Representatives from religious and civil rights organizations outlined several specific steps at a Senate hearing Tuesday that members of Congress should take to combat domestic terrorism and violent extremism, including passing legislation to expand and protect voting rights.
“Congress must pass the For the People Act,” Wade Henderson, CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, told members of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
Enacting the sweeping elections and ethics bill is necessary to “push back against the great white supremacist lie that encouraged the Jan. 6 insurrection and has given rise to” several state vote-restriction measures, Henderson said, referring to the false claims promoted by Donald Trump and other Republican officials that he lost the 2020 election due to widespread voter fraud. Democratic lawmakers from across the country are rallying in support of the For the People Act in Washington this week, urging the Senate to pass the legislation before leaving town for summer recess.
Henderson was among the panel of witnesses who provided the Senate committee with recommendations for how the federal government can address the threat of racially, ethnically, religiously and politically motivated attacks by domestic extremists. Tuesday’s hearing, which coincided with the second anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 23 people in El Paso, Texas, was the first of two that the committee plans to hold on the subject this week.
“In the last few years, our nation has witnessed horrific acts of violence, such as the massacres at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and a shopping center in El Paso that targeted Black, Jewish and Latino Americans,” Democratic Sen. Gary Peters, the committee’s chairman, said in his opening remarks.
Peters said he fears that these deadly attacks, along with more recent acts of violence targeting the Asian American community as well as the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, “are a signal of something worse to come.”
“If the federal government does not take swift action to address this festering threat, I fear we will see more tragic attacks and lose more lives to domestic violent extremism,” he said.
Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, echoed these concerns at the hearing, citing the “rising threat” of antisemitism in the United States over the last few years.
Fingerhut requested that Congress increase funding for a federal grant program that provides enhanced security for nonprofits — such as synagogues and faith-based schools or community centers — that are at high risk of attack, and called on Congress to designate religious and other charitable organizations as one of the country’s critical infrastructure sectors, which would make them eligible for additional security resources and a comprehensive risk management plan under the Department of Homeland Security.
Paul Goldenberg, a senior fellow at Rutgers University and former member of the Department of Homeland Security’s advisory counsel, agreed with Fingerhut’s request, saying the lack of adequate resources and cohesive emergency planning to secure faith-based organizations “has definitely become an Achilles' heel.”
“If our houses of worship aren’t critical infrastructure, I'm not sure what is,” Goldenberg said.
In June, the Biden administration unveiled the U.S. government’s first national strategy for combating the threat of domestic violent extremism, which Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas has called “the most significant terrorism-related threat impacting the homeland.”
Peters noted that the committee plans to call government witnesses after the August recess to testify about what specifically they are doing to combat this threat.
Read more from Yahoo News: