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Counterterrorism adviser on understanding and responding to homegrown extremism

April 17, 2014 at 6:44 PM EDT
When random violence strikes on home soil, what do we call it and how do we prosecute it? Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, talks to Gwen Ifill about domestic terrorism, including why we must try to understand what draws people to extremism and who should be responding.

GWEN IFILL: Boston, Fort Hood, Kansas City, Oklahoma City. What happens when random mass violence strikes home? What do we call it, and how do we prosecute it?

This week, Lisa Monaco, the president’s chief counterterrorism adviser, spoke out on that topic in a speech at Harvard’s Kennedy School. And she joins me now.

Welcome to the NewsHour again.

LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism: Hi, Gwen.

GWEN IFILL: Today, the attorney general, Eric Holder, gave a speech at the observances in Kansas City, in which he talked about this kind of domestic terror as an affront to the nation.

Is it terrorism?

LISA MONACO: Well, Gwen, I think what I talked about in Cambridge on the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings just a few days ago was that violent extremism has been with us in many forms, unfortunately even 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City.

So, it comes in many forms. And what we need to do is bring community efforts together to counter it.

GWEN IFILL: I do want to talk about what the solutions are. But also I think what we call it matters too, right? You used the term attack on the homeland to describe the Boston Marathon bombings. You’re a Boston native. Obviously, it hit close.

That is particularly vivid language, but still not the T-word.


Well, I think we can get caught up in labels. I think, as the attorney general spoke out quite movingly, as you indicated, today in Kansas — and our hearts go out to the people of Overland Park. They are investigating that matter and looking at it as a hate crime.

And so I don’t want to get ahead of that process. Obviously, that is a matter for the prosecutors and the investigators. But what we have seen is extremism comes in any number of forms. And it’s not confined to any one community. It’s not confined to any one individual of a particular faith. We need to respond to it and reject it regardless of faith, regardless of where it’s present.

GWEN IFILL: Or regardless of employment or standing.

At Fort Hood, the president after that spoke out about the threat from what he described as radicalized individuals. How is that different from responding to other kinds of threats which could be in the homeland or elsewhere?


Well, that’s exactly right. The dangerous of an individual being drawn to violence, being radicalized to violence, it’s some of what I spoke about the other day. We have to do a lot more as a government and as a community to understand what draws people to violence, what takes them down that path.

And that’s one of the things we’re trying very hard to do, to bring the community together to understand it and to impart the best science, the best expertise, the best understanding of what draws people to violence and how we, as a community, whether it’s coaches, teachers, faith leaders, how can they intervene with individuals in their community to point them in another direction.

GWEN IFILL: Americans look at violence that happens close to home differently than at a distance, for obvious reasons.

But how do you act when it’s the same type of violence, but it’s just here? How is our reaction as a government, as a community, how is it different or how should it be different?

LISA MONACO: Well, we have a really good example in the Boston bombings.

What we saw there and what we commemorated and remembered on Monday was a — was a community coming together to respond, both medical professionals, law enforcement, community members, to both respond to an attack, an expression of violence from two individuals radicalized, and then to help a community heal.

GWEN IFILL: When you talk about a community action, it almost sounds like you’re saying not over here on the federal government, over there in your hometown.

LISA MONACO: Well, I think what we have learned is that there are limits to what the federal government can do in terms of identifying individuals who are being drawn to violence.

We’re not always going to be able to see the warning signs. The government isn’t best positioned to see that, necessarily, all the time. In fact, we have crunched the data.

GWEN IFILL: But should it be better positioned to see it?

LISA MONACO: Well, I think we can be by working with the community, by engaging more.

We have looked at this very hard. What we have found from one study is that, in 80 percent of the cases, community members saw warning signs, but they didn’t see them as an indicator of a problem, whether it was a teacher hearing from a student that they were interested in traveling abroad to fight, whether it was a parent seeing a kid being more confrontational.

We have to learn together and educate community members and trust in community members who can come and intervene and point that usually youth to a different path.

GWEN IFILL: Is watching for signs, watching for behavior changes, is that a little passive in the face of what’s sadly and repeatedly growing problems here?

LISA MONACO: Well, it’s not the only thing we’re doing.

We certainly need to make sure we as a community are poised to see those warning signs and see them as signs of trouble, but our law enforcement needs to and has been — and, in fact, Boston is a great example of this — prepare for in advance to understand how they’re going to respond, how they’re going to work together to respond to an act of violence.

GWEN IFILL: You mentioned in your speech in Cambridge a comprehensive prevention model.


GWEN IFILL: What does that look like at the federal level, the state level, and the local level?

LISA MONACO: What it really means is engaging with community members, and not just on the security side, whether it’s educators, health professionals, religious leaders as well, sharing best practices.

What do we know? What has our expertise taught us about how somebody becomes radicalized? How can we share that information so people can understand to see these warning signs?

GWEN IFILL: Is that a law enforcement response? The debate we always have when things happen is whether it should be a law enforcement response, whether it’s a debate about gun control, or whether it should be a mental health response or something else like that, or are you talking about a combination of all these things?

LISA MONACO: All of them.

GWEN IFILL: Emphasis on one or the other?

LISA MONACO: It can’t be done in any one silo.

It is in part a law enforcement response, because this is a public safety issue that we’re talking about first and foremost. And law enforcement has a role to play, but so do teachers and so do parents and families.

GWEN IFILL: And should these kinds of crimes be prosecuted differently?

LISA MONACO: Well, I guess it depends on what you mean.

I think they have got to be prosecuted based on the facts and the evidence that is presented, which is exactly what’s going to happen here.

GWEN IFILL: I guess what I mean is whether it should be prosecuted as terror, prosecuted as domestic murder charges, as a regular criminal charge.

LISA MONACO: Well, in both instances, we have got statutes on the book that are going to be available to us, and we can’t apply any one cookie-cutter approach to it.

GWEN IFILL: Lisa Monaco, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, thank you very much.

LISA MONACO: Great to be with you.