White supremacists an active threat, says acting intelligence chief

Members of the Proud Boys rally in Portland, Oregon on Sept 26. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: The acting chief of the Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence office on Friday said he agrees with the FBI director and other administration officials that white supremacists are an active threat to public order.

Joseph Maher, a DHS lawyer, also told a congressional hearing that he hadn’t faced political pressure from political appointees to slant intelligence to suit themes promoted by President Donald Trump such as his assertions that Antifa, a largely unstructured far-left movement, stoked urban violence.

“I will not have anybody taking political directions on any intelligence products,” Maher, currently head of the DHS Intelligence and Analysis operation, told a hearing of the Democratic-led House of Representatives Intelligence Committee.

Maher said he agreed with FBI chief Christopher Wray that, “white supremacy is a threat … when it becomes connected to violence.”

Democrats and other critics of Trump have accused him of sympathising with white supremacists groups.

At Tuesday night’s election debate with Democratic challenger Joe Biden, the Republican replied, “Proud Boys, stand back and stand by”, after being asked by the moderator whether he was willing to denounce white supremacist groups.

Two days later Trump walked back the comment and condemned all white supremacists including the “Proud Boys,” a self-described club of “Western chauvinists” but identified as a hate group by civil rights monitors.

Maher said he also agreed with intelligence panel chair Adam Schiff that Russia was interfering in the run-up to the Nov 3 vote.

He said he had no reason to disagree with findings by US counterintelligence chief William Evanina in August that Russia is trying to actively denigrate Biden.

The committee opened its probe following reports people had been “snatched off the streets of Portland” in Oregon during anti-racism protests and that DHS intelligence officials may have played a part.

Schiff is seeking testimony from former DHS intelligence chief Brian Murphy, who has said he was pressured to skew reports to support Trump’s political themes, but the testimony has been postponed.