Plenary Session 1 - Understanding the DVE Threat Landscape
Our nation is experiencing a measurable rise in domestic violent extremism fueled by diverse collection of racially, religiously, or issue-oriented ideologies. The problem persists on both ends of the political spectrum with investigations ongoing into both left and right-wing actors and organizations. In a July report, DHS’ own IG recommended improvements to the department’s ability to collect and consolidate information; yet even access to complete federal intelligence and information would only paint part of the picture. How can the private sector and local and federal governments better collaborate across the homeland security enterprise to share information while not infringing on Constitutionally protected rights? What information can and should be shared about impending threats? After more than 20 years of our current understanding, what is the new face of terrorism?
Deputy Director, George Washington University Program on Extremism
Seamus Hughes is the Deputy Director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University. Hughes has authored numerous academic reports on extremism in America and published a critically acclaimed book, Homegrown: ISIS in America.
In addition to his academic pursuits, Hughes also assists as a New York Times research journalist, working with their D.C. and Investigative Bureaus on myriad of stories related to the federal court system. In 2022, he was part of a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting on law enforcement in America.
Hughes previously worked at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), serving as a lead staffer on U.S. government efforts to implement a national terrorism prevention strategy. Prior to NCTC, Hughes served as the Senior Counterterrorism Advisor for the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Director, Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA)
Dr. Christopher Rodriguez is the Director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA). In this role, Dr. Rodriguez serves as the Homeland Security Advisor and State Coordinating Officer for the District of Columbia. He also is the State Administrative Agent for all homeland security federal grants awarded to the District and the National Capital Region which includes parts of Northern Virginia and Maryland. HSEMA is responsible for emergency planning, preparedness, response, and recovery for the City, including operations for a 24-hour emergency operations center and the District’s intelligence fusion center. Under Dr. Rodriguez’s leadership, HSEMA, in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Department and Mayor’s Office of Religious Affairs, launched the Interfaith Preparedness Advisory Group to improve preparedness and the resiliency of the District's faith-based organizations for all types of hazards. Additionally, he has supported Mayor Muriel Bowser as Incident Commander for some of the District’s most complex, simultaneous emergency responses between COVID-19, First Amendment demonstrations, election security, the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, and the 59th Presidential Inauguration.
Prior to HSEMA, Dr. Rodriguez served as Director of New Jersey’s Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness from 2014-17, where he led statewide strategies, policies, and operations on counterterrorism, resiliency, and cybersecurity. While serving in New Jersey, his home state, Dr. Rodriguez led the office during the national rise of homegrown violent extremism and established close relationships with the private sector, federal government as well as state, and local law enforcement. Recognizing the critical role the public plays in stopping attacks before they happen, Dr. Rodriguez also increased the office’s engagement with the public - building and maintaining key relationships with faith-based communities. Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where he became a senior analyst in its Counterterrorism Center. In this position, he monitored terrorist groups in the Middle East and South Asia, closely collaborating with U.S. Intelligence Community partners at the federal, state, and local levels to identify and counter persistent threats to the United States and its allies. During his time at the CIA, Dr. Rodriguez also oversaw an analytic unit that handled global economic and energy security, as well as related counterintelligence and cyber threats. From 2009-11, while deployed at the U.S. Embassy in Brussels, Dr. Rodriguez was a key U.S. interlocutor with the European Union during the height of the Euro crisis. He has been recognized by the CIA and Director of National Intelligence for his leadership and professional achievements.
Dr. Rodriguez received a BA from Williams College and an MA and PhD in political science from the University of Notre Dame.
Founder and CEO Moonshot
Vidhya Ramalingam is Founder and CEO of Moonshot, a company working to end online harms using evidence, ethics and human rights. Under her leadership, Moonshot has pioneered new partnerships with tech companies to respond to hate and violent extremism on their platforms, online intervention programs to pull individuals out of violent movements, and the use of automated messaging to disrupt hate groups online. In 2022, Moonshot was named to Fast Company's prestigious annual list of the World's Most Innovative Companies. Vidhya is also recognized internationally for her role leading policy responses to white supremacist extremism and terrorism. Following the 2011 attacks in Norway, she led the European Union’s first inter-governmental initiative on white supremacist terrorism and extremism, initiated by the Governments of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the Netherlands, and launched by the EU Commissioner for Home Affairs. She regularly advises Big Tech and Heads of State on tackling white supremacy online, including recently the Prime Ministers of New Zealand and Norway. She regularly testifies before the U.S. Congress and Canadian Parliament on the global threat posed by white supremacist terrorism. Vidhya currently serves on the Board of Life After Hate, an organization set up by former white supremacists to help individuals leave hate groups.
Robert R. Wells
Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Robert R. Wells began his career with the FBI as a Special Agent in 2003. He was assigned to the Washington Field Office, where he investigated both counterterrorism and counterintelligence matters, and served as a crisis negotiator. In January 2010, Mr. Wells was promoted to Supervisory Special Agent in the Counterterrorism Division, International Terrorism Operations Section I, where he managed the programs for international terrorism investigations in multiple west coast field offices. In
October 2011, Mr. Wells served as the Supervisory Special Agent of the Joint Terrorism Task Force in the Louisville Field Office, where he was responsible for all international and domestic terrorism investigations, as well as the Weapons of Mass Destruction Program and special events.
In March 2015, Mr. Wells returned to the Counterterrorism Division, International Operations Section I, when he was promoted to Assistant Section Chief. During his tenure, he led several units and managed programs for international terrorism investigations throughout the United States. In March 2017, Mr. Wells became an Assistant Special Agent in Charge in the Washington Field Office. In this position, he was responsible for all international terrorism investigations in Washington, DC and Northern Virginia. In August 2018, Mr. Wells was asked to serve as Chief of Staff for the Deputy Director. He led the Deputy's staff and assisted the Deputy with oversight of all criminal, national security, and intelligence programs in the FBI. In October 2019, Mr. Wells was promoted to Deputy Assistant Director of the China Branch in the Counterintelligence Division. He was responsible for oversight of the FBI's China Mission Center and China related investigations throughout the United States.
In October 2020, Mr. Wells was selected as the Special Agent in Charge of the Charlotte Field Office. In September 2022, Mr. Wells was named the Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. Prior to joining the FBI, Mr. Wells was a U.S. Probation Officer in the Western District of Kentucky. He earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Western Kentucky University. He is married, and he and his wife have five children.
Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance, University of Southern California
Dr. Erroll G. Southers is the Associate Senior Vice President of Safety and Risk Assurance at the University of Southern California, responsible for overseeing the Administration Division’s Safety Departments – the Department of Public Safety, Environmental Health and Safety and Fire Safety and Emergency Planning. He is a former FBI Special Agent, who served as a Professor of the Practice in National and Homeland Security, Director of the Safe Communities Institute and Director of Homegrown Violent Extremism Studies at the Sol Price School of Public Policy. He was President Barack Obama’s first nominee for Transportation Security Administration Assistant Secretary, and he was also California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Deputy Director for Critical Infrastructure of the California Office of Homeland Security.
Dr. Southers’ career has spanned all levels of law enforcement, formerly serving as Assistant Chief of Homeland Security and Intelligence at the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department. He previously enjoyed the distinction of FBI Special Agent and SWAT team member, as well as Santa Monica Police Officer. He also served on the faculty and tactical staff of the Rio Hondo Police Academy. Dr. Southers is also a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Research Advisory Committee, Co-Chairs the USC Department of Public Safety Community Advisory Board, Co-Chaired the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy Social Justice Advisory Board and served as an Ex-Officio member of the USC President and Provost’s Task Force on Race, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. He is a member of the USC Governing Board of the University Clinical Services and UCLA Health System Board.
Dr. Southers holds roles throughout the international counterterrorism and national security arena, including: Visiting Professor at the University of Paris II Panthéon-Assas and Honorary President of the French Federation of Psycho-Criminalistics; Fellow and member of the Professional Advisory Board and Visiting Professor at the International Institute of Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya, Israel; an adjunct subject matter expert for the RAND Corporation; and sits on the International Institute for Justice (IIJ) and the Rule of Law Advisory Board and IIJ Expert Roster in Malta. He is also the Managing Director of the Counter-Terrorism and Infrastructure Protection Division for TAL Global Corporation, an international security and risk management consulting firm.
Dr. Southers served in roles at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the nation’s fourth largest art museum, for eleven years. He was the Assistant Vice President for Visitor Services and Chief of Protective Services, managing the largest contract museum guard force in the country.
Dr. Southers has testified before the full Congressional Committee on Homeland Security on several occasions, including the first Congressional Hearing on the Boston Marathon Bombings, as a subject matter expert and counterterrorism analyst. At USC, he developed the Executive Program in Counterterrorism, the Homeland Security and Public Policy and American Contemporary Homegrown Violent Extremism courses in the Sol Price School of Public Policy, where he received the 2014 Outstanding Doctoral Project Award, was named the 2013 and 2014 Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year and earned the 2018 Sol Price School Robert Biller Outstanding Faculty Award. He is a regular contributor to national and international media networks on matters of terrorism and national security, the author of Homegrown Violent Extremism and member of the USA Today Opinion Board of Contributors.
Dr. Southers was the recipient of the Earl Warren Outstanding Public Service Award, was recognized in Security Magazine’s Top 25 Most Influential Industry Thought Leaders in the United States, and was a member of the Los Angeles Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Airport Security at LAX. He earned his undergraduate degree from Brown University, and he holds masters and doctoral degrees in public policy from USC.