Guest: Dr. Brian Hughes of American University's PERIL; Also: Criminal charges soon for Trump Org?; DoJ sues GA for vote suppression; More on climate change effects on collapsed FL high-rise...
By Brad Friedman on 6/25/2021, 6:30pm PT  

As usual in this country, we're dealing with the crisis all wrong. Violent domestic extremism --- domestic terrorism --- has become a public-health issue in this country, according to our guest today on The BradCast. If we treat it as such, it may not become the security problem that we're currently treating it as. We're good at law enforcement and security issues in this country. Public-health issues? Not so much. [Audio link to full show is posted below this summary.]

But, first up today, a few breaking news stories of note...

  • Several news outlets this afternoon are confirming that Donald Trump's family business could face criminal charges as soon as next week. Not Trump himself --- yet --- or his family members or other employees, but the Trump Organization itself. New York Times was first to report that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance could file criminal indictments next week against the Trump Organization, based on fringe benefits given to employees, such as expensive apartments, cars and school tuition for employee family members on which taxes were not properly paid. The Trump Org's CFO Allen Weisselberg and possibly his son, who also work for the company, seem to be targeted here. Both Vance and New York Attorney General Letitia James have been investigating whether the disgraced former President committed bank and tax fraud and whether he committed campaign finance felonies with hush-money payments to two different women before the 2016 election. It's believed that prosecutors are hoping that the company's longtime financial chief, Weisselberg, will flip against his boss. These charges are likely part of that effort.
  • Also today, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the filing of a federal lawsuit against the state of Georgia over it's expansive new voter-suppression law, SB202. Seven non-profit voting and civil rights organizations have filed separate complaints (including one, filed by the Coalition for Good Governance, in which I am a named plaintiff). But the big guns of a federal lawsuit by the DOJ suggest that the Biden Administration is taking seriously the spate of new laws being adopted by GOP-controlled legislatures around the country aimed at making it harder for Americans --- specifically, minorities --- to vote. Comments from Garland and his deputies in the Voting Rights Division today, when announcing the legal action, suggest there may be more such suits against other states coming soon as well.
  • Finally, before we get to our guest today, some additional information on a question we posed yesterday, as to whether rising seas due to human-caused climate change may have played a part in the tragic, deadly collapse of a 12-story high-rise condominium in Surfside, Florida near Miami Beach on Thursday. A number of experts have hinted at the possibility over the past 24 hours since our last show. One is a professor at the Florida International University’s Institute of Environment, speaking to CNN, citing the building's subsidence rate (how much it is sinking into the ground) during a study in the 1990s. And NBC News spoke to a number of experts who cited the towns along the sandy, reclaimed wetlands barrier island on which Miami Beach and Surfside stand --- an island which, we now understand, actually migrates and moves along with rising sea levels. One geologist quoted suggests that the necessity of a coastal retreat from barrier islands --- where currently $3 trillion worth of property is now located in the U.S. --- may soon be upon us. "It’s a tough conversation to have, but the building shouldn’t have been there --- along with a lot of other buildings," he says. "We’re due for a real awakening."

Next, it's on to the rise in violent domestic extremism, particularly fostered by White Supremacy in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency and the deadly, Trump-incited attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. After Republicans reneged on a deal with House Democrats to form an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the 1/6 attack, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week announced plans to create a House Select Committee to get to the root cause of what happened and why. During a House hearing this week, the nation's highest ranking military leader, Gen. Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered an impassioned response to criticism of interest in Critical Race Theory among military leadership, and the causes of "white rage", in which he spoke to the importance of learning "what is it that caused thousands of people to assault this building and try to overturn the Constitution of the United States of America."

Our guest today, DR. BRIAN HUGHES of American University's Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL), suggests Pelosi and Milley and "the Biden Administration's proposal for how to tackle domestic terrorism and extremism points in the right direction." Hughes' colleague, Cynthia Miller-Idriss, also of PERIL, recently penned an op-ed at The Atlantic arguing that far-right domestic extremism has now spread into the mainstream, and must be dealt with as more than simply a security and law-enforcement issue. It is no longer a matter of tracking specific organizations, but now a matter of radicalization by individuals "who are influenced by ideas online rather than by plots hatched by group leaders in secret gatherings," Miller-Idriss posits. It is now a public-health issue, she argues, and must be dealt with by a whole-of-society approach.

"We, as a society, are incredibly militarized, we're incredibly securitized, and so the solutions that we reach to, when we have a problem, are almost inevitably securitized or militarized and  contain some element of that securitization," Hughes explains today. "Our approach to extremism and terrorism is no different.  Certainly law enforcement and intelligence have a very important role to play here.  But it can never be more than a band-aid solution. As we see now, there aren't enough band-aids in the world to deal with the violence that this country is facing.  We really have to go deeper to the root causes of these issues."

Hughes cites the Biden Administration's proposal to incorporate the Dept. of Health and Human Services and the Dept. of Education into their initiative to take on violent extremism as "really, really critical. But even more critical is allocating resources to local communities.  The more locally we can distribute the necessary training, the necessary education, and the necessary funding to address radicalization before it even starts, the fewer of those security, and law enforcement, and militarized solutions that we're going to have to come up with in the future."

As we delve into details, we discuss ways that state and local communities must take on the issue as well. (The "seven minutes of reading to improve understanding of how radical ideas spread online," which we discuss as having helped some 750 parents and caregivers in a recent study by PERIL and the Southern Poverty Law Center is posted here.) We also discuss the paradox of how coming to a collective understanding of the effects of systemic racism in the U.S., as well as actions taken by social media companies to help curb the effectiveness of propaganda and far-right radicalism, can also serve to increase the "white rage" that new policies and new ways of facing this as a public-health issue are meant to counteract.

Hughes also shares his experience in working with former extremists and the "deep, deep sense of shame" and "horror" they ultimately experience after they come to terms with having been radicalized. "It just tears families apart. It absolutely ruins relationships as surely as drugs and alcohol do. This isn't just a matter of a person becoming a jerk. This is a question of a person blowing up their own life and the lives of the people around them." All of which is just part of the reason why we must rethink our approach to the problem as one of public-health.

As Hughes concedes, none of this is "going to change overnight," but there are ways that we can start taking action right now, particularly at the local level, where he urges people to get involved with their local school systems on this matter in order to prevent the radicalization long before it begins. "Request this kind of education, request these kinds of materials. Education happens at the local level in the United States, so it's really on all of us to improve things in our local communities."

I hope you'll tune in for this fascinating and insightful conversation...

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