It’s no wonder why Hillary Clinton picked Minnesota to unveil her counterterrorist strategies: The state has struggled more with terror recruitment than anywhere in the nation.
So on Tuesday afternoon, the Democratic front-runner outlined her plans to prevent homegrown radicalization and recruitment speaking from the McNamara Alumni Center on the University of Minnesota campus.
Many of the state’s heavyweight politicians — including former Vice President Walter Mondale, U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken as well as Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges — attended the gathering, which drew more than 250 people.
“I want to talk about how we keep our country safe from a threat that’s on everyone’s minds, the threat of terrorism,” she said in a nearly hourlong speech that drew several standing ovations. “But … we cannot give in to fear. We can’t let it stop us from doing what is right and necessary to make us safe, and doing it in a way that is consistent with our values.”
As part of her strategies, Clinton accentuated the importance of cracking down on cyber-recruitment, increasing surveillance to disrupt potential attacks and establishing relationships between law enforcement and Muslim communities.
She called on federal and state leaders to support the controversial Countering Violence Extremism program — which has divided leaders of the Muslim community — aimed at preventing young Minnesotans from joining terrorist groups in the Middle East and in Somalia.
“It has not gotten the financial resources that it needs to do everything the people involved in it know they can do,” explained Clinton, who also met with several prominent leaders from the Somali-American community. “And we’ve got to do a better job of supporting it.”
‘Disgraceful things about Muslims’
More than once, Clinton criticized her Republican counterparts who have made remarks to disparage Muslim Americans in the wake of the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks — and in some cases before the attacks.
For instance, Sen. Ted Cruz said he plans to introduce a bill barring Muslim refugees from Syria from entering the United States; Ben Carson suggested that the U.S. should not elect a Muslim president; and Donald Trump called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the country, a ban he said would be temporary.
Such “divisive rhetoric” doesn’t solve the serious terrorism threats the country faces, Clinton noted. It only alienates Muslim Americans, she said, who have already been on the front lines of the fight against terrorist groups.
“Now Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the United States has rightly sparked outrage across our country and around the world,” Clinton told the crowd. “Even some of the other Republican candidates are saying he’s gone too far.”
She added: “But the truth is, many of those same candidates have also said disgraceful things about Muslims. And this kind of divisive rhetoric actually plays into the hands of terrorists. It alienates partners and undermines moderates we need around the world in the fight against ISIS.”
In fact, it’s won the hearts and minds of some young people from the United States: An estimated 200 Americans have either joined or attempted to join ISIS over the years, according to various news reports.
This year alone, 10 Somali-Americans from Minnesota were charged with conspiring to help the Islamic State. The latest man, 20-year-old Abdirizak Mohamed Warsame, was arrested last Wednesday after authorities accused him of encouraging others to join the terrorist group.
In her Tuesday address, Clinton said that such homegrown radicalization and recruitment can only be prevented when the law enforcement and the Muslim communities unite against ISIS and other militant groups, rebutting the anti-Muslim remarks of her Republican counterparts.
“There are millions of peace-loving Muslims living, working, raising families, and paying taxes in our country,” Clinton said. “These Americans may be our first, last, and best defense against homegrown radicalization and terrorism.”
She added: “They are the most likely to recognize the insidious effects of radicalization before it’s too late, intervene to help set a young person straight. They are the best positioned to block anything going forward.”
Besides the fight against terrorism, the former secretary of state emphasized the many contributions of U.S. Muslim communities — and especially those of Somali-Americans.
After a brutal civil war erupted in their homeland in 1991, hundreds of thousands escaped the violence and anarchy and made Canada, Europe and the United States home.
In Minnesota, the thousands of Somalis who have come here during the 1990s and 2000s have blossomed into a vibrant community, sending their own representatives to local governments.
Abdi Warsame, the first Somali-American City Council member, was among several Muslim leaders who on Tuesday met with Clinton. “He was proudly telling me how much change Somali immigrants, now Muslim-Americans, have made in parts of the city and neighborhoods that had been pretty much hollowed out,” she said. “Let’s look at the successes.”
She added: “If we’re going to fully integrate everyone into America, then we need to be seeing all their contributions, too. And that is one of the many reasons why we must all stand up against offensive, inflammatory, hateful, anti-Muslim rhetoric.”
In an interview, Warsame said he welcomes Clinton’s strategies to counter terrorism and radicalization, which have plagued his community since 2007, when more than 20 young men joined the Islamist group al-Shabaab in Somalia.
“She has a plan unlike her counterparts,” he said of Clinton. “She reinsured that the Muslim-American community is an integral part of America. She spoke strongly against the bigotry that’s emanating from the Republican Party.”
On Thursday night, Republican candidate Sen. Ted Cruz will rally supporters at Harriet Island Pavilion in St. Paul.