The Problems with “Violent Extremism” and "Violence Prevention" Programs

Document Date: December 22, 2015

In the last two decades, successive presidential administrations have pursued federal programs to prevent “violent extremism” or “radicalization.” Unfortunately, these programs have had little or no scientific or evidentiary basis for addressing or understanding what are often ill-defined problems, and have resulted in unmerited stigma, discrimination, and infringement of the rights to equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion. By viewing American communities through a threat-based security lens, these programs have targeted and harmed Black and Brown people, particularly Muslims, as well as other marginalized communities.

Under the Obama administration, the federal government created the “Countering Violent Extremism” (CVE) program, through which law enforcement and other agencies infiltrated and cast unwarranted suspicion on Muslims in America. The CVE program was deeply controversial and has been rejected by Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities around the country. The Obama administration model was similar to and built on the United Kingdom’s “Prevent” programs. CVE called on—and provided funding to—law enforcement, social service providers, and members of religious communities to identify individuals who they thought might be susceptible to violence, based on specious, vague, and broad criteria that encompassed lawful speech and association. In essence, health professionals, social service providers, and even teachers and community members could be tasked with monitoring and reporting to law enforcement on the beliefs and activities of law-abiding Americans—also known as spying.

The Trump administration established the Office for Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Public reporting indicated that the TVTP Office was created in part to investigate the rise in white supremacist violence. Reporting also indicated that, like the Obama administration’s CVE approach, the TVTP Office would rely on terrorism-related powers that DHS and other agencies have long used to wrongly and unfairly target communities of color and social justice activists for investigation and surveillance, and harm equal protection and First Amendment rights. This program also provided DHS funding to law enforcement and community-based organizations under the long-existing ineffective and discriminatory CVE framework.

President Biden promised to end TVTP and conduct a thorough review of past programs. The Biden administration has replaced the TVTP Office with a new Center for Prevention Programs and Partnerships (CP3) that appears to be doubling down on prior harmful and ineffective programs. The administration announced the creation of CP3, to address “terrorism and targeted violence.” According to the administration, the center will use behavioral threat assessment and management tools and “early risk factors that can lead to radicalization” by using a localized approach, housed in DHS, which is a law enforcement agency. The Center does not appear to have clear guidelines for its research and activities, or safeguards against violation of equal protection and First Amendment rights.


Coalition Letter to the White House Re: Federal Support for Countering Violent Extremism Programs (4/22/16)

Coalition Letter to FBI Director Comey Re: “Don’t Be a Puppet” Website (4/5/16)

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (3/10/16)

Joint Written Statement Submitted to 31st Session of the Human Rights Council (2/4/16)

Joint Advocacy Letter to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (2/4/16)

Letter to Mayor DeBlasio Expressing Concern about “Countering Violent Extremism” Program (9/21/15)

Coalition Letter Regarding Countering Violent Extremism Act of 2015 (7/10/15)

Coalition Letter to Obama Administration on Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Program (12/18/14)

ACLU Urges Civil Liberties Agenda at White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism (9/24/14)

Blog posts

What Could Go Wrong With Asking Teachers To Monitor Kids for ‘Extremist’ Beliefs? (7/20/16)

The FBI Wants Schools to Spy on Their Students’ Thoughts (3/11/16)

FBI Borrows From Anti-Muslim Playbook in New Video Game (2/24/16)

Will White House Violent Extremism Program Address Pressing Civil Rights Concerns? (2/17/16)

Why I Have Hope for American Muslim Equality (2/10/16)

A Rally Around Hatred (10/9/15)

Religion-Based Suspicion Masquerading as Counterterrorism Has No Place in America (10/24/15)

Will White House Violent Extremism Summit Address Pressing Civil Rights Concerns? (2/17/15)

The Lone-Wolf Terror Trap: Why the Cure Will Be Worse Than the Disease (2/5/15)

This Secret Domestic Surveillance Program Is About to Get Pulled Out of the Shadows (2/24/15)

Terrorist or…Teenager? (11/13/14)

Countering Violent Extremism: Time for the Administration to Get It Right (9/24/14)


ACLU v. Department of Homeland Security: FOIA Lawsuit Seeking Records on “Countering Violent Extremism” Programs


Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism (2/22/16)

Related Documents

Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.