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When Hate Crimes and Terrorism Collide

U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade

Attacks at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and on police officers in Dallas have brought into focus the grim reality that whether a crime is labeled a hate crime or an act of terrorism, the harm is the same – the loss of innocent lives and a blow to our feeling of safety and security in America. 

At the Department of Justice, we are, of course, committed to prosecuting individuals or groups after they have committed acts of violence, whether the perpetrators are motivated by hate, greed, a terrorist agenda or any other factor.  The bigger challenge is working to disrupt and prevent these attacks from occurring in the future. 

One strategy for preventing such attacks is a program called Countering Violent Extremism or “CVE.”  The Department of Justice has recently partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to form a CVE Task Force.  The mission of the task force is to coordinate federal support for research, organize outreach and training to raise public awareness, manage CVE communications, and develop multi-disciplinary intervention programs.

Here in the Eastern District of Michigan, we take an “all-hazards” approach to CVE.  Whether the threat comes from support of ISIS, white supremacy, the anti-government movement or mental illness, the harm is the same after a mass shooting, and so we have worked hard to develop relationships of trust in various communities in hopes that individuals will tell us when someone they know is heading down a path of violence, regardless of his motivation.  We have provided input to the FBI’s website called “Don’t Be A Puppet,” which aims to educate young people about CVE.  We have participated in national efforts to develop a multi-disciplinary intervention program that would include faith leaders, educators, and mental health professionals, though an effective program remains elusive.

Following the attacks in Orlando, we met with leaders from LGBT organizations to demonstrate our support and to provide information about how to report threats and hate crimes.  We are also organizing active shooter training for these organizations, just as we did for places of worship following last year’s shooting at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina.  We have met with police organizations to discuss ways to protect them from threats of violence. 

CVE efforts are sometimes dismissed as a pretext for surveillance or as a way of stigmatizing communities.  We understand those concerns, and work hard to overcome them, but when our adversaries, such as ISIS or sovereign citizen groups, are organizing and using social media in sophisticated ways to spread their propaganda and recruit violent attackers, we cannot ignore this threat for fear that our efforts will be misunderstood and criticized.  We do not have all the answers, but we are doing all we can to prevent attacks before they happen while respecting the law.

Barbara L. McQuade
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Michigan

Updated July 27, 2016