tree of life synagogue

Homeland Security Committee Meets to Discuss Prevention of Violence Against Religious Organizations

In Jackson, Mississippi, the acting DHS secretary met with religious leaders and lawmakers to discuss ways that the department is acting to protect faith institutions targeted for violence.

The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security visited Jackson, Mississippi last week as part of the agency’s campaign to fight violence targeting faith-based communities. 


At the first public meeting of a DHS subcommittee dedicated to preventing targeted violence of faith centers, Acting Secretary Kevin McAleenan said the administration and other politicians must address the recent mass shooting in El Paso with “moral clarity,” adding: “It is hate, it is domestic terrorism, and it must be resisted together by Americans of all races, ethnicities and faiths.” 


“I am concerned about the white supremacy and the extreme increases and the growing attacks, especially the ones we have seen on the houses of worship,” McAleenan said. “I absolutely agree it is a problem and we need to work to address it.”


The Subcommittee for Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities, announced in July as part of the department’s advisory council, includes professors, law enforcement officers and religious leaders representing Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, Sikh and Christian communities. In the wake of attacks on houses of worship, more religious organizations are training congregants to handle weapons and protect community members from violence. 


Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security Committee in the House, said that houses of worship are intended to be safe havens for communities. 


“Unfortunately, those of us here from Mississippi and the South know too well the horror that shakes a community when a house of worship is attacked,” Thompson said, referencing shootings at synagogues, churches and Sikh temples that were motivated by hate. “It’s a sad fact that our houses of worship are living under threats of violence at the hands of extremist terrorists of all ideologies.” 


Though McAleenan acknowledged that the FBI is the main government agency tasked with investigating domestic terrorism, he said his department is moving “aggressively” to handle the threat through more stringent threat analyses and better intelligence gathering practices. 


“Over the last two years, the DHS intelligence and analysis directorate has increased its strategic and tactical reporting on domestic terrorism by over 150 percent,” McAleenan told the panel. 


One of his first moves when entering his acting role was to establish the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention to better coordinate the department’s strategy to fight domestic terrorism, McAleenan said. The subcommittee, which is due to release its initial report in September, is also part of his efforts to improve the department’s response and prevention efforts.


“I’m confident that the work of this subcommittee will help DHS secure and promote the resiliency of houses of worship as well as help identify areas where we can expand and refine our domestic terrorism prevention and protection efforts for the benefit of all Americans,” he said. 


Thompson, alongside religious leaders at the forum, urged law enforcement and the department to take action now to keep religious centers and communities safe. 


“While we need to work to eradicate all forms of extremism, these at-risk faith-based centers and nonprofits need the protection in the short term,” Thompson said. 


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