Yesterday I received an email request from a journalist, who wrote:
A colleague of yours suggested that I reach out to you. I am working on a story about a new push by the Department of Justice to expand its work from focusing on law enforcement to moving into the greater community as a means of addressing the problem of Americans who turn to terrorism.
The idea is that DOJ will work various community partners to get at the root of Americans motivated to go overseas to train with the intent of engaging in acts of terrorism upon returning to the United States.
The gist is:
Attorney General Eric Holder announced Monday that the Justice Department will launch a new series of pilot programs in cities across the country to bring together community representatives, public safety officials and religious leaders to counter violent extremism. The new programs will be run in partnership with the White House, the Department of Homeland Security, and the National Counterterrorism Center.
“Today, few threats are more urgent than the threat posed by violent extremism,” Attorney General said in a video message posted on the Justice Department’s website. “And with the emergence of groups like ISIL, and the knowledge that some Americans are attempting to travel to countries like Syria and Iraq to take part in ongoing conflicts, the Justice Department is responding appropriately.”
The full release about the program is here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2014/September/14-ag-980.html
I was hoping you might have a few minutes to talk today about what make might someone who grew up in this country contemplate doing harm to it as a terrorist [my emphasis].
Thank you in advance for your time. I am filing my story today and would be grateful for just 10 minutes.
I sighed. I furrowed my brow. I chose not to respond to the loaded question (the bit in bold). “When did you stop beating your wife?,” indeed.
I recalled a meeting, several years ago, when I was paid a consultant fee to serve as a subject matter expert (SME) to a research outfit that had taken over a US Dept of Homeland Security project that a defense contractor had bungled. They wanted advice on how to resuscitate the research project. The topic of the project was “How can we identify non-violent dissidents who will later become violent?” I spent the day trying to explain, along with some colleagues from other universities who were also consulting as SMEs, why the program was ill conceived, but how it could be fruitfully reconceived. They did not listen to us, and partnered with other SMEs who told them what they wanted to hear.
I have no reason to believe that particular research project informs DoJ’s new pilot program, but it might. Like so much of counter–terror policy, this makes for good politics and poor policy (e.g., see here, here, and here for research papers). To blow off a bit of steam, I forwarded the email to a friend, and wrote the following:
Hi, this DoJ initiative is just depressing. I can’t think of a sound bite to offer, much less one that would help counter the spin of Holder. Sigh…
My friend replied:
The doj initiative might as well be called “why to they hate us, 2.0”