For George Selim, Counterterrorism Background Has Prepared Him Most for Role at ADL

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George Selim
George Selim (Courtesy of ADL)

A man named Corbin Kauffman was arrested in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on April 1 after law enforcement was notified about the content of his social media posts.

Posting under various user names, including @ShekelsWarlord and King Shekels, Kauffman shared photos of synagogue congregants with guns trained on them, exhorted his followers to “MURDER YOUR LOCAL JUDEN” and expressed a general desire for racial and anti-Semitic violence to spark a race war.

“We don’t know what might have happened,” District Attorney David Freed said in a news release, “but we take these threats seriously, and I commend the FBI for their vigilance and quick action in this case.”

The FBI did its part in preventing Kauffman’s violent fantasies from becoming reality, but if not for George Selim and the Anti-Defamation League tipping them off in late March, federal law enforcement may not have been aware of him.

“The thing that I’ve learned over the past year and a half that I did not fully appreciate prior to working at the ADL is the level of immediacy,” said Selim, referring to the threat of white supremacist violence against Jews in the U.S. “The imminence of the threat is not one I fully appreciated before.”

Selim, the ADL’s senior vice president of programs, was in Philadelphia recently to brief law enforcement officials on trends and recommendations from the ADL’s recently published audit of anti-Semitic incidents in 2018. Selim was responsible for overseeing the team that “identified, validated and verified” every reported anti-Semitic incident in 2018, as well as explaining the methodology used for that verification.

For Selim, who came to the ADL after more than 12 years at the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, it was another reminder of the unforeseen connections between his old jobs and his new one.

It is not primarily, he said, his background in civil liberties work that is the most salient connection between the two, as he’d anticipated. “It was actually,” he said, “post-Charlottesville, my work in Homeland Security in counterterrorism operational issues that’s unfortunately most prepared me for this current post.”

After another spike in violent assaults against Jewish people in the past year, he’s found that he relies on his skills related to “the operational response, the real-time need for security and other mitigation issues, both for schools and young people, as well as for houses of worship and adults.”

Selim worked in the administrations of President George W. Bush, President Barack Obama and President Donald Trump, resigning his post in Trump’s administration after seven months.

He left, he said, because it became clear that when it came to resources and support, the prioritization of his work had been severely diminished. He had led the Countering Violent Extremism Task Force, and was director of the Office of Community Partnerships, a DHS program that sought to build relationships with Muslim communities in the U.S. to help them counter radicalization.

At first, Selim said, the effort garnered bipartisan support and a budget of $21 million, but there was opposition, both from the Muslim communities who felt that the efforts of Selim’s teams amounted to “soft intelligence gathering,” as one regional head of the Council on American-Islamic Relations head put it, and from those who felt Selim and his colleagues were “willfully blinding themselves to the real threat” of Islamic terrorism, in the words of former Trump aide Sebastian Gorka.

About a month after leaving his government post, he landed at the ADL, where his work in counterterrorism has become terrifyingly relevant for the Jewish community.

He is optimistic about the response that the ADL gets from law enforcement at all levels when it comes to recommendations and tips, like the one that led to Kauffman’s arrest. That kind of cooperation is vital, he said.

“It can result in the saving of lives.”

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