Outdated approach to terrorism fight must be scrapped

Published 8:15 am Wednesday, March 20, 2019

As the world mourns the loss of 50 lives in the New Zealand mosque shooting, leaders across the globe need to stop and ask a vital question:

What is being done to prevent the next hate-filled extremist from getting swept up in a toxic mix of white supremacy and nationalism and then acting upon it to take innocent lives?

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, is in custody in New Zealand and stands accused of the slaughter that took place in two houses of worship in the city of Christchurch late last week. Before he acted, Tarrant chillingly outlined in a 74-page manifesto the abhorrent ideology he embraced. It’s likely that the same technology that enabled publication of his sick screed is one of the main culprits in his radicalization. The digital age has made it easier for propaganda from hate groups to metastasize.

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Sadly, Minnesotans have had a front-row seat when it comes to witnessing the rise of online terror recruiting and its impact on the state’s Somali-American community. In 2016, nine men from Minnesota were sentenced by a federal judge for their efforts to aid the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

While Western nations have understandably focused on Islamic extremism, similar international cooperation is needed to thwart individuals who subscribe to Tarrant’s stated beliefs. Over the weekend, a Washington Post story shed light on alarming security gaps. The U.S. and its closest allies have built up impressive infrastructure to monitor and share intelligence about international terror, but there’s no comparable approach for domestic terror.

Homegrown terrorists who espouse extreme nationalism are generally seen “as a problem for domestic law enforcement and security agencies to confront,” according to the Post story, impeding the flow of information internationally. The reality is that this malignant ideology transcends national borders. Online groups have followers from around the world. They venerate killers from a wide number of nations, including the U.S.

The antiquated parameters that hinder intelligence sharing about this threat must end. Stronger recognition of the threat posed by extreme nationalists, neo-Nazis and others of a similar ilk is also needed from political leaders. In 2017, “20 of the 34 extremist-related murders in the United States … or 59 percent, were related to right-wing extremism,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. The October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue is a painful reminder that the threat remained the following year.

The Trump administration has lent far too little support to efforts like this and, at one point, specifically pulled funding to one of the organizations working to combat right-wing terrorism.

Another critical issue that needs airing: What are social media companies’ responsibilities when it comes to harboring users spreading radical, dangerous ideology? And what about their obligation to quickly shut down violent video of crimes perpetrated in real-time?

Violent right-wing extremism has thrived in part because it has fallen between the cracks of international intelligence sharing. Minnesota’s increasingly influential congressional delegation should seize the opportunity to lead on this issue. All solutions must be pursued to prevent others from succumbing to the siren call of terror.