In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy last weekend, you might be wondering what could have been done to prevent it from happening. Unfortunately, some programs that work to counter the white nationalism and violent extremism that contributed to tragedies, like Charlottesville, had their budgets slashed earlier this year. Indeed, Trump's administration decided to cut federal funds for programs that combat white nationalism. Instead, those funds could be going toward programs working to end Islamic extremism.
As The Hill reported on Monday, earlier this year the Trump administration made extensive changes to a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant program that was designed to contribute to community efforts to counter violent extremism. The program was started under the Obama administration. It had awarded $10 million in funding to 31 different programs, a few of which were primarily dedicated to countering white nationalism and helping stop radicalization of neo-Nazis.
Since the grants were bestowed upon these organizations at the end of the Obama administration, they had not yet received their funds when Trump took office. As The Hill noted, instead of proceeding with the grant disbursements as planned, the Trump administration instead decided to freeze Homeland Security's countering violent extremism program and reconsider all of its applicants. After this re-evaluation, the Trump administration rescinded funding from 12 previously-selected organizations, including organizations seeking to counter white nationalism and neo-Nazi radicalization.
"Life After Hate" and a program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill had their funding rescinded — notably, both of these programs were dedicated to combatting white supremacy. Indeed, Life After Hate constitutes one of the only organizations in the country the seeks to de-radicalize neo-Nazis and help them establish new lives outside of white nationalist circles.
As Newsweek reported back in June, the funds for the countering violent extremism program seemingly shifted from groups that counter white nationalism to those that combat Islamic extremism, though the Trump administration said at the time that many of the grantees "had applicability to all forms of extremism" and would be able to "address the threat of domestic terrorism.”
However, as Newsweek pointed out, none of the new grant recipients were primarily dedicated to combatting far-right extremism, but several were focused on Islamic extremism. Indeed, Reuters even reported back in February that the Trump administration had been considering changing the name of the Homeland Security program from "Countering Violent Extremism" to "Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.”
Heidi Beirich, the director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, reflected on the administration's program cuts back in June, perhaps prophetically saying to Newsweek:
The Trump administration doesn't take seriously the threat from the radical right ... The administration wants Americans to believe the only threat that exists to our democratic way of life comes from Islamist-inspired terror. But the facts and history of our country disprove that utterly. This is a dangerous approach.
In light of the recent bigotry-driven violence in Charlottesville, it is quite jarring to know that, months ago, the Trump administration rescinded funding from programs that could have indeed worked to counter the exact type of white nationalist violence that helped precipitate the Charlottesville tragedy.
You can only hope that Trump and his administration take note of its seemingly misguided decisions about the dangers posed by white nationalism and ensure that federal funding is used to help combat it in the future.