Government Allegedly Targets Conservatives and Christians as Terrorists: Watchdog

Government Allegedly Targets Conservatives and Christians as Terrorists: Watchdog
Dan Schneider, Vice-President of Free Speech America, MRC Business, and the External Affairs division at the Media Research Center on May, 31, 2023. (Screenshot/Epoch TV)
Ella Kietlinska
Joshua Philipp
6/14/2023
Updated:
6/15/2023
0:00

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS)  is allegedly using an anti-terrorism program to target conservatives, Christians, and Republicans. This program was detailed in a recent report by a nonprofit organization.

Through FOIA requests, the Media Research Center (MRC) was able to exclusively obtain documents showing that federal funds allocated to DHS’ program to prevent violence and terrorism were used to target conservatives, said Dan Schneider, vice president of the MRC.

The MRC is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to document and counter the falsehoods and censorship of the media.
The Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program provides funding to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education to prevent targeted violence and terrorism, according to DHS.
The program is supposed to provide grants to counter targeted violence such as large gang violence and terrorism, Schneider told EpochTV’s “Crossroads” program.

However, the application for a grant is extremely vague, Schneider said. For example, projects applying for funding under the program often focus on “media literacy,” he added.

For instance, Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville received a 2022 grant to fund the development of “media literacy and online critical thinking skills among local college students so they are better equipped to combat an ever-increasing volume of extremist content in the online/digital space,“ stated a DHS website.

The description of the project also includes training sessions for local community organizations, the website stated.

The University of Rhode Island would use the grant from DHS received in 2022 to counter disinformation, conspiracy theories, propaganda, and domestic extremism in local communities, according to DHS.

The applications are so fuzzy, so it is very difficult to find out how DHS evaluates them when it comes to information, misinformation, and disinformation, Schneider said. Therefore his organization reached out to grantees to find out “what the grantees are actually doing.”

Media Research Center obtained documents related to the program participation from six or seven out of about 80 grantees, Schneider said. “Actions speak louder than words ... [t]hese documents are shocking.”
What DHS founded through its violence and terrorism prevention program was “training on how to create dummy social media accounts, [how] to create fake infighting among conservatives and to disrupt the work of these conservative organizations—not just conservative, but Christian and faith-based organizations,” Schneider said.

Training Project

In 2022 the DHS program awarded 43 grants, totaling $20 million, to ”state, local, tribal, and territorial governments, nonprofits, and institutions of higher education,” according to a DHS statement.

The funds are supposed to be used “to help prevent incidents of domestic violent extremism, as well as to bolster efforts to counter online radicalization and mobilization to violence, “and DHS provides technical, financial, and educational assistance to its grantees, the statement said.

Joseph E. Keller Hall at the University of Dayton, Ohio. (Screenshot of Google Street View)
Joseph E. Keller Hall at the University of Dayton, Ohio. (Screenshot of Google Street View)

The MRC report analyzed the project PREVENTS-OH funded within the DHS program, carried out by the University of Dayton, a private Catholic university in Ohio.

The University received a grant of $350 million in September 2022 to implement a training and networking project also focused on “media literacy,” according to the DHS website.
The objective of project PREVENTS-OH, funded by DHS, is to “develop a network of regional organizations to help prevent domestic violent extremism in southwest Ohio and beyond,” according to a statement by the University.
The university promised to draw on the expertise of its faculty “who research extremism and radicalization” in implementing the project, the statement said.

Research on Extremism

In December 2021, the University of Dayton organized a Social Practice of Human Rights conference. which featured a roundtable on “Extremism, Rhetoric, and Democratic Precarity.” One of the participants, Michael Loadenthal, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cincinnati, presented at his lecture a chart that he claimed depicts the “modern far-right” and extremism in America.

The chart equates mainstream conservative groups with militant neo-nazis. Among the conservative groups pictured in the chart are The Heritage Foundation, Fox News, the National Rifle Association, Breitbart News, Prager University, Turning Point USA, the Christian Broadcasting Network, the American Conservative Union Foundation, the Republican National Committee, the MAGA movement, and the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement.

Among the roundtable speakers was DHS Agent Joseph “J.R.” Masztalics –a regional coordinator at a center created in May 2021 to “combat domestic violent extremism”–who appeared in his official capacity at the event.

This chart was among enclosures included in the original grant application submitted by the University of Dayton to DHS to secure funding under the program successfully, the MRC report said.

Loadenthal also participated in the “White Nationalism Workshop” at the same conference.  He explained in his presentation how to create dummy accounts on social media platforms like Telegram, Gab, and Rumble in order to destabilize political movements.

“We want to make these groups disjointed, less effective ... I would like them to be less able to mobilize,” said Loadenthal, who described himself in the workshop as an Antifa member.

One effective method to destabilize right-wing groups is to “manufacture a lot of infighting,” Loadenthal said.

He also told the audience that they could pressure online financial services like GoFundMe, Patreon, PayPal, Venmo, online retailers, and other online service providers to expel people from their networks.

Loadenthal advised collecting information and intelligence on social media accounts of right-wing groups or activists, which he also called “fascists,” so it can be  “used for the strategic purpose of de-platforming.” De-platforming means “denying far-right fascist folk any sort of public sphere access, denying them the ability to speak,” Loadenthal explained, with a goal “to  o shut down their websites, to close their meetings, to physically prevent them from assembling in public.”

“A lot of things we’re doing are illegal,” Loadenthal admitted. “A lot of it involves breaking the law,” he added.

How Anti-Terrorism Program Evolved

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security building in Washington on July 22, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security building in Washington on July 22, 2019. (Alastair Pike/AFP via Getty Images)
A grant program to “prevent violent extremism in the United States” was first proposed by former President Barack Obama in 2011 after “al-Qa’ida and its affiliates” attempted to “recruit” and “radicalize” Americans, according to a White House announcement.

The program provided taxpayer-funded grants to local groups such as police departments, universities, non-profit organizations, and others to prevent domestic “violent extremism,” Obama’s proposal said.

The first batch of grants was the first time rolled out in 2016 in the “Countering Violent Extremism Grant Program” during the final year of Obama’s second term, according to the Media Research Center’s report.

In 2017, the Trump DHS halted the program for three years before it was reinstated by Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan in 2019, the report said.

McAleenan proposed a new strategy (pdf) for “countering terrorism and targeted violence” to protect the country from “foreign terrorist organizations,” “domestic actors inspired by violent extremist ideologies,” and from attacks “not ideologically driven.”

“It was supposed to be preventing terrorism at the border through these programs,” Schneider said.

“During the Trump administration, on average, DHS was stopping or apprehending less than three known or suspected terrorists at the border,” Schneider said. “ Terrorists knew that the border was not porous; the border is not a good avenue to try to enter our country.”

“In the last half year alone,” Schneider continued. “In the Biden administration, they’ve apprehended almost 100 terrorists.”

“The number of terrorists actually trying to come across our border is skyrocketing under this administration, but instead of using our taxpayer dollars to try to stop that, DHS is using these taxpayer dollars against us,” Schneider said.

Although Joe Biden promised while he was campaigning for president to end the Trump Administration’s  Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Program and replace it with a new one, the Biden Administration actually revamped it, the report said.
DHS established a new center to replace the Trump-era office that administered the program and created a new intelligence branch within the department dedicated to domestic terrorism, according to a DHS statement.

Both new units were tasked to “comprehensively combat domestic violent extremism, including violent white supremacy,” the statement said.

The Epoch Times reached out to DHS for comment.

Ella Kietlinska is an Epoch Times reporter covering U.S. and world politics.
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