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white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville

Last weekend white supremacists gathered at a violent "Unite the Right" rally to protest Charlottesville, Virginia's plan to take down a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ahead of Charlottesville, Trump Cut Funds for Group Fighting White Supremacy

Top aide Katharine Gorka worked to revoke a federal grant for a nonprofit that reforms racist extremists

Jessica Corbett

A few weeks before Heather Heyer was murdered and many others were injured after a coalition of hate groups gathered violently in Charlottesville, Virginia, the Trump administration—under guidance from trusted aides such as Katharine Gorka—revoked a $400,000 federal grant from a U.S. nonprofit dedicated to rehabilitating former white supremacists and other extremists.

Just before President Donald Trump took office in January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that Life After Hate would receive funding from the $10 million appropriated by Congress for the department's Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program (CVE).

"In this age of self-radicalization and terrorist-inspired acts of violence, domestic-based efforts to counter violent extremism have become a homeland security imperative."
—Former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson

"In this age of self-radicalization and terrorist-inspired acts of violence, domestic-based efforts to counter violent extremism have become a homeland security imperative," Barack Obama's DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson said when the first round of grants was announced.

However, when Trump took office a week later, his new DHS Secretary ordered a full review of CVE, and when the revised list of grantees was released in late June, it made no mention of Life After Hate or any other groups focused specifically on countering white supremacy extremism. 

Even before Trump took office, Katharine Gorka—a controversial national security analyst and anti-Muslim activist who has been credited, along with her husband and research collaborator Sebastian Gorka, with "driving Trump's national security policy"—had been trying to kill Life After Hate's grant, as the Huffington Post reported:

Trump aides, including Katharine Gorka, were already working toward eliminating Life After Hate's grant and to direct all funding toward fighting what the president has described as "radical Islamic terrorism."

In December, Gorka, then a member of Trump's transition team, met with George Selim, the DHS official who headed the Countering Violent Extremism program until he resigned last month, and his then-deputy, David Gersten.

Gorka told Selim and Gersten she didn't agree with the Obama administration's approach to countering violent extremism―particularly the way the administration had described the threat of extremism…

Both Gorkas vocally advocate for U.S. policymakers to use the term "radical Islamic terrorism," and as Politico reported earlier this year, strongly criticized the Obama and DHS under his administration:

Katharine Gorka wrote in 2013 that the Obama administration "seems to be allowing Islamists to dictate national security policy." And she criticized President Barack Obama's DHS for allegedly changing its training protocols to include an "emphasis on Islam as a religion of peace."

The married couple has written for Breitbart News—the far-right website formerly run by White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon—and they both served on Trump's transition team. Sebastian, now deputy assistant to Trump, earned a Ph.D. from the little-known Corvinus University of Budapest, and as Bob Dreyfuss reported in Rolling Stone: "During the decade and a half Gorka spent in Hungary, he was enmeshed in a web of ultraright, anti-Semitic, and even Nazi-like parties, politicians and media outlets."

Katharine Gorka, as The Intercept revealed in May, now works as an "adviser" to DHS.

That same month, "federal law enforcement agencies expressed concern...about the domestic threat white supremacist groups posed and would continue to pose," according a government intelligence report obtained by Foreign Policy, as Common Dreams reported Monday.

The gathering of white supremacists in Chalottesville this weekend "was both disheartening to me but also, unfortunately, not a surprise because my organization and myself have been warning about this specific situation for many, many years."
—Christian Picciolini, Life After Hate

This report, White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence (pdf), noted that white supremacist groups were "responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks from 2000 to 2016, more than any other domestic extremist movement," and was prepared by the FBI and DHS less than a week before prominent white supremacist Richard Spencer led protests over Charlottesville's plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

May's protests over the statue's removal were followed by the massive "Unite the Right" white supremacy gatherings in Charlottesville this weekend, which left one counter-protester dead and dozens injured.

Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi and co-founder of Life After Hate—the group that lost its DHS funding—spoke with NPR about Charlottesville on Sunday. "It was both disheartening to me but also, unfortunately, not a surprise because my organization and myself have been warning about this specific situation for many, many years," he said.

Picciolini also echoed the concerns expressed in the May FBI/DHS report:

What people need to understand is that since Sept. 11, more Americans have been killed on U.S. soil by white supremacists than by any other foreign or domestic group combined by a factor of two. Yet we don't really talk about that, nor do we even call these instances, of the shooting at Charleston, South Carolina, or what happened at Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at the Sikh temple or even what happened in Charlottesville this weekend—as terrorism.

DHS did not directly respond to the Huffington Post's inquiries about whether it views white supremacy as an extremist threat, or why it cut funding for the group that aims to de-radicalize neo-Nazis. However, a department spokesperson told the news outlet that 16 of the 26 groups that received DHS funding "have applicability to all forms of violent extremism and as such will address the threat of domestic terrorism."

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