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9/11 Commission chairmen urge new domestic terror focus in wake of mass shootings

  • August 06, 2019

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President Donald Trump said our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy following two mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – The chairmen of the seminal investigation into the 9/11 attacks said Monday that the time has come for a similar examination of domestic terrorism following a series of mass shootings that shook the country and highlighted a growing threat fueled in part by racial animus.  

Tom Kean, the former Republican New Jersey governor, and Lee Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana, said the current political establishment appears at a loss for how to respond to repeated spasms of gun violence that have cut a bloody swath through an increasing number of American communities.

Kean and Hamilton, whose 9/11 inquiry resulted in an overhaul of the U.S. intelligence system and new information sharing systems across the government, said in interviews with USA TODAY that a similar examination of domestic extremism would require a bipartisan commitment that would likely be difficult during a time of such political discord.

“This is such a desperate problem that something like a commission could work, but you would have to have a total commitment,” Kean said. “It just seems like the country doesn’t know what to do.”

The crisis deepened over the weekend when 31 people were killed and dozens wounded in separate attacks in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. In the Texas assault, which left 22 dead, authorities were reviewing the contents of a so-called manifesto linked to the 21-year-old suspect who surrendered to the police, in which he appeared to rage against Hispanic immigrants. 

The authorities have not established a motive for the Ohio shooting, in which a 24-year-old gunman wearing body armor opened fire on a crowded city street. He was killed by the police less than a minute into the attack, which left nine dead.

Noting the weekend’s bloodshed, Hamilton offered an even more ominous assessment, calling the scourge of mass shootings a “long-neglected” feature of U.S. national security that will likely take “decades” to fix.

“We’ve got a serious problem,” Hamilton said. “Terrorism is a product of grievances, and I don’t see these going away. These grievances – whether real and perceived – are built into the future for as far as you can see. And we should prepare for a long-term effort. I’m inclined to think that a national security commission would have merit.”

Yet both 9/11 leaders cautioned that the investigation they led benefited enormously from public and political support summoned in the aftermath of a catastrophic strike by foreign-born terrorists – a show of national and sustained unity that has yet to emerge from even the most deadly domestic attacks.

Since the El Paso attack, some Democrats have lashed out at President Donald Trump, accusing him of stoking the type of anti-immigrant rhetoric that echoed through the alleged gunman’s manifesto. 

Trump, in his first extended remarks since the weekend attacks, condemned on Monday “racism, bigotry and white supremacy.”

More: Donald Trump condemns white nationalism and vows action after mass shootings but offers few specifics

“For something like this (a commission) to work, Congress would have to feel that the public demanded it,” Kean said.

In such an environment, Kean said victims’ families could be an even more “potent force” to restrict access to guns.

For years, and as recently as last month, government officials have been sounding an alarm about the growing threat from within.

FBI Director Christopher Wray told a Senate committee a week before the most recent attacks that the risk posed by domestic extremism was nearly on par with the threat posed by international terrorists.

The FBI director’s prescient warning came on the heels of an unusual appeal by the Secret Service, which requested the public’s assistance last month in an effort to thwart attacks by lone assailants. 

More: FBI’s haunting warning about ‘lone offenders’ paints a grim picture

In 2009, Daryl Johnson, then an analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, warned of the resurgence of right-wing extremism and violence in wake of the election of the country’s first black president, Barack Obama.

Johnson’s findings triggered a backlash by conservatives, and he claims that DHS has done little since to combat extremism from white supremacists.

“We’re more vulnerable today as a nation than we were back then,” he said.

Brian Jackson, a Rand Corp., scientist who co-authored a report that reexamines domestic violent extremism across ideologies, said the challenge in detecting racially animated extremists is often more difficult than identifying attackers inspired by international jihadists.

“We can do outreach to the Muslim community, we can find them,” Jackson said. “Who do we do outreach for with white supremacists? It’s not like there’s a church of white supremacy that you can contact.”

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  • People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends as the school is being used a re-unification center during the aftermath of a shooting at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.1 of 30
  • People arrive at MacArthur Elementary looking for family and friends as the school is being used a re-unification center during the aftermath of a shooting at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Texas.2 of 30
  • Walmart employees comfort one another after an active shooter opened fire at the Walmart at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Tx. on Saturday, August 3, 2019.  3 of 30
  • Police interview witnesses to the shooting near Cielo Vista Mall on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.4 of 30
  • Department of Homeland Security police are shown at the scene of the shooting at Walmart in the Cielo Vista Mall area Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.5 of 30
  • An El Paso police officer lifts the tape barrier at the shooting scene at the Walmart in the Cielo Vista area on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in El Paso, Tx.6 of 30
  • Police interview witnesses to the shooting near Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso, Tx. on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019.7 of 30
  • Kendall Long, left, comforts Kianna Long who was in the freezer section of a Walmart during a shooting incident, in El Paso, Tx. on Aug. 3, 2019. Reports state that at least 10 people have been killed and 30 are injured. Police say that one male suspect is in custody.8 of 30
  • Several law enforcement agencies respond to an active shooter Saturday at the Walmart at Cielo Vista Mall in El Paso.  9 of 30
  • Anabel Hebben comforts her daughter, Leilani, 11, after leaving flowers at the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug.4, 2019. 10 of 30
  • Texas State Troopers block a road leading to the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 11 of 30
  • Daniella Novoa holds her son Richard, 10-months, after placing flowers and a poster outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 12 of 30
  • Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke shakes hands with shooting survivor Carlos Santos near the Walmart shooting scene in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019. Santos was in the checkout line with his father when gunfire erupted. 13 of 30
  • Shooting survivor Virginia Chacon talks with Texas Highway Patrol trooper Gilbert Flores outside the Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, 2019. Chacon was inside the store when gunfire broke out and escape by running.14 of 30
  • Friends, family members, and strangers on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart. Red Cross official Colin Williams said approximately 25 people stayed overnight. 15 of 30
  • Friends, family members, and strangers on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.16 of 30
  • People hug outside of MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas. A family reunification site has been designated at the site for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.17 of 30
  • Phlebotomist Yaranely Armendariz draws blood from Sarah Bolanos on Aug., 4, 2019, at the United Blood Services in east El Paso, Texas. The response for blood has been so high theyve had to turn away donors and make appointments for a later date. 18 of 30
  • Felipe Avila mourns outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 19 of 30
  • Gael Banderas, 7, arranges rocks on signs at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 20 of 30
  • Gilbert Medina comforts his daughter Gabby and son Sebastian at a makeshift memorial outside Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 21 of 30
  • Two women hug on Aug. 4, 2019, in El Paso, Texas at MacArthur School Elementary-Intermediate School. A family reunification site was set up at MacArthur School for friends and families missing loved ones after the shooting at the Cielo Vista Walmart.22 of 30
  • August 4, 2019; El Paso, TX, USA; Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-El Paso) speaks to the media before a march at Houston Park in El Paso August 4, 2019. Twenty people were killed and more than two dozen were injured in a mass shooting at Walmart on Saturday. Mandatory Credit: Michael Chow/The Republic via USA TODAY NETWORK ORIG FILE ID:  20190804_ajw_usa_080.jpg23 of 30
  • Lyda Ness hugs Freddy Klayel-Avalos before starting a march at Houston Park in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 24 of 30
  • A man holds a sign directed at President Trump before a march at Houston Park in El Paso on Aug. 4, 2019. 25 of 30
  • Monica Charter organizes a table of freshly printed El Paso Strong t-shirts at Proper Printshop in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 5, 2019. All proceeds from the sale of the shirts will be donated to the El Paso Community Foundations El Paso Shooting Victims Fund. 26 of 30
  • A group of Walmart employees lay flowers and candles at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019.27 of 30
  • A memorial for the 22 shooting victims at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 28 of 30
  • People visit a memorial for the 22 shooting victims at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 29 of 30
  • An FBI agent works at the crime scene at the Cielo Vista Walmart in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 5, 2019. 30 of 30

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