The U.S. government has spent millions in taxpayer dollars on programs to combat violent extremism, despite the absence of evidence these programs have prevented the growth of terrorists in the United States, according to Congress, which criticized the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for enacting policy preventing its authorities from referencing "Islam" and "Islamic terrorism."
The FBI and DHS are still providing upwards of $10 million dollars to fund a slew of community organizations committed to countering the rise of homegrown terrorism. Nevertheless there is little evidence these programs have had an impact, and in some cases, the money has been awarded to "partisan" organizations that have ties to the anti-Israel movement and radical groups such as Black Lives Matter, according to Congress.
The matter sparked a heated debate Thursday between congressional officials on the House National Security Subcommittee and senior law enforcement officials in the Trump administration.
Lawmakers accused DHS and the FBI of relying on Obama-era policies that downplay Islamic terrorism, despite clear guidance from the Trump administration that it does not support this approach.
Law enforcement anti-extremism training manuals—which were codified under an Obama-era program known as Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE—continue to ban the use of such terms as "Islamic extremism."
While government reports have concluded that these programs are a failure, federal agencies continue to rely on them, sparking concern in Congress amid an uptick in domestic terrorism cases.
The FBI continues to have active terrorism investigations in all 50 states and at least 128 individuals have been charged in the last three years of attempting to aid ISIS.
Rep. Ron DeSantis (R., Fla.), chair of the subcommittee on national security, verbally sparred with officials from DHS and FBI, who continue to maintain that these CVE programs have been a success.
"Radical Islamic extremism is the primary driver of this problem and deserves the federal government's immediate attention," DeSantis said during the hearing.
"Currently, [DHS] still follows the Obama-era policies related to CVE," DeSantis added. "The guidance developed during the Obama administration specifically limits any intelligence or law enforcement investigative activity through CVE."
"The government manuals, they will not mention radical Islam, they don't use anything associated with the word Islam," he said.
"By leaving this information on the table, CVE efforts are potentially missing opportunities to identify and disrupt terrorist plots," DeSantis said. "Obama era guidance also fails to properly identify the threat of radical Islamic ideology."
The Obama-era guidance on the matter, which is still being used, "does not even mention radical Islamic terrorism at all," DeSantis said.
Grants totaling some $10 million for community organizations that are part of the CVE effort are still being awarded to groups with "questionable agendas," DeSantis said, noting instances in which grants were given to partisan organizations and those with stated anti-Israel agendas.
DHS has declined to share information on these grant recipients with Congress and also has refused multiple requests from these lawmakers for a briefing on the situation, DeSantis disclosed.
Experts who testified alongside officials from DHS and the FBI also described the CVE programs as a failure.
"The time has come to definitely have a more direct approach," said Raheel Raza, president of Muslims Facing Tomorrow, which seeks to counter extremist ideologies. "Fluff stuff and interfaith dialogue hasn't really led to much deradicalization. There needs to be specific policies put in place that tackle the ideology."
Raza also called on Congress to formally designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization due to its efforts to foment radical ideologies.
Raza pointed to polls showing that 27 percent of Muslims support the execution of non-believers, while around 26 percent of young American Muslims believe that suicide bombing against non-Muslims can be justified.