What the Fuck Is Going On With CVE? (Part One)

A mini-series charting the evolution of CVE through three administrations: Obama, Trump, and Biden.

📝 Monthly Round-Up

To keep in line with this newsletter’s focus, I rounded up five articles on Countering Violent Extremism. Alongside the mini-series, these article will help you develop a robust understanding of CVE programming and frameworks.

Lessons from Our Past: CVE, Black American Muslims, and Social Justice, Margari Hill — Written in 2015, this article offers insights to CVE’s early days and some divisions that formed along racial lines, with Hill writing, “Black American Muslims have good reasons for looking at CVE programs not as partnerships between government and Muslim communities, but mechanisms of control.”

These Teens Are Making Their Voices Heard Against the Countering Violent Extremism Program, Kaaha Kaahiye — This article breakdowns anti-CVE organizing in the Twin Cities area. It focuses on the Young Muslim Collective.

The Fire of Hypocrisy: the Minnesota Somali Community In the Shadow of CVE (and Part II), Mohamud Awil Mohamed — Another Minneapolis-focused recommendation, this time a two-part series. Given that Minneapolis was a CVE pilot city, how the program was built there is critical.

2020 Candidates Want to Fund a Program Used to Surveil Muslims on Social Media, Vanessa Taylor — I try to avoid recommending my own work but, even though the 2020 presidential race is long over, the social media focused components of this article are still relevant.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States government ostensibly shifted its domestic terrorism focus onto white supremacy. In its first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, released on June 15, the National Security Council wrote, “Today’s domestic terrorists espouse a range of violent ideological motivations, including racial or ethnic bigotry…Among that wide range of animating ideologies, racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (principally those who promote the superiority of the white race) and militia violent extremists are assessed as presenting the most persistent and lethal threat.”

The Biden administration’s take on domestic terrorism may seem like progress, especially as its report invokes the Ku Klux Klan and xenophobia against Asian communities as examples. However, an expansive definition of (domestic) terrorism is not liberation. The Biden administration’s definition still leaves room for the federal government to target oppressed communities in our collective struggle. Fundamentally, the Biden administration has done nothing but once again revamp Countering Violent Extremism.

Throughout the years, CVE has taken on multiple forms (and names), making it difficult for the general public to track. For example, at a national level, CVE can refer to a general strategy / framework or an Obama-era DHS program. In Minneapolis, CVE had a local name: Building Community Resilience. The Biden administration relies on CVE’s opaqueness to distance its domestic terrorism plans from that legacy. To offer clarity, I put together a mini-series charting CVE through three presidential administrations: Obama (CVE), Trump (Targeted Violence and Prevention), and now Biden (Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships).

This mini-series will consist of two or three newsletters. I am not performing an in-depth analysis of CVE so I won’t talk about the overarching framework nor go into details about its reliance on debunked theories. This is meant to track CVE’s evolution from president to president. Doing so, I hope, will make it easier to understand the Biden administration’s shenanigans and why anti-CVE organizers are still raising the alarm.

The Beginning…Countering Violent Extremism 1.0

As a “soft” counterterrorism strategy, CVE can be traced back to the 2007 Implementation Plan for Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States. Two years later, in 2009, the Obama administration gathered local, federal, and international officials at a Countering Violent Extremism summit. And in 2011, Obama signed the plan’s national strategy which outlined a “community-based” approach “to build resilience against violent extremism”. In short, CVE.

That signing marked the creation of a national task force led by DHS and the Department of Justice. This task force would evolve and officially become the CVE Task Force in January 2016. Then, in December, a report from the Government Accountability Office concluded that while the task force was supposed to evaluate CVE nationwide, “The federal government does not have a cohesive strategy or process for assessing the overall CVE effort. Although GAO was able to determine the status of the 44 CVE tasks, it was not able to determine if the United States is better off today than it was in 2011 as a result of these tasks.”

This evolution of CVE — from a summit to a national strategy to a task force — is a little confusing. I made a point of including it because this confusion reinforces what I mentioned in the intro. CVE has taken on many meanings. If you begin your analysis with the 2016 grants I’ll explore next, you miss how CVE targeted communities years before. Kafia Ahmed, a Minneapolis organizer, once told me for the Progressive, “The FBI and the Obama Administration were already working on criminalizing Somalis in Minneapolis. I had FBI agents coming to campus at the University of Minnesota interrogating young Somalis during classes so [CVE] grew out of that larger context.”

Now, I want to focus on the Obama administration’s CVE grant program, as that is what most people think of as CVE. Different entities — such as local nonprofits, public schools, mental health clinics, and universities — took advantage of these grants but CVE specifically capitalized on the lack of resources in poor, Black and / or Muslim communities, who made up its principle targets. As noted by Muslim Justice League, “CVE programs often recruit non-law enforcement professionals — including doctors, counselors, teachers, imams and others — to engage in soft surveillance, reporting on and referring folks deemed ‘vulnerable to extremism’ for ‘interventions’ to change their beliefs.”

Officially, this program is called CVE or the CVE Grant Program. To help separate it from the broader framework, task forces, and etc, I’ll call it CVE 1.0.

Let’s answer some of the usual questions:

When Did CVE 1.0 Roll Out?

The Obama administration launched CVE 1.0 in 2014 in three pilot cities: Minneapolis, Boston, and Los Angeles. The following year, CVE 1.0 expanded through the Strong Cities Network to include locations like Atlanta, Denver, and New York City.

That wasn’t the end, though.

In 2016, the Obama administration opened up applications for CVE 1.0 grants.

Who Distributed CVE Funding?

The 2016 grants that I referenced above were distributed by DHS — $10 million in total. Recipients included the University of San Diego ($634,769), the Heartland Democracy Center ($423,340), National Consortium for Advanced Policing ($200,000), and more.

In addition, CVE 1.0 funding could be redistributed at a local level, which further clouded the money chain. In 2014, Minneapolis-based Youthprise accepted $216,000 from DHS as part of its CVE initiative, and distributed the money to six Somali community organizations with focuses that ranged from mental health to after-school sports.

(NOTE: Money for CVE more generally also flowed through other sources. For example, in 2018, Operation 250, a program started by University of Massachusetts Lowell students and faculty in the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies, received a $1 million grant from the National Institute for Justice.)

Who Did CVE Target?

Generally, Muslims, and I would specify Black Muslim communities — especially immigrants and / or refugees. Going after youth (including children as young as elementary schoolers) was a particular focus, too, as evidenced by the fact that CVE 1.0 funded after-school programming. You can look at performance reports to learn more about each project.

While CVE 1.0 is an Islamophobic program, other groups were targeted. Remember that terrorism is a flexible category — the federal government can manipulate its meaning to include any group that presents a threat at that time. Hence, the Federal Bureau of Investigations categorizing Black Identity Extremists as a form of domestic terrorism and having its terrorism task force investigate Standing Rock activists .

Keeping that in mind, any group that threatens the status quo, to put it simply, could be targeted. In Denver, the city planned to broaden its focus to “disenfranchised communities”, which included LGBTQ communities and Black Lives Matter.

Now, CVE 1.0 did distribute grants to organizations that claimed to address white supremacy like Life After Hate. These grants were rescinded in 2017 by the Trump administration to much backlash. However, Life After Hate bought into Islamophobic framework, and planned to expand its programming to target “jihadis” so. Don’t be fooled into thinking CVE — in all its iterations — is about anything but surveilling and controlling oppressed communities.

When Did CVE 1.0 End?

CVE 1.0 grants expired in the summer of 2019.

As I’ve established, CVE itself did not end with those grants. We’ll get into Trump’s TVTP / CVE 2.0 with the next newsletter.