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Former DHS official: Trump admin empowering white supremacists

White nationalist demonstrators use shields as they guard the entrance to Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

LISTEN: Former Acting Undersecretary for Intelligence at DHS John Cohen

PHOENIX — A former Department of Homeland Security official said Tuesday that white supremacists are being empowered by President Donald Trump’s administration.

“They feel empowered because of all the rhetoric they are spewing out on social media and the internet and, to some degree, they feel that there is an administration in place today that is supportive of their ideological agenda,” John Cohen, the former acting undersecretary for intelligence at DHS, told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Bruce St.  James and Pamela Hughes.

Cohen said extremist groups feel empowered because Trump has some ideas — building a border wall, increasing deportations and restricting both legal immigration and Muslim immigrants — that white supremacists support.

“Look I’m not getting into politics on this,” Cohen said. “I’m just talking about this as a person who has worked with Republicans and Democrats and who has focused on this issue from a law enforcement perspective.”

Cohen also said mixed messages from the White House have contributed to groups feeling more supported. Hours after Cohen spoke with KTAR News, Trump said both sides were to blame for violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Va. during weekend protests.

On Monday, Trump condemned white supremacist groups.

The protests were part of a new wave of white supremacy where traditional groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Nation and skinheads go by different names: Vanguard America, Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Workers Party

“Whether we call them skinheads or neo-Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, the important fact is this: They all subscribe to the same philosophy which is one that promotes the supremacy and superiority of white people of European descent,” Cohen said.

The internet and social media have provided a way for these groups that, in the past, were geographically isolated to become interconnected.

“If I’m a local white supremacist group in Charlottesville, Va., and I want to hold a rally or a protest, I get on social media, I can draw people in from all around the country,” he said.

“They’re going on the internet, or viewing extremists on social media, they’re self-connecting with the cause, and then they are going out and committing acts of violence on behalf of the cause.”

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