Christina Pipkin cries as she visits a makeshift memorial, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at the site of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, in El Paso, Texas. "It's hard to see it, it's heartbreaking," said Pipkin about visiting the memorial. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Christina Pipkin cries as she visits a makeshift memorial, Monday, Aug. 5, 2019, at the site of a mass shooting at a shopping complex, in El Paso, Texas. "It's hard to see it, it's heartbreaking," said Pipkin about visiting the memorial. (AP Photo/John Locher) (John Locher / AP)

The chief threat to the country’s safety is not the foreign Islamic extremists that some Americans have have painted as the boogeyman since the Sept. 11 attacks, but rather people raised and bred on American soil. The mass shooting in El Paso, Texas has shown once again that white nationalists are willing to engage in wholesale executions in the name of hate, and it is time the country treats them as the terrorists that they are.

As the body counts have piled up, our government has chosen to approach these incidents with far less seriousness than they would a foreign group that would inflict such carnage. Instead, officials have poured money and resources into international terrorism and either missed, or ignored, the fact that deaths at the hands of homegrown terrorists now far outpace those of Islamic extremists.

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Perhaps the problem is that brown terrorists seemed more threatening than white ones. Not helping matters is the inflammatory rhetoric President Donald Trump has used to rile up a white base by stoking fears of a growing minority population.

Whatever the reason, make no mistake that white supremacists are terrorists and we need to stop allowing them to hide behind the excuse of First Amendment Rights that has made it difficult to prosecute them. No more excuses that these shooters were influenced by video games or had dysfunctional homes lives and suffered from mental illness. Anyone who kills fellow Americans should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Federal law enforcement can no longer afford to ignore and downplay the problem as nationalists become more emboldened — in part because of the egging on of our president — and Americans are now fearful of going to malls, concerts and other spots that were once safe places. Parents can’t even go school shopping without facing the threat of exposing themselves and their families to danger. In 2018, right-wing extremists killed more people than in any year since 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

In May, Michael McGarrity, assistant director for counter-terrorism at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told a House committee that the agency was investigating 850 cases of domestic terrorism and that 40 percent were racially motivated and violent. A majority of those racially-charged cases involve white supremacists.

Law enforcement needs to go after white supremacists just as vigorously as they did Muslim extremists, even though there are challenges that make it more difficult, including the lack of a formal federal domestic terrorism charge. Police hold suspects on lesser charges every day as they finish investigations. They can do the same with terrorists who pose a danger.

We need better monitoring of social media sites where mass shooters have gotten their inspiration from other terrorists and published manifestos outlining their hateful thinking. We are as dedicated to free speech as anyone, but free speech has limits. Companies like Google and Facebook can protect First Amendment Rights while also pointing out threats of violence. In fact, not only can they, these companies should have an obligation to in the name of national security. The public should also be vigilant about warning signs of potential suspects and police should investigate them thoroughly.

Domestic terrorist acts can be thwarted with aggressive monitoring. In 51 percent of mass shootings, the shooter exhibited dangerous warning signs before the incident, according to research by the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. If federal law enforcement had been paying attention over the last decade, they could have predicted these kinds of attacks would grow.

Our political leaders also need to publicly denounce the motivations behind such shootings, and one speech from the White House by President Trump isn’t enough. His denunciation of this weekend’s killings was welcome, but it doesn’t erase his record of stoking white nationalism through his rhetoric and immigration policies.

The administration made a sliver of progress when the Department of Justice swiftly proclaimed it would treat the El Paso shootings as a domestic terrorism incident. Admitting there is a problem is the first step. The 21-year-old accused of the shooting said he wanted to stop a Hispanic "invasion” (the very same word Mr. Trump has used on various occasions) and drove hours to find his targets in the city that borders Mexico.

(The motive for the second mass shooting of the weekend, in Dayton, Ohio, remains mysterious.)

Far more still needs to be done. Dozens of families were shattered this weekend because of the country’s blind eye to domestic terrorists. The death toll will only rise if we continue to be complacent.

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