WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, highlighted at a hearing to examine the persistent and concerning threat posed by domestic terrorists and violent extremists the importance of recognizing all communities throughout the United States that have been impacted. As Senator Portman noted, not all of those communities were represented at today’s hearing. In addition, Senator Portman discussed the need to hear and learn from government witnesses, who were also not represented at today’s hearing, about the magnitude of the domestic terrorist threat and how the federal government is responding to it.
Senator Portman has been a leader in the Senate in combatting domestic terrorism and violent extremism. 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.
A transcript of his opening remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I appreciate you holding this hearing to examine the persistent and concerning threat posed by domestic terrorists and violent extremists. This is a threat to communities all across our country. Today, we will hear from representatives of certain communities that have been affected by the violence they have experienced. While I am very much looking forward to hearing their testimony, it is important that we recognize all communities that have been impacted by domestic terrorism and violent extremism. Not all of those are represented here today.
“It is important to recognize the threat of all types of domestic terrorism. Interestingly, just in the last week here in the United States Senate, we have been learning more about one of those domestic terrorist threats listed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that we won’t hear about today. This is eco-terrorism. It turns out that one of the nominees from the Biden administration nominated to run the Bureau of Land Management had been involved in eco-terrorism. Putting spikes into trees to then cause injury to loggers and others who are involved in timbering, so there are lots of kinds of terrorism.
“Domestic terrorists and violent extremists are not new phenomenon, nor are the methods that are used to advance their causes. As Chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is a subcommittee of this full Committee, I held a hearing in July of 2016 examining foreign terrorists’ use of our internet and social media platforms for radicalization and recruitment. That hearing was also aimed at understanding the threat and how the federal government was and should be addressing that threat. And we heard directly from witnesses at the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the State Department. This was a bipartisan investigation that was shocking. I’m disappointed that we will not hear testimony today from a single government official about how the federal government is addressing the domestic terrorism and violent extremism threat.
“Each of the witnesses at that July 2016 Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations hearing highlighted the challenges we face in combatting terrorism and violent extremism in the age of the internet, including the reality that the digital environment often accelerates recruitment and radicalization efforts; and the speed with which individuals online can mobilize to violence —often referred to as the ‘flash-to-bang effect.’
“Five years later, we are still seeing the same weapons being used within our own communities, and we are also increasingly seeing many domestic violent actors connecting with and learning from foreign groups and individuals. Domestic terrorists and violent extremists, inspired by a range of ideological beliefs on the right and on the left, are increasingly using these digital platforms to spread hate and incite violence here at home.
“As Americans, we value our first amendment rights of course, including the right to express our beliefs, but nothing gives someone a right to carry out acts of violence. We must also acknowledge recent acts of violence in the form of assaults on government, specifically, law enforcement. Violent extremists from all segments of the ideological spectrum are increasingly targeting the military, law enforcement, and government personnel. I wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, to the Secretary of Homeland Security Mayorkas in May requesting information on what the Department was doing to deter and combat these violent attacks, including on their personnel. Any attack on our nation’s law enforcement or other government officials is an attack on the rule of law and on our American ideals.
“The safety and security of our communities has been a key priority for this Committee and for me. After the Pittsburgh Tree of Life tragedy in October of 2018, I brought together leaders of faith-based groups and non-profit entities across Ohio for a Faith Security Conference in Columbus to discuss how to best respond to these threats. We had the Department of Homeland Security there, we had the FBI there. We talked about what can be done and at that conference we said that Congress can, and should, do more, and I redoubled our efforts here in Congress to provide communities with the resources needed to protect themselves from acts of violence.
“I’ve worked to establish and support the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which allows nonprofits to apply for funds they can use to secure their facilities. Last year, our bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations from Terrorism Act with Chairman Peters was signed into law, which authorized a record $75 million annually for five years, for this grant program.
“Further, in wake of recent violence against religious communities, I sponsored the bipartisan Pray Safe Act with Senators Hassan, who is with us today, Johnson, Rounds, Peters, and Rosen to establish a federal clearinghouse so that faith-based entities can access safety and security best practices, available federal grant programs, and training opportunities. The threats and senseless attacks on all faith-based organizations and houses of worship must stop, but in the interim I urge my colleagues to support this important bipartisan legislation to provide that critical information.
“I’m pleased to see my former Ohio colleague in the U.S. House of Representatives among our witnesses today, Eric Fingerhut, and I appreciate his personal commitment to, and the Jewish American Federation of North America’s support of the Pray Safe Act and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. Let me be clear: there is no place for hatred or bigotry of any kind toward our fellow citizens. In confronting these challenges, we must take a holistic approach to these threats. Today’s witnesses will speak to this topic. We also need to hear and learn from government witnesses, who are not here today, about the magnitude of the threat and how the federal government is responding to it. Only after hearing these relevant perspectives can we develop a comprehensive strategy to combat these troubling trends.
“I appreciate the witnesses being here today. Again, I look forward to your insights and perspectives, but most importantly, your ideas on how we can better combat terrorism and violent extremism in our country so that we can learn what more Congress can and should do to counter those threats. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”