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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2011

Fighting terrorism

Legendary House Speaker Tip O'Neill observed that "all politics is local." The Obama Administration is testing the proposition that his observation can apply to preventing terrorism.

In a report released last week, the administration argues that the best way to counter violent extremism on the home front is to foster robust cooperation and communication among federal, state, and local institutions.

Because extremists often target and recruit children and young people, families play a crucial role in counteracting hateful ideologies. The alienation that feeds violent extremism doesn't emerge in a vacuum. It often has a long gestation period during which it can be observed.

Instead of relying exclusively on the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Justice Department to take the lead, the White House wants all federal agencies to work with local communities to resolve cases of suspected radicalization before they escalate into violence.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, America has directed its counterterrorism efforts almost exclusively toward the threat of Islamic extremism. This approach has been shortsighted, because America's history of anti-government violence long predates al-Qaeda.

The White House is expanding the dangers it is concerned about to include non-Islamic groups. After the recent carnage in Norway, it is important to remember that violent anti-government extremists come in all ideological stripes.

"The best defenses against violent extremist ideologies are well-informed and equipped families, local communities, and local institutions," the White House report says.

The federal government argues plausibly that violent extremism is rooted in alienation that can be recognized and addressed long before the shooting starts. Its comprehensive, cooperative approach is sound.

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