Klobuchar:  “White supremacist violence is a nationwide problem”


WASHINGTON - At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled, “Examining the ‘Metastasizing’ Domestic Terrorism Threat,” U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need to combat domestic terrorism and hate-based violence, following the racially-motivated mass shooting in Buffalo last month.

“The FBI reported that of the racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists it was investigating in 2020…87 percent were white supremacists. So, I just think it's very important that the record reflect that…White supremacist violence is a nationwide problem,” said Klobuchar, highlighting the need for federal, state, and local law enforcement to coordinate on addressing this threat.

Klobuchar further underscored how the threat of domestic terrorism has been exacerbated by social media algorithms that amplify hateful content and potentially radicalize users, calling for action to address algorithmic transparency: “Amplifications actually means…that hate speech and violence speech…is spreading which has led, of course, in part to many, many deaths…These killers… have posted warnings, many of them online, and then they've actually posted videos of them committing the crimes because that's their reality. That virtual reality is their reality and for us to just turn our backs to that and not think that it has something to do with this. I just think is wrong.”

Klobuchar has led efforts to combat domestic terrorism and prevent hate-based violence. In her capacity of Chairwoman of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee with oversight over Capitol security, Klobuchar released a bipartisan report last August with Senators Roy Blunt (R-MO), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Rob Portman (R-OH) on the security, planning, and response failures related to the violent and unprecedented attack on January 6th. The report specifically recommended that intelligence and law enforcement agencies strengthen responses to address and prevent domestic terrorism threats. 

Last March, Klobuchar convened a virtual roundtable with Asian-American community leaders to emphasize the need to combat the recent surge in hate crimes against members of the Asian-American community. 

Klobuchar has also worked to strengthen platform transparency. In December, Klobuchar released the Platform Accountability and Transparency Act, bipartisan legislation with Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Rob Portman (R-OH) which would require social media companies to provide vetted, independent researchers and the public with access to certain platform algorithmic data.

A transcript of Klobuchar’s questions is available below. Video is available for TV download HERE, and for online viewing HERE

Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you very much. And so, I just want to start out by noting that the intelligence community has identified racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists as a category of people most likely to conduct mass casualty attacks. I think we have an agreement on that. But one thing that wasn't noticed and this is just one year of statistics, but was not noted by Senator Cruz. And that is that the FBI reported that of the racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists it was investigating in 2020, so let me be very clear about the category, 87 percent were white supremacists. So, I just think it's very important that the record reflect that. It's certainly not all of them, but it, at least for the recent year that we have data on, it was the majority of them. So, getting to that, Commissioner Whitfield, I am so sorry for your loss. I understand that your mom was a loving and devoted mom and wife and that she was at the market buying groceries for your dad who is in a nursing home. And I can't imagine what you, your father, the rest of your families are going through and I just want to respect your courage for coming forward and speaking today and want you to know that there's a lot of us that are on your side here and want to take action. While there's nothing we can do to bring back your mom or the other victims at the grocery store, how can our response to this tragedy help you, your family, and your community heal? 

Commissioner Whitfield: Thank you, Senator. First of all, by calling it what it is and not, you know, sweeping it under the rug and beating around the bush. It is white supremacy. It's a problem. And this young man, you know, though he pulled the trigger, others loaded the gun. Others, others fed him and others radicalized him. All of the things that we've been talking about here today contributed to his racist, you know, evil behavior. And until we start holding those entities accountable and calling them out, we're not going to be able to do anything about this. There’s a lot of talk about whether you deal with the ideology or you deal with the acts. The truth of the matter is if you just deal with the acts, you're never going to stop it. You're going to be after the fact all the time. How do you stop it? You have to deal with the ideology. You have to start at the root if you're going to figure this thing out. So, you’re asking what you can do? I don't have the answers, but we have to call it what it is. We have to start by identifying what the issues are and address them and have real conversations about that. We have to face these things as a country.

Sen. Klobuchar: I think that’s a really good point - thank you for that. Mr. German, white supremacist violence, as just pointed out, thank you very much for that Mr. Whitfield. White supremacist violence is a nationwide problem. In Minnesota white supremacists bombed the Islamic center in Bloomington, Minnesota. Law enforcement, Justice Department - including the FBI - worked for years to solve the case, working through the years and not giving up. And they found those responsible and brought them to justice and it turned out that the perpetrators were part of a larger domestic terrorist militia which specifically targeted the Muslim community, because they want to drive Muslims out of the U.S. Can you talk about why it is important for law enforcement officials to identify crimes as domestic terrorism, getting to the point that he just made, when they occur because of the signal that sends but also the importance of categorizing and keeping track of the crimes in that way? 

Michael German: Thank you for the question. Yes, I think it's critically important to understand the criminal acts and focus for law enforcement on the acts. It's for the rest of us and certainly people in positions of authority to denounce hateful ideas and conspiracy theories for the lack of accuracy there. But for law enforcement, they need to focus on the actual criminal activity - to make sure that they are not infringing on First Amendment rights of people who are just expressing their ideas. But there is plenty of that activity out there that law enforcement today puts into different buckets that deprioritize or don't even have the FBI and Justice Department looking at. And that's the critical part: we need to call like things like and make sure that this information isn't being lost because it provides intelligence that can be used to help prevent the next thing. 

Sen. Klobuchar: Thank you. Welcome back to the committee Mr. Herdman. The FBI lead Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) which operate along with U.S. Attorneys’  office across the country are on the front lines on this effort to address domestic terror. During the Rules Committee hearings that I chaired that investigated the January 6 attack on the Capitol, we found that a key issue in the run up to the attack, as you know, was a failure to share information between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. We know that wasn't the cause. But in fact, we learned that we had to do a much better job in how we responded. Based on your experience as a former U.S. Attorney, what are the ways that federal law enforcement can best work alongside state and local partners when it comes to domestic terrorism? 

Justin E. Herdman: Thank you, Senator. Well, presence on the JTTF is absolutely essential. You have to have local and state law enforcement present in your JTTF if you're running an FBI field office. Sharing of information either through a state fusion center or through other bulletins that can go out to local law enforcement, again, very critical to make sure that information gets out. And I think also you know, a much unheralded part of this is regular communication with political leadership, particularly municipal leaders. I think that's a very critical element of the JTTF’s work in coordinating with local authorities, is to ensure that mayors, council people, everyone else who's responsible for public safety functions in a given city or area are aware of what the potential threats are.

Sen Klobuchar: Another question of you, Mr. Herdman. In testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, in April of 2021, FBI Director Wray noted that “social media has become in many ways the key amplifier to domestic violence, extremism” because disinformation can spread quickly among like-minded people, because of the algorithms, because they've set it up, because the way they've done all this in which they have profited greatly at the expense of so many people. Do you believe that social media has made it more difficult to counter disinformation that can radicalize people and inspire them to violence? 

Justin E. Herdman: Yes, I think that's undoubtedly true. That there are, I mean, social media has probably not made a lot of things better in America, but it certainly has not played a positive role when it comes to spreading disinformation and potentially radicalizing people who would do harm to others. 

Sen. Klobuchar: And I think it's one of the reasons that many of us on this committee on a bipartisan basis and throughout the Senate are focused on this. Whether it is allowing researchers to look at the algorithms, a bill that Senator Coons is leading. And many, many others are looking at that amplification issue, because the amplification actually means profits for them. And it means that hate speech and violent speech and that kind of thing is spreading which has led, of course, in part to many, many deaths. So anyone else want to answer that question? Yes, you professor. 

Prof. Robert A. Pape: Well, I think it's important to know, Senator, that in our research, our nationally representative surveys that find between 18 and 21 million have insurrectionist sentiments to this day in our country, that it's not mainly a social media problem. I understand social media is very potent and I'm one of the terrorism researchers who's pushed that with ISIS 4,5,7 years ago. So I'm a very big believer that that can matter in certain circumstances. It's important to note today, however, that for the 18 million. with 18 insurrectionists in our country as of just April, 40 percent report Fox News and Newsmax as their major news source, only 18 percent Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, and just 10 percent  far right social media like Infowars, Gab and Telegram. I'm not telling you that pound for pound, the viewer of Fox can be as stimulated as the viewer of Infowars. What I'm telling you is there's so many more viewers in the mainstream. The problem here is the mainstream and it's a very difficult problem to get around. But it is something that we need to confront. And if we just simply keep thinking, this is just another social media problem. 

Sen. Klobuchar: I don't think anyone, I may be the first one bringing this up. And I just want to say I don't think anyone is saying that. What I'm saying is we know that these killers have basically posted online, they've posted warnings, many of them online, and then they've actually posted videos of them committing the crimes because that's their reality. That virtual reality is their reality and for us to just turn our backs to that and not think that it has something to do with this - I just think is wrong. That's where they're seeing the ads, by the way, for the guns that are with Santa Clauses and Star Trek figures and Star Wars figures. That's where they've seen them. So I just, as horrible as all of this is and that Mr. Whitfield has to listen here. At its core, this is about white supremacy. What happened in Buffalo, we all think there's some widespread agreement on that: that it’s about guns, but it's also about how the information is being transmitted and our inability in this chamber to do one thing about it, because we've done zilch, zippo, nothing. So, I just want to make that clear as we go ahead that this is also part of the solution. So thank you.