President Biden declared his intention to fight the rise in domestic terrorism, extremism and white supremacy in his inaugural address after the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6. But as Congress weighs how to work on this longstanding American problem, a coalition of civil rights organizations sent a letter to the nation’s lawmakers saying they should not create a new domestic terrorism law. KUNM’s Khalil Ekulona spoke with Becky Monroe of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights about the group’s concerns.
BECKY MONROE: The Leadership Conference is a coalition of over 200 civil rights organizations. That includes organizations that fight for racial justice, that represent communities that have been targeted for hate across the board. So it's really a very diverse group that have come together because they see this as a civil rights priority.
Based on who signed this letter, we are organizations who are proud to work alongside communities that have been fighting white nationalism and white supremacy for generations. So we are very happy to see this renewed focus and a recognition of the real danger that white nationalists pose.
And I think one thing we think is really important to note is that there are over 50 domestic terrorism statutes that could be used, there hate crime statutes, there are many statutes that could be used to hold white nationalists accountable. The failure to do so is not as a result of not having the right tool or the right statute. It's not having the will, the will to prioritize where the real threat comes from.
And we know this not only from the civil rights community, but the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, even under the Trump administration acknowledged that the greatest threat to national security comes from white nationalists from white supremacists. The FBI Director testified as such. So I think the problem with creating a new domestic terrorism charge is that we know from recent history and in history from a few years ago that this approach, while maybe it's well intentioned, ultimately in the system that we have now will be used in a way that will harm Black and Brown communities.
KUNM: I think you mentioned the word and the phrase is that the government officials and lawmakers have lacked the will to take this very serious problem on. What words do you have for public officials about the work they should be doing from preventing this stuff from gaining momentum?
MONROE: The first thing I would say and that I always say is: listen to the people who are targeted the most. Listen to the people who have been fighting racism and discrimination, often for generations. They should be the people who are guiding your actions. I think one of the things in this country that we need to talk about if we're really going to get to the root of white supremacy is talking about both truth and reconciliation, as well as reparations, recognizing that those things are tied together.
And there's a lot of raw pain right now. Because I think talking to people, I think when you saw what happened on Jan. 6, it was horrifying. But it was also deeply disturbing to communities who’ve literally had to fight this since the beginning of our country to see this sort of shock that people had that this was real, that this is who we are.
It is absolutely a part of who we are. It is also absolutely true that the people who are fighting back the most, that are fighting for this democracy the most, are from the very communities that had all the reason to give up on this country and have not.
KUNM: And finally, though the coup attempt was just a couple of weeks ago, it feels long ago. How can people keep the reality of what that was? How can we keep that?
MONROE: Well, honestly, I think conversations like the one we're having, I hope to do that. I think making sure that we all maintain that focus. And to insist that we do not lose sight of the role that white supremacy played, not only in that insurrection, but that has played and continues to play in violence across the country. I do think that we've seen a local movement for truth and reconciliation commissions. So cities that have been adopting that. I think that's an excellent way to approach this. I think there are many things that we can do at the local level and at the national level.
But we have to insist that as we talk about unity, we talk about it in a way that requires truth. I think that this next administration can help support that, but it's going to require all of us to sort of keep them accountable to that.
A longer version of this interview can be heard on No More Normal: Consequences