Congresswoman Martha McSally
PolitiFact calls U.S. Rep. Martha McSally's recent claim comparing the number of IRS employees vs. the number of people dedicated to "countering violent extremism" in America "mostly false."
A revenue agent, the research service told McSally, "typically is an accountant who audits and examines the tax returns of individuals, businesses, and tax-exempt entities to determine whether they are meeting their tax obligations."
In other words, the work of the 10,000 IRS agents is much broader than merely checking whether a taxpayer improperly claimed a tax deduction for making a charitable donation.
It’s also not necessarily surprising the number is as high as it is, given that millions of people and entities file federal income taxes. And only a federal agency, not state or local authorities, would be involved in auditing federal returns.
That’s in contrast to the approach taken in countering violent extremism.
Now for the second part of McSally’s claim — that there are fewer than two dozen people "focusing on countering violent extremism" in America, which isn’t exactly the same as fighting terrorism.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, citing a White House strategy document on countering violent extremism, says violent extremists are "individuals who support or commit ideologically-motivated violence to further political goals."
So, countering violent extremism is an effort to prevent such violence.
We asked for more clarification from Amy Pate, research director of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland. She said: Think of a 20-year-old, marginalized, radicalized American who one day shows up at the airport with a ticket to fly to Turkey and join ISIS.
Countering violent extremism is aimed at preventing that sort of thing from occurring. It’s done through a variety of outreach and education programs, social media and other efforts, aiming to get down to the local and even the individual level — such as showing parents how to spot whether a son or daughter might be becoming radicalized.
"The more local it is, the more successful it’s going to be," Pate told us.
Indeed, the White House strategy document, issued in 2011, outlines how the federal government will "support and help empower American communities and their local partners in their grassroots efforts to prevent violent extremism."
The White House also said, in February 2015, that "communities provide the solution to violent extremism; and CVE efforts are best pursued at the local level, tailored to local dynamics, where local officials continue to build relationships within their communities through established community policing and community outreach mechanisms. The federal government’s most effective role in strengthening community partnerships and preventing violent extremism is as a facilitator, convener, and source of research and findings."
In other words, unlike auditing federal tax returns, which is done at the federal level, countering violent extremism has a federal component but is designed to be an effort that is spread out throughout the country.
You could say that McSally was engaging in a bit of rhetorical flourish for the sake of emphasizing the importance of increasing the effort against ISIS' push to recruit operatives to act in the United States as they did in Paris earlier this month.
And the IRS is certainly an easy target, given that it's hated by so many Americans.
But you'd think that McSally would be less hostile to the idea of making sure Americans pay their tax bill.
Unlike many of her Republican congressional colleagues, McSally has expressed a desire to see the federal government spend more
, at least in Southern Arizona, McSally's career and education has been funded by the federal government, both during her admirable military service and now while she is in Congress.
And without federal tax dollars, you couldn't add more people to the fight against terrorism.