February 25, 2021 | House Committee on Financial Services

Dollars Against Democracy: Domestic Terrorist Financing in the Aftermath of Insurrection

Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy
February 25, 2021 | House Committee on Financial Services

Dollars Against Democracy: Domestic Terrorist Financing in the Aftermath of Insurrection

Subcommittee on National Security, International Development, and Monetary Policy

Video

February 25, 2021

Opening statement

As prepared for delivery

Chairman Himes, Ranking Member Hill, and distinguished Members of the subcommittee: On behalf of Valens Global, it is an honor to appear before you to discuss domestic violent extremism and the threat it poses to our country. My testimony examines the current domestic violent extremism landscape and explores what can be done to mitigate this threat, particularly from a financial perspective.

The Department of Homeland Security’s October 2020 Homeland Threat Assessment states that, among domestic violent extremists, “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.”[1] The threat has been made clear through repeated lethal acts perpetrated by WSEs. The most prominent and deadly of these recent attacks was an August 2019 mass shooting at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, that killed 22, making it the third deadliest domestic extremist attack in 50 years.[2] Beyond lone acts of terrorism, organized networks such as Atomwaffen Division and The Base are dedicated to overthrowing the U.S. government and bringing about race war.

The attack on Capitol Hill on January 6, 2021, cast a spotlight on the WSE movement, as some people associated with WSE groups were involved, and some white power symbols were displayed. Prominent among these symbols was a now-infamous “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt.[3] Though the events of January 6 should not be over-interpreted as driven by WSEs—multiple protesters, grievances, and belief systems were involved—the insurrection spoke to how WSEs can exploit our fractured political environment.

More generally, in 2020-21, there has been discernible movement throughout the United States toward armed politics and violent activism, in which multiple factions and movements resorted to violence or the threat of violence to pursue their objectives. The country witnessed scenes it had previously not seen for decades, such as armed citizens patrolling the streets in Georgia, Kentucky, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other places.[4] The involvement of WSEs in the Capitol Hill attack and other events during this tumultuous national period points to their ability to exploit societal fractures and the general rise in extremism.

This move toward armed politics raises the risk of an uptick in extremism-related violence across the political spectrum. At worst, the divisions we now face could plunge the United States into conflict and civil war or fragmentation. Even if this country does not descend into civil war—which is surely a maximalist outcome—there remain many potential negative outcomes for a nation in the throes of extremism and armed politics that would result in greater loss of life. It is therefore helpful to view the current domestic violent extremism landscape in part through the lens of counterinsurgency. As we confront the possibility of growing violence and division, it is important to thin the pool of potential recruits who can be drawn upon by nefarious actors. This lens influences my policy prescriptions, which are designed to empower authorities to disrupt bad actors while at the same time being protective of civil liberties and avoiding stigmatization that can increase violent extremists’ pool of potential recruits.

The first portion of my testimony is designed to provide an overview of the current WSE threat landscape. It addresses key WSE ideologies, major domestic and foreign WSE groups, the nature of the WSE threat in the United States, and transnational WSE activity. I then transition to exploring a different part of the domestic extremist spectrum, looking at militant anarchist and anti-fascist groups. Militant anarchists and anti-fascists see themselves as responding to an oppressive state and the rise of fascist organizing. They see themselves as willing to meet violence with violence. I include these groups in the report not because they pose an equivalent threat to militant WSEs—individuals and groups affiliated with the WSE movement pose an unambiguously greater danger today—but because they illustrate the nationwide move toward armed politics, which occasions mutual fears and recriminations. While militant anti-fascists and anarchists view themselves as the protectors of marginalized communities, other militant actors see anarchist and anti-fascist groups as the aggressors to whom they are responding. Further, when fashioning policy solutions to violent extremist threats, it is important to ensure that these solutions are neutral with respect to ideology. Discussion of the militant anarchist and anti-fascist movement will help us to contextualize how the policy recommendations in this testimony might apply across a range of movements. I conclude with a set of policy recommendations.

I should caution at the outset that the universe of domestic violent extremist actors is large, regionally varied, and constantly in flux. That being said, this testimony should provide a solid foundation for understanding the threat as it exists today, how it is likely to evolve, and how to combat it.

[1] U.S. Department of Homeland Security, “Homeland Threat Assessment October 2020,” October 2020, pages 17-18. This testimony employs the term white supremacist extremism because this terminology is consistent with that currently employed by the U.S. government. Scholars and analysts employ various other terms to define the movement. Of particular note is Kathleen Belew’s advocacy of the term white power. See Kathleen Belew, Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018), page ix.

[2] Mark Pitcavage, “Murder and Extremism in the United States in 2019,” Anti-Defamation League, 2020, page 15. (https://www.adl.org/media/14107/download) The two attacks that Pitcavage identifies as deadlier are the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and Omar Mateen’s 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

[3] A.C. Thompson and Ford Fischer, “Members of Several Well-Known Hate Groups Identified at Capitol Riot,” PBS, January 9, 2021; Mallory Simon & Sara Sidner, “Decoding the Extremist Symbols and Groups at the Capitol Hill Insurrection,” CNN, January 11, 2021.

[4] Benjamin Fearnow, “Armed Black Militia Challenges White Nationalists at Georgia’s Stone Mountain Park,” Newsweek, July 5, 2020; Ryan Van Velzer, Jess Clark & Kate Howard, “Three Injured by Gunfire During Black Militia Demonstration,” WFPL News, July 25, 2020; Jared Goyette, “Citizen Patrols Organize Across Minneapolis as Confidence in the Police Force Plummets,” Washington Post, June 7, 2020; Stephen Montemayor, “Inside Minnesota’s Boogaloo Movement: Armed and Eager for Societal Collapse,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis), July 18, 2020.

Read the full written testimony here.

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Full written testimony

Issues:

Military and Political Power Sanctions and Illicit Finance U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy