When asked what the Trump administration planned to do about “homegrown” terrorist threats, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded that their plan starts at America’s borders.
On Sunday, a gunman entered a mosque in Quebec during prayer and opened fire, killing six and wounding 19. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau immediately characterized the attack as “a terrorist attack on Muslims.”
Alexandre Bissonnette, a 27-year-old French Canadian man, was charged with the crime on Monday.
In light of that attack, a reporter asked at Thursday’s White House press briefing, “what initiatives is the president taking to make sure that kind of homegrown terrorism or violence doesn’t happen in our country?”
Despite the fact that the question was about domestic terrorist threats, Spicer responded by once more pivoting to Trump’s completely unrelated hard-line stance on immigration.
“The first thing is to look at our borders,” Spicer said. “You have got to protect your own people first, then look at the cyber threats. There is a holistic approach between immigration and nexus between immigration and national security and personal security that he has to look at — but then, it’s a multi-tiered step. You look at the borders, who we are letting in.”
The attack in Quebec, however, was committed by a Canadian citizen — as the reporter pointed out in his question. According to a local immigration group and a former classmate, Bissonnette held far-right, anti-feminist, and nationalist political views, and is a fan of both nationalist french politician Marine Le Pen and President Trump himself.
After addressing our borders and immigration — which would have no bearing on the prevention of terrorism committed by American citizens — Spicer said the next step would be to “look at what we are doing internally with our intelligence agencies, with the FBI, to make sure we are looking at whether it’s the cyber threats that we face or other terrorist activities, but making sure we are working with the NSA and the FBI to be ahead of the curve, if you will.”
The reporter tried again, this time asking Spicer about domestic threats by referencing the Oklahoma City attack — which left 168 dead, and was carried out by American citizens.
“Sure, that’s what I’m saying,” said Spicer. “Part of it is looking at — using the assets that we have here, the NSA, the FBI, looking at and using the different agencies to see if we can get ahead of the curve and see things.”
Yet yesterday, Reuters reported that Trump planned to overhaul a U.S. program designed to counter any number of violent ideologies at the root of home-grown terrorist threats, and direct it to focus solely on Islamic extremism.
Trump’s plan would rename the “Countering Violent Extremism” program the “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism” program, sources told Reuters.
That would mean turning the intelligence community’s attention away from far-right and white supremacist threats — such as Dylann Roof’s killing of nine African Americans in Charleston’s Emanual African Methodist Episcopal Church, or Robert Lewis Dear’s attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood, which left three dead and nine injured. Dear reportedly used the phrase “no more baby parts” to explain his motives to the police. Applied over the border in Canada, it would mean shifting the focus away from men like Alexandre Bissonnette.
Since 9/11, attacks from right-wing organizations have killed far more Americans than groups claiming to be Islamic, according to data from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
For the Trump administration, deflection on issues of domestic terrorism in favor of focusing on border security and immigration has emerged as a trend.
Just on Monday, Spicer cited the attack in Quebec — which targeted Muslims — as justification for Trump’s recent Executive Order on Immigration, which closed America’s borders to citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries.