In LA, Authorities Thwarted An Attack; In Poway, They Failed To See One Coming
Federal authorities announced Monday they had arrested a U.S. Army veteran who was planning bombings in the Los Angeles area in retribution for attacks on Muslims. His plans were thwarted after an investigation that involved monitoring the man's extremist postings online and connecting him with an undercover FBI informant.
Two days earlier, authorities were less successful at preventing a different kind of extremist violence — one inspired not by "jihad" but white supremacy.
The deadly shooting at Chabad of Poway on Saturday had stories of heroism: An Army veteran chased the gunman out of the synagogue. An off duty Border Patrol officer shot at the gunman as he fled. A San Diego Police Department K-9 officer spotted the suspect's car on the way to the scene and arrested him.
But other facts surrounding the shooting raise questions about federal and local law enforcement's preparedness for tracking and preventing white supremacist and far-right violence at a time when such violence is on the rise.
The suspected gunman apparently participated in online message boards filled with anti-Semitic propaganda. In addition to the shooting, he has been charged with a March 23 arson attack at an Escondido mosque. Yet he was still able to evade detection by law enforcement in the five weeks that followed and appears to have purchased the assault rifle used in the shooting legally.
Sens. Dick Durbin and Tim Kaine last month unveiled legislation that would require the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI to report annually on cases of white supremacist violence, analyze incidents of domestic terrorism and focus limited resources on the most significant domestic terrorism threats.
The bill is supported by the Anti-Defamation League, Muslim Advocates and the Center for the Study of Violence and Extremism at CSU San Bernardino. That group's director, Brian Levin, said the government has mostly focused on combating large, organized terrorist groups. But the trend in extremist violence, he said, is toward individual actors radicalized by fragmented communities online.
"Additionally, assailants are acting out in their home regions," he said. "So a lot of this is in both a geographic but also investigative area that the feds don't have as well covered, oftentimes, as local authorities."
According to the Anti-Defamation League, in the U.S., 71% of extremist-related killings between 2008 and 2017 were perpetrated by right-wing extremists; 26% of those killings were at the hands of Islamic extremism, the group found.
Questions have also been raised about the government's interest in preventing far-right radicalization, as well. Shortly before the end of the Obama administration, the Department of Homeland Security awarded grants to several organizations to help counter violent extremism through media campaigns and outreach. The University of San Diego's Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice received $634,769 through the program to reduce youth isolation and marginalization in the Somali and Iraqi refugee communities.
But two organizations that planned on using the money to counter violent white supremacy had their grant awards revoked by the Trump administration. That action faced added scrutiny after the violence following the neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
Rep. Scott Peters, D-San Diego, whose district includes the Poway synagogue, said the federal government needs a better accounting of the threat from various types of extremist violence.
"We've read in reporting that Homeland Security has de-emphasized domestic terrorists, white supremacists, at the expense of American lives," he said. "We want to make sure we're fighting the right target."