Will Politicians Let Counterterrorism Experts Monitor White Nationalists Like They Did Muslims After 9/11?

President Donald Trump pledged Monday to give U.S. law enforcement officials "whatever they need" to combat a recent rise in domestic terrorism perpetrated by white nationalists. But what's needed to fight the type of violent hatred that resulted in 22 deaths this weekend in El Paso, Texas, isn't as easy to procure as the president's blanket statement might suggest.

Since the 2001 terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the federal government has devoted sweeping resources and vast sums of money to fighting Islamic terrorism. The Patriot Act, passed under George W. Bush, gives federal agents the legal authority to wiretap or go undercover online to search for radical Islamists, but the same resources and legal rights have not been allocated to fight extreme white nationalism.

The number of people killed in attacks because of the far-right and because of Islamist radicals since 2002 is nearly equal—109 to 104—according to data from New America, a think tank.

The issue of gun control is currently gripping the national political arena, but six former National Security Council senior directors for counterterrorism say that the U.S. also needs to reconsider the way it spends money on counterterrorism and to divert resources towards acts of domestic terrorism perpetrated by white nationalists, and quickly.

El Paso Shooting
A woman walks past a makeshift memorial honoring victims outside Walmart, near the scene of a mass shooting which left at least 22 people dead, on August 6, 2019 in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white male suspect remains in custody in El Paso, which sits along the U.S.-Mexico border. President Donald Trump plans to visit the city August 7. Mario Tama/Getty

"We call on our government to make addressing this form of terrorism as high a priority as countering international terrorism has become since 9/11," the group, Joshua Geltzer, Nicholas Rasmussen, Jen Easterly, Luke Hartig, Chris Costa and Javed Ali, wrote in a joint statement Sunday.

"This also means providing a significant infusion of resources to support federal, state, and local programs aimed at preventing extremism and targeted violence of any kind, motivated by any ideology or directed at any American community. We simply cannot wait any longer," continued the letter.

The young, white male gunman who committed the atrocity in El Paso this Saturday had posted an anti-immigrant screed online before beginning his assault in a local Walmart. There have been at least five mass shootings or attacks this year on U.S. soil that targeted people for their race or religion. Right wing extremists killed more people in 2018 than in any year since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed an Oklahoma City federal building.

"A majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we've investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence," said FBI director Chris Wray in late August, before the most recent round of attacks.

The question is whether politicians will be open to allowing the monitoring of white nationalists in the same way that they permitted with Muslims after the 2001 attacks. After the 1995 attacks in Oklahoma City, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich refused to hold hearings on terrorism by white nationalists.

"If they did the same thing that they did with the Muslims, they'd say every white guy is a potential terrorist," Martin R. Stolar, a New York civil rights lawyer, told The New York Times. "You can't do that with white people. The blowback would be outrageous."

Correction: This story has been updated to say the Oklahoma City bombings took place in 1995, not 1985 as previously written.