March 2, 2020, The Nation
Marginalized minorities targeted by the DHS’s counter-extremism program say it lacked transparency and deepened their mistrust of government.
Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood is a historically black part of the city, straddling a blighted past and a gentrifying future. It is home to some of Massachusetts’s oldest colonial sites and a large Somali community; it also has one of Boston’s highest crime rates. Police officers frequent its streets, squares, and transit hubs, enforcing a citywide stop-and-frisk program.
Roxbury is also the site of a federally funded initiative to stop potential terrorists. The Boston Police Department participated in what the plan’s proponents described as trust-building workshops with Somali youths under an almost $500,000 counterextremism project that ended last fall.
Six months after Donald Trump was sworn in as president, the Department of Homeland Security awarded $10 million to 25 law enforcement, public safety, and civil society groups across the country for programs intended to prevent people from embracing violent extremist ideologies. Some grant projects encouraged community members to report acts that might be seen as early signs of radicalization. Others trained cops to spot potential extremist behavior. Several mentored children with the aim of instilling in them a truer understanding of Islam, an aversion to violence, or simply more respect for the police.
The DHS invited initiatives combating any form of terrorism to apply when it announced the funding opportunity in 2016. But two-thirds of the applications chosen by the Trump administration focused on immigrants or Muslims, even though white supremacists and other domestic terrorists have caused more deaths and led to more arrests in recent years than extremists inspired by foreign ideologies. And several grant recipients described their projects as run-of-the-mill community programs, without disclosing to participants that they were funded by the DHS and were targeting those it deemed susceptible to violent extremism.