Homeland Security Chief Says Domestic Terrorism and White Supremacy 'Not Only End Lives, They Degrade Our Society'

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenen condemned the rise of domestic terrorism and white supremacy as "abhorrent" during a forum on faith-based violence on Tuesday morning.

"Domestic terrorism has a broad and expansive impact on American citizens and our national climate," McAleenan said. "These attacks not only end lives, they degrade our society and diminish the integrity of our national values."

McAleenan remarks came during the first public meeting of Homeland Security's subcommittee on the prevention of targeted violence against the faith-based community, which was created earlier this year. The forum took place in Jackson, Mississippi and included comment from local law enforcement and religious leaders.

"I am concerned about the white supremacist extremist increases and the growing attacks, especially those we've seen on houses of worship. I absolutely agree it's a problem and we need to work to address it," he said.

McAleenan's comments follow two mass shootings in Texas and Ohio that killed at least 31 people within 24 hours. The Homeland Security chief stated that the attack in El Paso, which left 22 people dead, was "motivated by a poisonous and destructive white supremacist extremist ideology."

The alleged El Paso gunman is believed to have authored a racist, anti-Hispanic manifesto which was published online before the shooting. The document expressed hatred toward immigrants and the Latino community. Some of the language in the manifesto echoed President Donald Trump's own rhetoric toward immigration.

The Department of Justice is treating the El Paso shooting as a case of domestic terrorism. The DOJ is also "seriously considering" federal hate crime charges in response to the attack, which could result in the death penalty.

el paso residents protest trump visit
El Paso, Texas residents protest against the visit of President Donald Trump to the city after the Walmart shooting that left a total of 22 people dead, on August 7, 2019. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

McAleenan said on Tuesday that the Department of Homeland Security has "redoubled" their efforts to combat white supremacy and other forms of domestic terrorism. In an interview earlier this month, McAleenan admitted that the agency needed to "invest more — no question" when it came to countering these threats.

Shortly before the mass shootings occurred, FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that domestic terrorism was just as equal a threat as international terrorism. According to Wray, the Bureau has made about 100 arrests related to domestic terrorism in the first three quarters of 2019 and a majority of those cases were motivated by white supremacy.

In the wake of the tragedies, Trump said the country needed to "racism, bigotry and white supremacy." He also told reporters he's "concerned" about the rise of any hate group whether it's white supremacy or Antifa. But critics say he hasn't gone far enough to condemn white supremacy.

Former Texas congressman and 2020 Democratic hopeful Beto O'Rourke continues to lash out against Trump and in part blames the president's rhetoric for the deadly attack.

"We've had a rise in hate crimes every single one of the last three years, during an administration where you have a president who's called Mexicans rapists and criminals," O'Rourke told reporters. "He is a racist, and he stokes racism in this country."