chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

Methods used to counter domestic terrorism also pose risks

Media and policy debates around domestic terrorism that highlight events like the 2017 Charlottesville, Virginia, attacks or the Jan.6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, all point to the rise in domestic terrorism and the need to do more about it.  However, while the Department of Homeland Security Violence Prevention Strategy aims to deter violence in the U.S., the strategy actually harms Muslims, young people in communities of color, and those with mental health challenges.

The Jan.6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol point to a rise in domestic terrorism and the need to do more about it.

The Jan.6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol point to a rise in domestic terrorism and the need to do more about it.

That was the assessment of experts at the American Bar Association, Section of Civil Rights and Social Justice webinar, “Stopping Domestic Terrorism: A Critical Examination of the Department of Homeland Security’s Violence Prevention Strategy,” who said that DHS’s new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships are built upon the history of programs of the Obama administration, which painted American Muslims as potential terrorists.

The experts examined DHS’s violence prevention strategies, which analyze the potential for a person to become the subject of a criminal investigation. Webinar moderator Harsha Panduranga, counsel for liberty and national security at the Brennan Center for Justice, said the signs that are used as risk factors for homeland security often overlap with adverse socio-economic conditions.

Experts agreed that it is impossible to predict when someone is going to turn violent, therefore, threat assessment strategies should be more closely evaluated. 

Fatema Ahmad, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, said overt surveillance and policing efforts encourage racial and religious profiling. She said many social service outlets that provide mental health care or housing assistance are being asked to provide private information about individuals as a way to possibly prevent violence or domestic terrorism.

The “false association” of mental illness with violence undermines the work being done in the mental health community, said Jennifer Matthis, deputy legal director and director of policy and legal advocacy at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law.  Matthis said a mental health diagnosis is not a useful predictor of violence but threatens job and housing opportunities for people who have mental health challenges.

“Stigmatization is real,” said Amelia Vance, director of Youth and Education Privacy at the Future of Privacy Forum. Vance said more needs to be done to adequately use data collected about students.

“Data and technology can enable invaluable advances in student’s success and learning, but also pose serious privacy risks. So, it is necessary to put guardrails around those uses of data and adoption of technology to make sure that student privacy and the related equity concerns are protected,” said Vance.

Related links: