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Attorney General Eric Holder Delivers Remarks at the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Good afternoon.  It’s a pleasure to join you today as we draw this critically important summit to a close.  And it’s a privilege to stand with all of you as we work to fulfill our most vital obligation: safeguarding our nations and our people from a wide range of violent threats. 

Let me begin by expressing my deep sympathy and full support to Denmark and its people.  After the tragic events in Copenhagen – and before that, Paris and Belgium – it is clear that we have no more urgent task before us than that which brings us together today.  And particularly as networks of extremism continue to draw individuals from countries around the world, it is evident that we in the global community must each examine our own efforts – and engage with our own communities – to combat dangerous individuals and prevent acts of terror.

But this meeting has also given us an important chance to come together to share experiences and learn from each other.  Thanks to the work of everyone in this room – and the work of the many people who organized this conference – I believe that, over the course of this summit, we have greatly advanced the cause of combating violent extremism.

During these past few days, we have been able to compare notes on how we are engaging in outreach on the local level so we can foster trust, improve awareness and educate communities about violence risk factors.  We have been able to focus on working to stop radicalization before it starts, by eliminating conditions that lead to alienation and violent extremism and empowering young people and other vulnerable communities to reject destructive ideologies.  Of course, we have also recognized that, despite our best efforts, some will remain committed to terrorism; and so we have used yesterday’s Ministerial to commit to joint action to stop the travel of such individuals and to bring them to justice.

For me, these are issues that have special resonance and I have made them a priority for the Department of Justice during my tenure as Attorney General.  Over the last three years, our United States Attorneys – the chief federal prosecutors in each of the jurisdictions they serve – have held more than 2,500 engagement-related events in their communities.  And last September, I announced a broad interagency partnership to launch a new series of pilot programs to improve local engagement in cities across the United States.  Through our office of Community Oriented Policing Services and other components, we’ve made additional investments in this work.  And with resources outlined in the President’s proposed budget for 2015, we intend to support further community-led efforts to stem radicalization and nurture community resilience. 

Of course, as threats evolve, so too must our methods for combating them.  To this end, the Justice Department’s National Institute of Justice has sponsored 19 projects aimed at improving our response to radicalization and violent extremism.  For example, two projects – one at Michigan State University, and one at Arkansas State University – study the role that online social media plays in radicalization, and will help us develop more effective techniques and partnerships for counter-messaging. 

Beyond these new methods, we are also hopeful that we can use some of the lessons and insights gleaned from existing law enforcement strategies that have already proved successful in other contexts, and adapt them for use against the threat of violent extremism.  For instance, we are learning that there may be similarities in the factors that lead to gang involvement and violent extremism.  In both instances, the sense of belonging to a cause, however misguided, may be a lure for disaffected young people – and understanding this potential link may help us tackle the problem of violent extremism.  There are several anti-gang initiatives that have had success in the past, and the lessons learned from those experiences could potentially be applied to the issues we are discussing today.

In order to examine this connection, we have initiated a study by the University of Maryland-College Park that is exploring the similarities between violent extremist groups and criminal gangs.  Separately, at the Children’s Hospital Corporation of Boston, we have commissioned an in-depth analysis of the relationship between gang affiliation and radicalization among Somali youth who have resettled in the United States.  And another NIJ-funded project at the University of Illinois-Chicago is studying whether there are commonalities between recruitment into human trafficking and recruitment into violent extremism. 

These projects are wide-ranging and hold tremendous promise as we work to understand the root causes of radicalization; to empower vulnerable communities so they can reject harmful ideologies; and to prevent individuals from getting caught up by violent philosophies – including those who are drawn to violence itself, and those who become victims of its destruction.   We look forward to sharing the findings of this research with all of you here – and to hearing the results of your research as well. 

Now, the work we are all engaged in is ongoing, and we have a great deal left to do.  The challenges we face are significant and we will not reach our goals overnight.  But as long as we keep learning from one another, supporting one another, and striving to move forward as one community of nations, I have no doubt that we can meet this threat with confidence and with resolve.  As we move forward together, we must remain innovative and aggressive in combating the threat of violent extremism.  And we must never lose sight of what most frightens those who sow fear: our enduring commitment to collaboration, to liberty and to justice.

At this time, it is my honor to introduce a woman whose life in public service has embodied that commitment: National Security Advisor Susan Rice.  Throughout her career of leadership and service at the National Security Council, as a top State Department official, as Ambassador to the United Nations and now as National Security Advisor, she has addressed the defining diplomatic and security issues of our time.  She has worked tirelessly to apply her consummate skill and deep knowledge to the most intractable global challenges we face.  And as an internationally recognized expert on national security, counterterrorism and many of the strategies for countering violent extremism that have been the focus of this gathering, she has served as an indispensable voice on the issues that animate our partnership today.  It is a privilege to have her here with us.

Ladies and gentlemen, National Security Advisor Susan Rice.

Updated August 18, 2015