The Complexity of Violent Extremism
Violent extremists are defined as “individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals.” Violent Extremist threats within the United States can come from a range of violent extremist groups and individuals, including Domestic Terrorists and Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs). DHS defines Domestic Terrorism as: Any act of violence that is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources committed by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or its territories without direction or inspiration from a foreign terrorist group. The act is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state or other subdivision of the United States and appears to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. A domestic terrorist differs from a homegrown violent extremist in that the former is not inspired by, and does not take direction from, a foreign terrorist group or other foreign power. DHS defines a HVE as: A person of any citizenship who has lived or operated primarily in the United States or its territories who advocates, is engaged in, or is preparing to engage in ideologically-motivated terrorist activities (including providing material support to terrorism) in furtherance of political or social objectives promoted by a terrorist organization, but who is acting independently of direction by a terrorist organization.
The threat posed by violent extremism is neither constrained by international borders nor limited to any single ideology. Groups and individuals inspired by a range of personal, religious, political, or other ideological beliefs promote and use violence. Increasingly sophisticated use of the Internet, social media, and information technology by violent extremists adds an additional layer of complexity. Accordingly, DHS has designed a countering violent extremism (CVE) approach that addresses all forms of violent extremism, regardless of ideology, and that focuses not on radical thought or speech but instead on preventing violent attacks. This approach provides numerous physical and virtual environments to promote information sharing and collaboration between Federal, State, Local, Territorial, Tribal, Private, Civilian, and International entities working to counter the threat of violent extremism.
DHS Priorities for Understanding and Countering Violent Extremism
Our approach to CVE emphasizes the strength of local communities. We begin with the premise that well-informed and well–equipped families, communities, and local institutions represent the best defense against violent extremist ideologies. And while our primary purpose is to prevent attacks by individuals or groups recruited by violent extremist organizations, or inspired by violent extremist ideologies, we also support strong and resilient communities as important ends themselves.
The Department’s efforts are focused on three broad objectives:
Understand Violent Extremism - Support and coordinate efforts to better understand the phenomenon of violent extremism, including assessing the threat it poses to the nation as a whole and within specific communities;
Support Local Communities - Bolster efforts to catalyze and support community-based programs, and strengthen relationships with communities that may be targeted for recruitment by violent extremists; and
Support Local Law Enforcement – Deter and disrupt recruitment or individual mobilization through support for local law enforcement programs, including information-driven, community-oriented policing efforts, which for decades have proven effective in preventing violent crime.
To address these objectives, we work closely with our Federal and International partners, as well as our many partners at the Community, State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal levels across the country. We are an important partner in supporting the White House’s National Strategy on Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States and the Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, which President Obama released in 2011; as well as the strategy for Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.
Supporting Local Communities
Efforts to prevent crime, and in particular violent crime, are most effective when law enforcement establishes strong and trusting partnerships with community members themselves. One important result of this is that community members will be more inclined to share suspicious information with law enforcement. As part of our effort to support local communities in countering violent extremism, DHS has launched a number of core initiatives:
DHS Outreach on CVE: In coordination with our Federal partners, DHS hosts conferences, workshops, and online forums for Federal, State, Local, Territorial, Tribal, Private Sector, Civilian community, and International partners in order to share information about CVE.
Training Initiatives: DHS, in collaboration with DOJ and State and Local law enforcement partners, has trained thousands of front line officers, first responders, and community leaders, and continues to provide CVE training to interested communities. These efforts work to improve communication, build trust, and encourage collaboration between officers and the communities they serve and protect. Training topics include effective policing without the use of ethnic or racial profiling, and best practices in community outreach.
Grants: DHS prioritizes CVE activities through grants that directly support State and Local partners and community outreach efforts to understand, recognize, report, and respond to potential indicators of terrorist activity.
Analysis and Research: DHS produces substantial analysis and research on trends in homegrown violent extremism, domestic terrorism, and terrorist propaganda to support Federal, State, Local, Territorial, and Tribal officials in identifying and mitigating violent extremist threats to the Homeland.
- Building Communities of Trust Fact Sheet
- DHS Countering Violent Extremism Training Guidance & Best Practices Pamphlet
- DHS Community Engagement Poster
- FBI’s Crisis Communications Quick Reference Guide
- Joint DHS/FBI Suspicious Behavior Awareness Poster
DHS CVE Structure and Office Functions
The Department’s CVE efforts have continued to adapt as the threat has evolved. Efforts have been undertaken to catalogue, coordinate, and institutionalize CVE efforts and resources across DHS. In furtherance of this, a CVE Working Group (reflecting the missions of components and equities across DHS) led by a CVE Coordinator has been formalized to oversee and coordinate all CVE activities. The Department’s CVE efforts are comprehensive and fall into four function areas:
- Policy Formation and Coordination Activities
- Strategic CVE Activities (those explicitly conducted for the purpose of CVE)
- CVE Support Activities (those that aid the department and its partners in conducting their CVE missions)
- CVE-Relevant Activities (the regular activities of DHS components shaped to improve CVE or lessen the negative impact on CVE. For instance, training of screeners, better redress procedures, and proper messaging of policies that could impact communities where VE occurs.)
The CVEWG is led by the CVE Coordinator and includes participation from the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL); Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A), Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), National Protection and Programs Directorate (NPPD), Office of Policy, Office of Privacy (PRIV), and the Office of Science and Technology (S&T). The CVEWG also has members from DHS Components, such as Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), Office of the General Counsel (OGC), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Office of Operations Coordination and Planning (OPS), Office of Public Affairs (OPA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA), US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US Coast Guard (USCG), and the US Secret Service (USSS).
DHS works with foreign governments, international organizations, and various U.S. Embassies across the world to develop and implement CVE programs.
DHS also has CVE partnerships with the Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, the European Union, and the UK, as well as partnerships with international law enforcement organizations such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), Europol, the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF), and the Hedayah Center.
- DHS has developed and implemented Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs, such as the CVE Exchange Program. This program, in its third year, pairs two cities in the US with two in a European nation with exchange delegations representing civil society and local government exchanging operational community engagement best practices that may support CVE but also promote integration, youth empowerment, resolution of grievances, and protection of rights and liberties.
- DHS signed a U.S.-Australia Joint Statement on Countering Transnational Crime, Terrorism, and Violent Extremism in Canberra in May 2012.
- DHS, Europol, and EU partners have exchanged information on U.S. and EU information sharing and analytic best practices, CVE training standards, and research and case studies. In 2012, DHS and Europol released a joint assessment on the pathway to violence and operational planning of the terrorist responsible for the 2011 Norway attacks.
- DHS has partnered with its Canadian counterparts to share best practices and research related to CVE, produce joint analysis, and promote community-based and community driven efforts.