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How the U.S. is countering the Islamic extremist propaganda machine

President Obama reiterated his promise to destroy the virulent Islamic State Tuesday while talking about the Orlando mass shooting — and how gunman Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen, may have been radicalized by online extremist propaganda. NewsHour producer P.J. Tobia reports on U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds that the terrorists are trying to co-opt on the Internet.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    How much do words matter? Donald Trump has regularly criticized President Obama and Hillary Clinton for not using the term radical Islam to define the threat of terrorism.

    But Mr. Obama, in extensive remarks delivered at the Treasury Department today, struck back, saying the presumptive Republican nominee's plan to ban Muslims from the U.S., and the language he uses to make his point, is dangerous.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    There is no magic to the phrase radical Islam. It is a political talking point. It is not a strategy.

    And the reason I am careful about how I describe this threat has nothing to do with political correctness and everything to do with actually defeating extremism.

    Groups like ISIL and al-Qaida want to make this war a war between Islam and America, or between Islam and the West. If we fall into the trap of painting all Muslims as a broad brush, and imply that we are at war with the entire religion, then we are doing the terrorists' work for them.

    But we are now seeing how dangerous this kind of mind-set and this kind of thinking can be. We are starting to see where this kind of rhetoric and loose talk and sloppiness about who exactly we are fighting, where this can lead us.

    We now have proposals from the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States to bar all Muslims from emigrating into America. We hear language that singles out immigrants and suggests entire religious communities are complacent in violence.

    Where does this stop? The Orlando killer, one of the San Bernardino killers, the Fort Hood killer, they were all U.S. citizens. Are we going to start treating all Muslim-Americans differently? Are we going to start subjecting them to special surveillance? Are we going to start discriminating against them because of their faith?

    We have heard these suggestions during the course of this campaign. Do Republican officials actually agree with this?

    We have gone through moments in our history before when we acted out of fear, and we came to regret it. We have seen our government mistreat our fellow citizens, and it has been a shameful part of our history.

    This is a country founded on basic freedoms, including freedom of religion. We don't have religious tests here. Our founders, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights are clear about that.

    And if we ever abandon those values, we wouldn't only make it a lot easier to radicalize people here and around the world, but we would have betrayed the very things we are trying to protect, the pluralism and the openness, our rule of law, our civil liberties, the very things that make this country great, the very things that make us exceptional.

    And then the terrorists would have won. And we cannot let that happen. I will not let that happen.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    That was President Obama speaking today.

    Omar Mateen didn't come to the U.S. from another country to carry out the attack in Orlando. He was born and raised here. Authorities are trying to understand whether and how he adopted radical ideas before he turned to unspeakable violence.

    The Obama administration says that stopping the radicalization of young people who live in the United States is a national security priority.

    "NewsHour" producer P.J. Tobia has the story of one part of that effort.

  • NARRATOR:

    America, you claim to have the greatest army history has known.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    This is a call to arms by the so-called Islamic State, aimed squarely at young, disillusioned American Muslims.

  • NARRATOR:

    Liars, fornicators, corporations, and for the freedoms of sodomites.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    This is the U.S. government's digital counterpoint to ISIS' call for recruits. It's the FBI's Don't Be a Puppet Web site, an online role-playing exercise.

    In a kind of choose your own adventure experience, users walk through the steps of extremism and the evolution into a violent radical.

  • YAAMA FUJIKURA, Japanese American:

    When a rock comes through your window and you're eating supper, you better have a plan.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    And this is the government's offline strategy, a program where the elderly, like this 89-year old Japanese-American woman, share their own stories of discrimination with Muslim teens, hoping to prevent their anger from festering into violence.

  • YAAMA FUJIKURA:

    And this business of becoming terribly bitter and terribly unkind to others is not the way out.

  • MAN:

    There are some people here who have been through some pretty messy things.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    It is all part of the Obama administration's efforts of countering violent extremism, or CVE. Opponents argue it's a way for the government to spy on Muslims. Advocates say it's a way for American Muslims to work with law enforcement, identifying and preventing radicalization before attacks happen.

    Mehreen Farooq helps run a federally funded CVE initiative in Montgomery County, Maryland. It's the program that pairs Muslim teens with the elderly

  • MEHREEN FAROOQ, CVE Initiative:

    We have brought together various NGOs, different faith community leaders, educators, counterterrorism experts, gang prevention experts, to understand, what are the resources that we have here and what can we do to build community resilience and to prevent violent extremism?

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    One issue has been getting young men to participate, but there are strategies for reaching them as well.

  • “MUHAMMED”:

    They're genuinely good kids and everything, but they may be a little lost in life.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    This man is a member of a large Muslim community in the mid-Atlantic region. We will call him Muhammed. We have concealed his identity and altered his voice, at his request.

    Muhammed isn't part of any government program, but he seeks out young Muslim men, usually in their early to mid-20s, who have explored the dark message of Islamic extremism.

  • “MUHAMMED”:

    My goal is to take them away from that and let them know that that's just a bunch of fantasy.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Teens who think the deck is stacked against them are an easy target.

  • “MUHAMMED”:

    They really want to be married or they really want to have sex, but the only way to have sex is to be married, and the only way to get married is to have a career. And the only way to have a career is to go to college or go get some kind of a skill. For them, that looks like an awfully tall mountain to climb.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    ISIS propaganda, on the other hand, offers immediate gratification through jihad.

  • “MUHAMMED”:

    You need to be coming over to Syria or Somalia. There's free sex slaves and wives and all of this utopia. That resonates to them because now they see a path to having a proper family.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Muhammed introduces these young men to male role models in the Muslim community.

  • RIZWAN JAKA, All Dulles Area Muslim Society:

    South Asian food that will go to South Asian households.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Rizwan Jaka argues for working closely with the government. He's the board president at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in suburban Virginia.

    The society doesn't receive federal CVE funds, but partners with a local FBI field office and Department of Homeland Security. It also sponsors Boy and Girl Scout programs.

  • RIZWAN JAKA:

    If you see someone that is going to do harm to our country or you hear about it, we absolutely must tell law enforcement. That is our Islamic duty.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited the society's mosque twice last year. This year, the organization received a community leadership award from the FBI. Last night, members took part in an interfaith vigil for those killed in the Orlando attacks.

  • RIZWAN JAKA:

    We bring the FBI here for town hall meetings and speaking to the community during prayer services, engaging together for a better society.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Parents have brought troubled youth who have broken no laws, but shown an interest in ideology of the Islamic State, to the society's imam, Mohamed Magid.

  • RIZWAN JAKA:

    Imam Magid actually talks with them, especially when they ask about ISIS, because there's this twisted idealism that people have of ISIS, these few individuals, and he challenges them. Imam Magid says look, I know, where in the Koran does it say you can burn someone alive?

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    The push for CVE comes straight from the top.

    In 2011, President Obama released his first CVE strategy. Last year, the White House hosted an international summit with representatives from more than 100 nations and dozens of American Muslim groups. The Department of Homeland Security's CVE Task Force provides oversight for the entire government's strategy in this area. The president is asking for more than $96 million for these programs in 2017.

    JEH JOHNSON, Secretary of Homeland Security: This is as critical as any other homeland security mission that we have going right now.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Secretary Johnson has spoken widely about the role of America's Muslims in stopping terrorist attacks. "NewsHour" co-anchor Judy Woodruff discussed it with him last week.

  • JEH JOHNSON:

    The global terrorist threat has evolved to include, not just terrorist-directed attacks, but terrorist-inspired attacks by homegrown, home-born violent extremists. In this environment, it's critical that we dedicate ourselves to CVE.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Johnson describes the initiatives as a way to connect with minority communities.

  • JEH JOHNSON:

    To build bridges, send the message let us help you in your efforts to counter violent extremism in your community if you see someone going in the wrong direction.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Some argue the approach is too soft, ignoring what they see as the real problem, Islamic terrorism.

    Meanwhile, some Muslim groups and civil libertarians say that countering violent extremism programs turns teachers and imams into spies, and innocent Muslims into suspects.

    DALIA MOGAHED, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding: Stigmatizing people doesn't make us safer. It actually alienates young people and can make them more susceptible, more vulnerable to the propaganda of extremists.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Dalia Mogahed researches American Muslims and is the co-author of "Who Speaks for Islam?"

  • DALIA MOGAHED:

    Its premise is that a community is predisposed to violence. For no other reason than because of their faith, they are essentially a pool of suspects and are engaged on that premise. There is a securitization of the relationship between the U.S. government and Muslims.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    She thinks that this securitization can have ripple effects within the community.

  • DALIA MOGAHED:

    When you get to a situation where educators or mental health professionals are being asked to act as informants, you are going to create an environment where people aren't trusting their teachers.

  • JEH JOHNSON:

    It's not at all throwing a net of suspicion on these groups. I totally agree that we shouldn't do that, but if they see somebody traveling in the wrong direction, contact law enforcement, contact a community leader, say something to somebody.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Meanwhile, some Muslim parents fear that if a child suddenly developed has an interest in the so-called Islamic State, reporting that interest could lead directly to a jail cell.

  • JEH JOHNSON:

    Parents should encourage someone who is upset about something, who finds a certain appeal, to channel that interest and energy into a more positive, peaceful direction. There are many different ways to counter violent extremism beyond just contacting law enforcement.

  • P.J. TOBIA:

    Many of those ways hope to build trust in Muslim communities that feel under the microscope.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm P.J. Tobia.

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