Why the FBI moved white supremacist terrorism to the same threat level as ISIS
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In the wake of George Floyd's murder, this story has seen an organic uptick with our audience. In the effort to be transparent, Upworthy is adding this note up top to reflect that the story was originally published in February, 2020. The original story begins below.

Many people think of "terrorism" and immediately conjure images of ISIS or Al-Qaeda suicide bombers. But in the U.S., terrorism has another face—one that's far more familiar, but just as dangerous.


FBI Director Christopher Wray announced this week that the agency has raised racially-motivated and ethnically-motivated violent extremism to the same threat level as ISIS. At an oversight hearing with the House Judiciary Committee on February 5, Wray explained that race-based terrorism is now considered a "national threat priority," which means it will receive the same resources as international terrorism threats such as ISIS.

RELATED: Most domestic terrorism comes from white supremacists, FBI tells lawmakers

"We're particularly focused on domestic terrorism, especially racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists," said Wray. "Not only is the terror threat diverse, it's unrelenting."

Wray also clarified last year that the vast majority of racially-motivated terrorist attacks in the U.S. are "fueled by some type of white supremacy."

In other words, domestic terrorism is as much of a threat to national security as international terrorism, and most domestic terrorism comes from white supremacists.

Despite a documented rise in race-based hate crimes and ample information on such threats from the intelligence community, the White House has been reticent to address it. In fact, the Trump administration spent its first few years canceling Obama-era grants that funded programs to help fight violent extremism, such as Life After Hate, a non-profit founded by a former skinhead that helps people leave Neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements. It also slashed the office that housed the task force for Countering Violent Extremism.

However, the FBI has been clear on the threat and has been working to address it. Wray says he has now created a "domestic terrorism and hate crimes fusion cell" that combines domestic terror experts and hate crime experts. "They're working together to not just focus on the threats that have already happened but to look ahead around the corner to anticipate where else we need to be," he said.

RELATED: A former white supremacist describes the time he changed his mind and 'life after hate.'

Wray says that domestic terrorists tend to be self-radicalized online. "They choose easily accessible weapons — a car, a knife, a gun, maybe an IED they can build crudely off the internet — and they choose soft targets," Wray said. "That threat is what we assess is the biggest threat to the homeland right now."

The problem is, racially-motivated terrorists are often "lone actors" who go can quickly from rhetoric to violence, so predicting an attack can be a challenge—especially since the FBI focuses specifically on violence, not ideology.

"Our focus is on the violence," Wray said. "We the FBI don't investigate the ideology, no matter how repugnant. We investigate violence. And any extremist ideology, when it turns to violence, we're all over it."

Terrorism of all kinds is, well, terrifying. But while the government pushes more travel bans and a good chunk of Americans equate terrorism with Islam—a religion that nearly a quarter of the humans on Earth belongs to—it's the white supremacist next door who poses the most immediate threat to our nation's security. This is why having white nationalists in the White House is legitimately terrifying. This is why it's wrong to say there are "fine people on both sides" of a rally with Neo-Nazis and protesters of Neo-Nazis. This is why we need to battle white supremacist ideology whenever and wherever we see it, before it has a chance to turn to violence.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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