Countering Violent Extremism Act”, offered by the committee chairman, Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas. The act would add to the Department of Homeland Security bureaucracy by creating a new “Office for Countering Violent Extremism” and authorize $10 million for its operation.

In offering the bill, McCaul claimed that it would “help prevent the radicalization from happening in the first place.” I understand McCaul’s stated concern. There’s not much doubt that America has always been a fertile breeding ground for violent radicals — especially right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan, the Covenant, Sword and Arm of the Lord, and Aryan Nations, among others. But as multiple studies have shown, so-called “countering violent extremism” programs have been discredited. And it’s worth remembering the reaction from GOP members the last time DHS published a report on the threat from actual or potential domestic extremists.

Timothy McVeil and Terry Nichols were both American Army veterans who turned into terrorists the minute they started plotting, and ultimately carried out, the heinous bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. But the fact that those two Army veterans turned into terrorists did not mean that all or even a truly measurable percentage of veterans could, or ever would, turn into terrorists. The authors of the 2009 DHS report engaged in that logical fallacy, and they got fried for it — and appropriately so. Given that history and DHS’s role in it, creating an entire office that would most likely revive, and ultimately institutionalize, that mentality seems like a bad bet on an epic scale.

In the run-up to the hearing, dozens of civil society groups sent a letter to the committee outlining their concerns about the bill. The underlying premise of the bill — that certain communities are more prone to producing violent actors than others — has no scientific or factual basis. The last thing Congress should be doing is doubling down on failed policies and expanding the National Security State in the process.