Last spring, Northwestern University hosted a symposium on “Reporting Islam: Media, Policy, Politics,” with support from the Luce/ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & Internaitonal Affairs. From that gathering, journalists Alex Ruppenthal and Asraa Mustufa examined records on Illinois’ now defunct Countering Violent Extremism program, revealing previously unknown links with the FBI and local law enforcement. In their investigation, published by The Chicago Reporter, Ruppenthal and Mustufa discuss the program’s relaunch and describe the program’s bipartisan support and the dangers it presents through unwarranted surveillance and misuse of community resources.
Civil rights advocates are calling for an end to a federal counter-terrorism program with a history in Illinois as part of broader demands to defund police departments. But the controversial Countering Violent Extremism initiative appears here to stay regardless of the outcome of November’s election, with President Donald Trump’s administration launching a rebranded version of the program and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and running mate Sen. Kamala Harris on record in support of CVE.
Meanwhile, a closer look at Illinois’ now-defunct CVE program has stoked longstanding fears over privacy and unwarranted surveillance linked to the U.S. government’s anti-extremism approach, which aims to enlist community members, teachers, religious leaders and health practitioners to help intervene with those deemed at risk of radicalization.
Records obtained by The Chicago Reporter show that the architect of Illinois’ CVE program coordinated with the FBI and Chicago Police, as well as Chicago Public Schools in at least one case involving a student, to conduct interventions with at-risk individuals — a revelation that undermines claims that such counter-extremism efforts are community-driven and not focused on law enforcement.
Records also show that the Illinois program explored enlisting mental health providers for interventions with those deemed at risk of radicalization, an approach that has alarmed some mental health providers who fear being deputized as a means of intelligence gathering for law enforcement and jeopardizing their relationship with patients. The program additionally created training materials designed to help community members spot warning signs of potential extremists, despite a lack of research that such signs exist.
These findings, based on a review of thousands of pages of records about the program obtained by The Chicago Reporter, as well as documents obtained by the civil rights organizations Muslim Advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, reveal previously unknown details on Illinois’ former program that trouble critics and confirm some of their civil rights concerns about CVE.