"The Trump Administration cut funding allocated to the Department of Homeland Security to combat white nationalism."

Pete Buttigieg on Monday, August 5th, 2019 in a Medium post

Fact-checking whether Trump cut money to combat white nationalism

A man holds up a anti-racism sign during a rally against racism and white nationalism, and in favor of gun laws, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2019, near the White House in Washington. (AP)

Democrats after the El Paso shooting renewed their criticism that the Trump administration hasn’t done enough about the threat of white nationalism.

"The Trump administration cut funding allocated to the Department of Homeland Security to combat white nationalism," South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg wrote Aug. 5 in a Medium post. "We must do more than simply reinstate that funding — we must dedicate $1 billion to ensure that law enforcement across all agencies and all levels have sufficient resources to counter the growing tide of white nationalist violence."

Buttigieg was referring to an Obama era grant program called Countering Violent Extremism. One group founded by former white supremacists and neo-Nazis, Life After Hate, was slated to receive money under the grant but the offer was rescinded under Trump, Buttigieg said. 

But there is more to the broader story than what Buttigieg described.

"The picture is more nuanced than, ‘The Obama administration was going after white supremacists and the Trump administration stopped it,’" Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center's Liberty and National Security Program, previously told PolitiFact. "Neither went after white supremacists."

We previously rated a similar claim by Sen. Cory Booker Mostly False. Buttigieg’s wording isn’t as problematic as was Booker's, which referenced the wrong department and used stronger language, but it is still imprecise.

Trump’s actions on Countering Violent Extremism grant

The Countering Violent Extremism program was launched during the Obama administration to work with local leaders to deter U.S. residents from joining violent extremist groups.

In the final days of Obama’s tenure, the Homeland Security department announced 31 groups would be awarded a total of $10 million in grants

Once Trump took office, his administration froze the grants. Then, in June 2017, Homeland Security released a list of 26 grant recipients.

Some of the awardees named under Obama had dropped out, citing fears of anti-Muslim bias under Trump. 

But Buttigieg’s campaign zeroed in on one group whose $400,000 grant was rescinded: Life After Hate. (Read about another rescinded grant to the University of North Carolina that we covered in a different fact-check. UNC’s application said it would target extremist messaging including by jihadists but it also mentioned that it had expertise in white supremacists.)

In its application, Life After Hate didn’t single out white nationalists — though the group works to help people who want to leave racism or violent extremism behind. 

The application stated the group would work with others to engage online with "supporters and sympathizers of far-right extremism and jihadism." Far-right extremism isn’t the same as white nationalism, although some people use the terms interchangeably.

"We used the term ‘violent far-right extremism,’ which would include the more euphemistic ‘white nationalism,’" Life After Hate’s spokesman told us.

Here’s what we know about why their application was rescinded under Trump.

Homeland Security spokespersons said applicants were rejected because they didn’t meet new criteria like working with law enforcement — not because of their interest in combating white supremacy. 

Trump faced criticism that the grant program was too focused on Muslims. (Nearly all of the accepted projects were centered around working with Muslims or immigrants.) But the Obama administration faced the same critique, including from the liberal Brennan Center.

Assessing the "cut"

Buttigieg said the Trump administration "cut" funding for Countering Violent Extremism, but there’s more to that, too. It was a two-year grant program that expired in July 2019. The administration did not seek to renew it.

Brian Jackson, a researcher at the RAND Corporation who co-wrote a 2019 report for Homeland Security on terrorism prevention, said reupping the grant program would require action by both the administration and Congress.

In a House committee hearing on white supremacy in June, a homeland security assistant secretary seemed to leave open the door to potential future funding. 

"We are evaluating and assessing future requests for funding associated with that," said the DHS official, Elizabeth Neumann, about Countering Violent Extremism grants.

The Buttigieg campaign cited articles about reductions in staff and funding in the office that housed Countering Violent Extremism compared to the Obama administration.

The program was located within the Office of Community Partnerships in the Obama administration. That office is now the Office of Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention, which aims to address all forms of domestic and international terrorism. 

George Selim, the former director of the Office for Community Partnerships, has said his office once had a budget of $21 million and 16 staff. Selim, who now works for the Anti-Defamation League, said the office has since been cut to a nearly $3 million budget based off a DHS 2020 budget justification document. Congress has not yet finished appropriations bills for 2020, so we don’t yet know what the office’s budget will be.

Finally, the Buttigieg campaign also pointed to an April article in the Daily Beast that reported that the department disbanded a group of intelligence analysts who were focused on domestic terrorism. A DHS official told the Daily Beast that the same people were working on the same issues as part of a restructuring.

The Trump administration defended its strategy on terrorism, as released in October 2018. It states that the country faces threats from domestic terrorists motivated by various ideologies including "racially motivated extremism." 

Our ruling

Buttigieg said, "The Trump Administration cut funding allocated to the Department of Homeland Security to combat white nationalism."

He points to the $10 million Countering Violent Extremism grant program, which was launched under Obama and not renewed under President Trump. It was meant to last for two years. When it expired in July 2019, Trump did not renew it. That’s not exactly the same as a "cut."

However, a group that was slated to get a grant under Obama, Life After Hate, had its grant rescinded under the Trump administration while the program was going on. The group was one of the only ones with expertise on white nationalism. Overall, most of the grant proposals were focused on Muslims or immigrants, and not white nationalists. 

Buttigieg left out part of the story. 

We rate this statement Half True.