President Trump’s nominee to lead the Department of Homeland Security distanced herself from comments made by Trump–in the aftermath of far-right militant violence last summer.
Kirstjen Nielsen said that she “disavows any form of violence, whether that be antisemitic, white supremist [sic], any kind of radicalization,” when asked on Wednesday at her confirmation hearing.
Nielsen had been asked by Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) if she condemned white nationalism, white supremacy, antisemitism, and Islamophobia. Each time, the nominee responded “yes,” without missing a beat.
In August, white nationalists descended on the Charlottesville, Va. to protest the planned removal of a statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Militant far-right groups had rampaged through the streets the night beforehand. Their protest ended with the murder of Heather Heyer, 32, and the wounding of a dozen other counter-demonstrators.
Twenty-one year-old Neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. carried out the attack by driving his car into a march. Chat logs revealed that white nationalists were intending to inflict violence on their opponents before the so-called “Unite the Right” rally. Some encouraged vehicular homicide.
Days after the attack, Trump claimed: “There were fine people on both sides.”
“All I can say is what I believe and what I would do, if confirmed,” Nielsen noted, when pressed by Peters about the President’s reaction.
Nielsen then said she would use her authority to share information with local law enforcement officials “to anticipate such threats.”
Peters replied, noting calls to “potentially broaden the scope” of the DHS Countering Violent Extremism program–to address “the threat of white nationalist violence.”
The lawmaker warned, however, that the program is “flawed and counterproductive in many respects,” saying it placed too heavy of an influence on law enforcement.
The agency CVE program has also been accused of focusing too heavily on Muslims–especially under Trump. In June, for example, DHS officials said they would stop funding a group established to deradicalize white nationalists.
“I believe the only way this works is to constructively and continuously engage communities,” Nielsen replied on Wednesday.
In response to another inquiry from Peters, however, she backed policies that could make it difficult for “constructive engagement.”
Nielsen answered in the affirmative, when asked if she supported laws allowing police officers “to demand proof of citizenship or immigration status based on their perception that an individual might be undocumented.”
“What in your mind would constitute ‘reasonable suspicion’ and how would that differ from racial profiling?” Peters asked.
Nielsen replied saying she would research state policies and could answer the question for the record.
If confirmed, Nielsen would be Trump’s second DHS Secretary since his inauguration. She was nominated to replace John Kelly, who was promoted to White House Chief of Staff after Reince Priebus was fired.
In an Oct. 30 interview with Fox News, Kelly described General Lee as an “honorable man.”