At Hearing, Experts Commend Portman’s Bipartisan Legislation to Secure Federal Security Resources For Faith-Based & Nonprofit Institutions

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, experts at a hearing to examine the persistent and concerning threat posed by domestic terrorists and violent extremists commended U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, for his bipartisan work in Congress to ensure access to federal security resources for faith-based and nonprofit institutions as they face continual threats and attacks. Senator Portman highlighted the importance of providing safety and security for all communities that are under persistent threats posed by domestic terrorists and violent extremists. 

Last year, Senator Portman and Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, announced that President Trump signed their bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act into law. This legislation authorizes $75 million annually for five years, from FYs 2020-2024, for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Senator Portman helped double the amount of funding available for the NSGP in the FY 2021 bipartisan funding agreement that was signed into law late last year. 

In addition, in June, Senator Portman and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) introduced the bipartisan Pray Safe Act to establish a federal clearinghouse through which faith-based organizations and houses of worship could access information on safety and security best practices, available federal grant programs, and training opportunities. The legislation passed out of the Committee last month. 

Seth Jones, Senior Vice President, Harold Brown Chair, and Director of the International Security Program, Center For Strategic and International Studies, also confirmed to Portman that the U.S. government, military, and law enforcement are increasingly being targeted by domestic terrorists. 

Excerpts of the questioning can be found below and a video can be found here

Portman: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thanks to all the witnesses for the information you provided, which was very helpful. Mr. Yang, I liked what you said, which is we need more facts, information, and data. And I think that’s absolutely true. And we’ve heard today some data from some of our witnesses that is very concerning. 

“Mr. Jones, can you discuss some of the data that you have compiled? And one thing I thought was interesting, you said that there are more attacks on military and police, I think you said law enforcement, than any other group. Can you tell us whether that’s historically true or is that just true in 2020? I thought you had some interesting data about other attacks saying that threats and attacks are the worst they have been since 1994. But with regard to the information you provided us today, which is new to me, that the highest number of attacks have been on law enforcement, is that historically accurate? Is that just a recent development?” 

Seth Jones, Senior Vice President, Harold Brown Chair, and Director of the International Security Program, Center For Strategic and International Studies: “Excellent question. In response to your question about the targeting of government, military and police, it is primarily a recent phenomenon. Government, military, and police have been targeted historically in the U.S. at various points. We certainly saw that in the mid-1990s in Timothy McVeigh’s targeting of the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. But in terms of the number of attacks we’ve seen amongst the highest levels, in terms of attack targeting in 2020, so that is a recent phenomenon. And again, as I mentioned, we’re seeing the perpetrators from all sides of the political spectrum, anarchists, antifascists, and others as well.” 

Portman: “Thank you. And I appreciate that. I appreciate the concise answer, because we don’t have much time here, and there’s lots of information I want to get out. Mr. Goldenberg, you talked a lot about your work and the factors contributing to the persistent threat of domestic terrorism and violent extremism. Can you talk a little about what you see as some of the common threads of domestic radicalization, and you’ve obviously got experience both at the state level and at the federal level, through the Department of Homeland Security. Just give us a little sense of what are the common threads you’ve seen.” 

Paul Goldenberg, Senior Fellow, Rutgers University and President and Chairman, Cardinal Point Strategies: “The tactics being used by extremists and radicals, from white supremacists to those that claim that they’re going to attack in the name of jihad, to those even potentially engaged or involved, as you stated, sir, eco-terrorism, the tactics are very similar. About four or five years ago, I had the opportunity to co-chair the Foreign Fighter Task Force. We spent a lot of time studying the methodologies that ISIS was using to bring young men and women from different parts of the world who absolutely had very little in common, had very little knowledge, many of which weren’t even that hooked into any particular religion, making their ways across oceans to join a fight and a war in the deserts of some unknown place. And we got very caught up in the cause, and we didn’t study enough as to the effect. Why are these young, disaffected, disenchanted folks, these young people joining these fights, joining these movements? Why are they being radicalized so quickly? And social media, it was all done, 95 percent of it, I may not be exact, of the radicalization was done through very effective, very savvy social media marketing campaigns.” 

Portman: “I think we talked about the hearing we did here, the Permanent Subcommittee, which was a bipartisan look at why and so much of it came down to the digital side, both in terms of organization and creating this motivation with white supremacists. I think the same is true from everything we know and then on the actual attacks themselves, the ability to organize quickly and the ‘flash-and-bang effect’ we talked about earlier. So, I mean, getting into the digital issues is really important. These platforms have created a bigger problem clearly. Is that your understanding?” 

Mr. Goldenberg: “It is. But I have to state something for the record. I was very engaged and involved in Whitefish, Montana, which many people may not be aware of. It’s a very pristine, beautiful place on the side of a mountain where 120 members of a Jewish community, many of them I can’t speak for all of them, literally four years ago, were debating whether to leave their community. They were terrified. They were petrified because they were being attacked and trolled and threatened online from some very dangerous people, some of these websites that were calling for attacks on this small Jewish community. In fact, the common denominator of these websites is the fact that members of those sites were involved in over 100 to 120 murders around the world, including Breivik, including several other major incidents here. Why am I by bringing up Whitefish? Because as horrific, as horrible as these threats were perceived, people were terrified. It was my mind, a domestic terrorism incident, and it was very difficult to get any agency to even investigate it. And I’m not criticizing the agencies. I’m not criticizing the federal agencies or the local law enforcement agencies. They couldn’t investigate it because they didn’t have the probable cause to go ahead and open up an investigation, even though we had members of a community ready to leave their houses in terror, and we couldn’t even get a criminal investigation initiated because we didn’t have the laws or the mandates to work on it.” 

Portman: “Those are important points, and I think that leads to some of the frustration out there is that you have these threats that are real, and yet there doesn’t seem to be an easy way for law enforcement, local or state or federal level, sometimes, to respond. Mr. Henderson, we talked a little about the Nonprofit Security Grant Program earlier, and I’d like you and Mr. Yang as well, to talk a little about that. This is an effort to provide community safety, community security. When we have gathered people in Ohio, it’s the Christian community. It’s the Sikh community, it’s the Muslim community, the Jewish community, of course. But as someone who represents a broad coalition of these communities, how would you assess this program, and how can we get more people to apply? You know, more people to understand it and to be able to take advantage of it?” 

Wade Henderson, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights: “Well, Mr. Portman, thank you for your question. It is an important issue, and certainly the Leadership Conference does represent nonprofit organizations that are committed to protecting civil and human rights. The engagement of these communities in addressing the problems that we have with domestic terrorism are critically important. But as I mentioned in my testimony, we have over 50 statutes on our federal books that can be used to prosecute individuals who are engaged in these activities. I alluded to the fact that those who are charged today with some of the violence directly related to the January 6th insurrection are being prosecuted based on these provisions. I think certainly educating nonprofit groups about the circumstances involved with domestic violence, encouraging the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to help educate these communities as well on how to apply for these grants, how to use them appropriately would be a very constructive contribution that would help these communities better understand how they can be a part of the solution to the problem. But I think the biggest issue that we have before us is how do we encourage the federal government and the appropriate agencies to use the tools at their disposal to prosecute domestic terrorism in an appropriate way? That does include, of course, educating individuals or rather, communities, on the use of these nonprofit grant programs. I commend you for your support of them, and I hope they will be a part of a constructive, comprehensive effort to address this problem going forward.” 

Portman: “Well said Mr. Henderson, we got to go to our next questioner. But let me say that the Pray Safe Act also provides this information of best practices, which I think is really critical, and Senator Hasan is actually a co-author of that legislation. I know she’s going to question next, but I think that’s another place for information that is easily accessible online, and I hope that this hearing, among other things, will give more people an understanding of the importance of that. Thank you.”