President Barack Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser suggested to a Harvard audience last week that parents and teachers across the country can get involved in rooting out homegrown terror by turning a more suspicious eye toward the children they raise and educate.
“[W]e recognize that there are limits to what the federal government can do,” Lisa O. Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security, said in a prepared speech before the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government. “So we must rely on the partnership of those who are most familiar with the local risks, those who are in the best position to take action–local communities.”
How do you do that? By scanning kids for indicative behavioral changes while viewing the little strangers’ growing-up phases through a lens that filters for the “warning signs” of terror:
In the more than 80 percent of cases involving homegrown violent extremists, people in the community — whether peers or family members or authority figures or even strangers — had observed warning signs a person was becoming radicalized to violence. But more than half of those community members downplayed or dismissed their observations without intervening. So it’s not that the clues weren’t there, it’s that they weren’t understood well enough to be seen as the indicators of a serious problem.
What kinds of behaviors are we talking about? For the most part, they’re not related directly to plotting attacks. They’re more subtle. For instance, parents might see sudden personality changes in their children at home — becoming confrontational. Religious leaders might notice unexpected clashes over ideological differences. Teachers might hear a student expressing an interest in traveling to a conflict zone overseas. Or friends might notice a new interest in watching or sharing violent material.
In a world in which the government holds the keys to solving all ills, this advice veers toward the dystopian. Parents whose lives enmesh fully with their offspring through direct, intimate and constant involvement in the raising of their children are not as valuable to the police state as parents who at least know what to watch out for in their kids, aloof as so many parent-child relationships may be.
The same can be said of teachers, whose skills in monitoring children as potential wards of the state — either through removal from the home or incarceration — prove at least as useful to a watchful government as is their ability to transmit knowledge and cultivate close ties with parents (aloof, of course, as many parent-teacher relationships may be).
Monaco’s introduction made note of several recent terror attacks and isolated, tragic freak-outs — but she managed to place them all on the same top shelf of anti-terror priorities, while simultaneously observing the alleged motives only of the crazy far right.
Here’s what she said about last year’s Boston Marathon bombing:
Of course, we’re here today because of a tragedy. This morning I joined Vice President Biden at the memorial service marking the anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings — marking one year since we were shocked by those awful images at the finish line; one year since we lost Krystle Campbell, Lingzi Lu, eight-year-old Martin Richard and Officer Sean Collier — all innocent lives and all lost far too soon. It’s been one year since we saw how Boston responds in the face of terrorism–with resilience and resolve and unbending strength.
When the bombs went off, I had been President Obama’s chief advisor on homeland security and counterterrorism for just a few weeks. It was a deeply personal introduction to the demands of this job. I was raised a few miles from here — in Newton. I went to high school in the shadow of Fenway Park and then made the long trek down Storrow Drive to come here for college. Growing up, I spent every Patriot’s Day lining that marathon route — usually at the crest of Heartbreak Hill — cheering on the runners and taking part in a great Boston tradition. And last year, my twin brother was there in the crowd, alongside thousands of other Bostonians. It was not only an attack on the homeland; it was an attack on my hometown.
By whom? For what reasons? She didn’t attempt to speculate.
Here’s what she said about the crazy guy who killed three people earlier this month at a Jewish community center in Kansas:
We’ve faced violent expressions of extremism throughout our history, including 19 years ago this week in Oklahoma City. And, sadly, we continue to face it, as we saw just two days ago in Overland Park, Kansas, when a gunman — allegedly a white supremacist with a long history of racist and anti-Semitic behavior — opened fire at a Jewish community center and retirement home, killing three. And, while the American people continue to stand united against hatred and violence, the unfortunate truth is that extremist groups will continue targeting vulnerable populations in an effort to promote their murderous ideology.
That’s why stemming domestic radicalization to violence has been a key element of our counterterrorism strategy from day one. President Obama has been laser-focused on making sure we use all the elements of our national power to protect Americans, including developing the first government-wide strategy to prevent violent extremism in the United States.