Today, after a year of deadly hate crimes and insistent political violence, the Biden administration convened a Summit at the White House, entitled “United We Stand,” intended to “counter the corrosive effects of hate-fueled violence on our democracy and public safety” and “put forward a shared, bipartisan vision for a more united America.” 

President Biden is right to recognize that the federal government must provide leadership at this moment. But this must not just mean bringing the right people into a room to say the right things. On the contrary, it means providing tangible support for all the necessary work taking place outside the room — the work of local governments and civil society, business leaders and faith leaders and school boards and artists and students and municipal workers.

Cities, counties and school districts are increasingly isolated and overwhelmed in responding to hate and political violence. For the many Americans who care about democratic practice and our republican form of government, we know we are not powerless. But the burden of responding to political violence cannot be limited to local government and community leaders. 

For 30 years, I’ve worked with rural and urban communities across the American West seeking out the most effective responses to hate violence. Under the best conditions, no community in America can successfully meet the challenge posed by the rise of political violence on its own. It requires tangible, material support from federal elected officials and the agencies they oversee. 

This includes individual grants for local governments struggling with the threats of political violence or dealing with the consequences of hate crimes. It includes improving information sharing across municipalities and agencies and a reinvigorated and expanded Community Relations Services at the Department of Justice with a desk focused specifically on providing funding for local governmental responses that prioritize community cohesion and victim support for affected communities. It includes stronger laws and enforcement of those laws to prevent dangerous paramilitary activity. It includes more training and support for government employees and local elected officials responding to attacks. And it includes a transparent federal investigation of political bias in law enforcement investigations.

And while hate violence is a criminal act, it is fundamentally a political and social problem with national scope, and we must rhetorically treat it as such. 

African Americans at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo and Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, Latinos at an El Paso Walmart and the Gilroy Garlic Festival, Jews at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue and a community center in Overland Park, Kan., the Sikhs worshiping at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc., — in all these mass shootings (and more), the killers drew from the same toxic playbook. The so-called great replacement theory promulgates the belief that a Jewish global conspiracy is orchestrating a master plan to undermine white political power by increasing the demographic numbers of communities of color. The White House Summit cannot fully succeed without explicitly disavowing the antisemitic great replacement theory which has influenced so much of the mission-driven hate violence that made this summit necessary. We must stop placing the full burden of countering bigoted extremism on law enforcement. 

Western States Center urges the White House to use the summit to create a pathway for block grants for local governments to help counter the impacts of extremism on the functioning of local governance. Non-governmental organizations have already started to experiment with how to strengthen community-based responses to extremism — for example, the New Pluralists’ recently-announced $10 million investment in local leaders, networks and community groups who are bolstering pluralism in American neighborhoods, towns and counties. These types of pilot programs embrace the core truth that there is no magic wand or single source solution that will turn back the dial on hate and political violence. The summit should follow suit by eschewing a single approach and embracing a strategy of community abundance. 

This means accepting that communities are not only the victims of hate and political violence but are also its solution. As political and hate violence become more commonplace, there are simply insufficient resources for local governments to maintain safety for the functioning of school boards, city councils, county commissions and other local bodies. 

Yes, there are existing tools to help local governments counter the impact of extremist and bigoted violence but federal financial assistance in the form of block grants could allow local governments to bring dozens of new innovative approaches online within only a few short years. This would allow local governments across the United States to choose and implement a significantly broader set of tools that are right for their unique challenges. 

Local communities are facing an existential threat aimed at the heart of our democracy and it’s time for the federal government to act like it.

When federal elected officials join with the victims and family members of hate violence, local officials, government workers, artists, business leaders and everyday citizens to reject the great replacement theory and put forth real support to local governments, we will know the White House Summit has been successful.

Let today’s White House summit be the beginning of getting serious about reseeding democracy.

Eric K. Ward is a senior advisor at the Western States Center, a nonprofit based in the Pacific Northwest dedicated to uplifting the voices of marginalized communities.

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