Democratic presidential hopefuls are rushing to expand their domestic policy portfolios to address white nationalism in the wake of two suspected domestic terrorist attacks perpetrated by racist white gunmen.
As a chorus of 2020 Democrats linked an onslaught of deadly violence from a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, over the weekend to President Trump’s rhetoric on minorities and immigrants, several campaigns have moved to release proposals specifically aimed at addressing the growing white supremacist threat in the country. Others have started reaching out to experts for domestic terrorism policy data and recommendations, The Daily Beast has learned.
Their actions come after a white male gunman allegedly killed 22 people in El Paso, after, authorities say, he posted a racist manifesto targeting Hispanic people. In addition, the FBI said Tuesday it’s investigating an attack in Gilroy, California, as domestic terrorism after that gunman, who was also white, expressed similar racist views. The FBI said Tuesday there is evidence a gunman in Dayton, Ohio, who killed nine people on Sunday was exploring “violent ideologies” but that the attack was not racially motivated.
In addressing the nation on Monday, Trump used the phrases “white supremacy” and “domestic terrorism” in his speech, but did not publicly or privately recognize a possible link between his own inflammatory rhetoric and the tragic events.
In striving to present the starkest possible contrast to the president’s remarks, former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to devote a significant portion of his speech in Iowa on Wednesday to address the threat of white nationalism, according to a summary of his speech shared with reporters. In his upcoming address in Burlington, a town about 100 miles southeast of Cedar Rapids, Biden plans to strongly condemn the efforts Trump has taken to fan the flames of white supremacy. He will also detail his support of a new assault weapons ban. The first ban, implemented as a part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, or the 1994 crime bill as it is known, expired in 2004.
"How far is it from Trump’s saying this 'is an invasion' to the shooter in El Paso declaring 'his attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas?' Not far at all," Biden will say, according to prepared remarks from the campaign. "In both clear language and in code, this president has fanned the flames of white supremacy in this nation."
Biden, the current Democratic frontrunner whose gun control advocacy prompted former President Obama to entrust him to lead a multi-agency working group, joins several contenders who have given fresh attention to the topic since the horrific events in Texas and Ohio unfolded.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) delivered a speech on gun violence and white nationalism at Mother Emanuel AME Church in South Carolina on Wednesday, where a white supremacist killed nine African-American congregants in 2015.
"Racist violence has always been part of the American story -- never more so than in times of transition and rapid social change," Booker said. "Each person, each generation has a decision to make: do you want to contribute to our collective advancement or - through inaction or worse - to our collective retrenchment. To our progress or - through apathy and indifference - to the violence that threatens to tear us asunder? That is the challenge of our generation today. It is the collective cross roads we are at."
In May, Booker, who previously served as Newark’s mayor, unveiled a gun violence prevention plan that included a national gun-licensing program.
Several months ago, one former federal official who has worked on domestic terrorism issues said multiple 2020 Democratic campaigns had reached out for policy recommendations and data on the growing threat, the source said. Meanwhile, the progressive think tank the Center for American Progress has two new reports in the works: one focused on the domestic threat and another building off of a prior piece detailing the global rise of white nationalism.
But it was the two mass shootings that claimed dozens of lives over the weekend that prompted White House aspirants to introduce additional detailed proposals to supplement their campaign rhetoric.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee for example, released a 10-point gun safety plan that includes specific efforts to address the growing threat of white supremacists. Inslee’s history with the firearms issues goes back decades. In 1994, then Rep. Inslee cast a vote to ban assault weapons, a decision that contributed to the loss of his seat that election year (he ran again in a different part of the state in 1998 and won).
In his proposal, released Tuesday, he would direct federal law enforcement resources to confront white nationalism, create systems to identify, track, and prosecute white nationalist extremists, and expand international cooperation to fight right-wing extremism, among other measures.
Inslee’s senior communications adviser Jared Leopold said the campaign had not considered introducing a specific proposal on white nationalism before putting the plan together on Monday, but that the governor frequently talks about the threat on the campaign trail. In drafting the proposal, campaign officials consulted with a mix of national and state-level gun and civil rights groups and identified areas of policy opportunities within the “toxic cross section between white nationalism and gun violence,” Leopold said.
The Washington governor recently faced a mass shooting in the central part of the state in June, where two men opened fire on the Native American Yakama Indian Reservation and were later charged with killing five people.
“The white nationalist in the White House has added fuel to the fire of hate and given acceptance and appreciation to extremist groups,” Inslee said in a statement. “We need a new president who will take on the twin epidemics of rising white nationalism and rising gun violence that have cost too many American lives,” he said.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who also faced a recent shooting in his home city just hours before holding a town hall about gun violence, released his own plan to combat the rising national white supremacist threat on Tuesday.
Buttigieg’s proposal calls for dedicating $1 billion to “ensure that law enforcement across all agencies and all levels have sufficient resources to counter the growing tide of white nationalist violence.” The millennial mayor and veteran is also proposing giving greater authority to the National Counterterrorism Center in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to investigate international links to white nationalist violence and to address the link between gender-based violence and domestic terrorism.
“It’s necessary not only to restore the funds that were cut by Trump, but to combat the rise in white supremacist activity emboldened over the last three years,” a campaign aide familiar with Buttigieg’s thinking told The Daily Beast. “It would start a new center for this kind of work, and coordinating across departments including elements of intelligence agencies, the FBI, and DHS. It would also give grant dollars to local governments fight white nationalist terrorism,” the aide said.
Detailing the thinking behind the plan, the aide said Buttigieg had thought about putting together a plan addressing this issue over the past several months, but that it was the two mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton that prompted the release. “This past weekend brought about a sense of urgency to it,” the aide said. The mayor’s team consulted with a variety of experts and was pointed to what they viewed as an opportunity to make inroads, primarily addressing where funding was being cut from combating domestic terrorism on the ground. “He wanted to make that a priority,” the aide added.
During the latest Democratic debate in Detroit, CNN moderator Don Lemon raised the topic of white nationalism, recalling that FBI Director Christopher Wray said that the majority of domestic terrorism cases this year have been motivated by white supremacy. Lemon, in a broad round of questions addressing racism in the country, asked Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) specifically about her plan to combat the threat.
“We need to call out white supremacy for what it is: domestic terrorism. And it poses a threat to the United States of America,” she said to applause, highlighting several separate policy plans her campaign has put forward.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), who represented El Paso in the House, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), have both temporarily halted their campaigns to return to their states where communities have been grieving in recent days.
O’Rourke answered “yes” when asked on CNN if Trump is a white nationalist. “The things that he has said both as a candidate and then as the President of the United States, this cannot be open for debate,” he said. Ryan also strongly condemned Trump’s rhetoric, calling his incorrect reference to “Toledo” instead of Dayton as a “slap in the face” to grieving residents. Neither campaign responded to requests for comment about specific domestic terrorism or white nationalism plans in the works.
—Additional reporting by Betsy Woodruff
Update 08/07/19 12:07 P.M.: This story has been updated to reflect remarks from Biden and Booker.