Pence Must Denounce White Terrorism, Famed FBI Counterterrorism Agent Says
Ali Soufan also joins chorus for a special commission to investigate the nexus of extremists, money and Republican politicians
Ali Soufan, the former FBI agent whose work against Al Qaeda has been featured in countless articles, books and a celebrated TV series, called out Thursday for a special independent commission to study the causes of the January 6 “terrorist” attack on the U.S. Capitol and urged Vice President Mike Pence to forcefully distance himself from white supremacists and Neo-Nazis who are whipping up fervor for a second wave of assaults in Washington, D.C. and on statehouses.
“He has a role to play,” Soufan said, recalling how President George H.W. Bush terminated his lifetime membership in the National Rifle Association in 1995 after its head called federal agents “jack-booted thugs.”
“It set the tone for everyone else in his party to separate themselves” from violent anti-government radicals after one of them bombed the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City, Soufan said of Bush.
Pence “needs to build a wall between himself and all these white supremacists,” Soufan said during an online discussion co-hosted by his New York-based global security firm and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. “He had a chance to say no” to them but has failed to do so, along with scores of other Republicans, Soufan said.
Pence demanded an end to the violence in a Tweet while held by his protective detail in a secure location at the Capitol during the rampage, but has not issued any public pronouncements condemning the extremists since. On Thursday night he made an unscheduled stop to visit National Guard troops deployed to Capitol Hill to defend the inauguration from another terrorist mob attack. “Thank you for stepping forward for your country,” Pence told the troops. They applauded him, according to a pool report.
The refusal of Pence and other Republicans to denounce white supremacists has “created a significant security concern,” he added. “It allows a huge space for continuing threats to take place.”
“But why do we have these threats?” he asked. “It’s because of violent extremists who have weapons and support.” Meanwhile, “the lack of leadership is actually feeding into the disinformation cycle” that proclaims the presidential election was “stolen.”
Soufan, who investigated and supervised highly sensitive and complex international terrorism cases, including the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and the events surrounding the Setember 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers and Pentagon, joined the growing chorusl for a special commission to investigate the events and context of the Capitol assault.
“We need to respond how we did after 9/11 and find out everything that happened,” he said in the discussion, which was moderated by Karen Greenburg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham. “We need to hold people who brainwashed and instigated them accountable,” he said.
Referencing the federal government’s failure to follow up on numerous warnings about the growth and ferocity of networks of white supremacist, Neo-Nazi and other extremist groups in recent years, especially after such events as the 2017 racist march in Charlottesvile, Virginia, Soufan said, “Every time we look the other way, it comes back harder.”
A clamor is growing for a national commission to investigate the January 6 attack, including from some Republicans. This week, three of them, Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, John Katko of New York and James Comer of Kentucky, introduced legislation to establish such a commission, which “would consist of 10 members made up of five Republicans and five Democrats to examine and report on the facts and causes relating to the attack,” according to Homeland Preparedness News.
The Senate Intelligence Committee and other committees with jurisdiction over terrorist activities and official misconduct are already conducting investigations, according to a Capitol Hill source.
Some Democrats want to get to the bottom of suspicions that some far-right Republicans conspired with the raiders. The organizer of the “stop-the-steal” movement that fired up Trump supporters and right-wing extremists to invade the Capitol, Ali Alexander, said that three Hill Republicans helped him organize the militant protest that turned into a terrorist attack. He named Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Mo Brooks (Ala.) and Paul A. Gosar (Ariz.) as co-conspirators.
“We four schemed up of putting maximum pressure on Congress while they were voting” on the certification of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as winners of the election, Alexander said in a since-deleted video on Periscope highlighted by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative nonprofit, according to The Washington Post.
A number of Democrats want to investigate reports of Republicans giving a tour of the Capitol to militants in advance of the attacks. Over 70 members of Congress, led by Rep. Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and Democrat from New Jersey, asked the Capitol Police and sergeants-at-arms of the Senate and House to investigate “the suspicious behavior and access given to visitors to the Capitol Complex on Jan. 5, 2021—the day before the attacks on the Capitol.”
Soufan has similar suspicions. Despite multiple warnings, “the security establishment failed to take this seriously,” Soufan said. “The scale of that failure makes us ask whether it was deliberate neglect.”
“Transparency leads to accountability,” he said. “Let’s do a thorough investigation... of things that happened on that dark day.”
He also called for new laws that permit the Justice Department to “go after the funding and support” of militants like it did with jihadis who offered financial and other support to Al Qaeda. Recognizing that Constitutional guarantees of free speech could be threatened by more aggressive strategies and tactics against American citizens for expressing their support of white supremacists, he said, “we need to figure out a way in the middle.” In the meantime, he said, “we have a lot of laws on the books now—let’s use them.”
The FBI and Department of Homeland Security both issued reports in 2020 fingering right-wing extremists as a major threat. DHS said “racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists (WSEs)—will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland.” The FBI said the “top threat we face from domestic violent extremists” is from racially- and ethnically-motivated violent extremists, including white supremacists.” In the first nine months of 2020, far-right terrorists engaged over 40 plots and attacks, or 67 percent of the total, according to a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, while “far-left terrorists committed 20 percent, and extremists with other motivations (such as supporters of the Boogaloo movement) and Salafi-jihadists each committed 7 percent.”
The Boogaloo Boys, a loose movement of anti-government, anti-police radicals, seem eager to take a leadership role in a new wave of attacks timed for the Biden-Harris inauguration. It has been “cheering the erosion of Trump supporters’ reverence for police” and advising followers via encrypted message channels to “have some damn ingenuity and autonomy” in choosing their targets and timing, according to a report Thursday in The Washington Post.
Soufan compared such groups to radicalized Muslims in the decade before Al Qaeda struck America. “They have their own Afghanistans now,” he said, speaking of regions in the U.S. and abroad (such as Ukraine) where white nationalist and Neo-Nazis get protection and training. “They are where the jihadis were in the 1990s.”
“I’m not that optimistic” about busting the nexus of far-right politicians and violent extremists, he said, “but I have to be hopeful.”