I'd count myself among the first to agree that one of the legitimate roles of the Department of Homeland Security is to make sure that we aren't attacked by terrorists, including those of the homegrown variety. The next Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski is as much of a threat to the safety of the nation as the cleverest al Qaeda operative who might sneak over the border from Mexico or go AWOL on his student visa.
Yet on reading a controversial new report from DHS, I have to wonder about the selective and political nature of their concerns. They seem to have a handle on one or two potential sources of domestic terrorism, while completely dismissing or ignoring other potentially much more serious threats.
Their report focuses entirely on domestic terrorism originating basically from disgruntled conservatives. Their concern over racist and nativist groups and their rising activism seems justifiable, but in the document they spread their net awfully wide to include just about every kind of conservative who might have legitimate concerns over the policies of the Obama administration and the political trends in the nation. They break potential terrorists down into two groups — hate groups, whose inclusion makes a great deal of sense, and a much broader category of those whose motivations are "mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely." This is an extremely broad category which could easily include those who have been promoting 10th Amendment state sovereignty legislation or who oppose federal bailout and stimulus spending. It's a group which includes a great many people who would never sensibly be classed as terrorists. It's a group which includes me.
They also express understandable concern over a resurgence of conspiracy fanatics who "believe that a “New World Order” would bring about a world government that would usurp the sovereignty of the United States and its Constitution, thus infringing upon their liberty." You only have to visit infowars.com to see that the potential for extremist violence from that quarter remains very real. Yet they don't seem to grasp the difference between those fanatics and the much broader and more mainstream popular concern over actual threats to civil rights originating with the current administration. They seem not to understand that when the Second Amendment is actually threatened, it is the anticonstitutional actions of government and not those who want to stand up for their rights which is the problem. I guess that reflects what side their bread is buttered on and who is buttering it for them.
Their callous awareness that the administration is potentially creating terrorists by its actions and their acknowledgment that there is a real attack on gun rights, is rather dismaying. Of the gun rights issue they write:
"Legislation has been proposed this year requiring mandatory registration of all firearms in the United States. Similar legislation was introduced in 2008 in several states proposing mandatory tagging and registration of ammunition. It is unclear if either bill will be passed into law; nonetheless, a correlation may exist between the potential passage of gun control legislation and increased hoarding of ammunition, weapons stockpiling, and paramilitary training activities among rightwing extremists…Because debates over constitutional rights are intense, and parties on all sides have deeply held, sincere, but vastly divergent beliefs, violent extremists may attempt to co-opt the debate and use the controversy as a radicalization tool."
This is probably a genuine concern, but in the report they seem totally oblivious to how broadly based the discontent with gun rights restriction is, and how large a role the actions of the government play in radicalizing ordinary citizens. I worry whether they can tell the difference between legitimately concerned citizens and actual potential terrorists. I'm not happy with legislation to restrict gun rights. I might be buying a lot more ammunition as a result of shortages. Does that make me a terrorist?
For some critics of this report it also prompts a legitimate concern that it may put too much focus on broadly targeting veterans and soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. It seems to take the attitude that anyone with a military service background is automatically a terrorism suspect just because they might be a high value recruiting target for anti-government groups. The report raises the issue of "disgruntled military veterans," without considering the reasons why they might be disgruntled, focusing only on the potential for the rise of another Timothy McVeigh, a possibility which could be most easily prevented by addressing the psychological and social support needs of returning veterans, rather than looking at them as a group as potential terrorists. It seems a shameful disservice to operate on the assumptions which DHS expresses in this document.
Perhaps what troubles me the most here is what's not addressed and the politically one-sided nature of this report. Historically the US has faced as much threat from domestic terrorists on the left as on the right, yet it is the rise of "rightwing extremism" which is the sole concern here. It's all about the next Timothy McVeigh, with no attention to the threat of the next Unabomber. This despite the fact that ecoterrorism and far left radicalism are demonstrably on the rise here in the US, mirroring an enormous growth in "leftwing extremism" and in particular anarchism on a worldwide basis.
I worry because this document is just a starting point for a much wider exploration of the idea that the right wing is a haven for terrorists. It is the unfortunate but perhaps inevitable outcome of the security measures taken after 9/11, where the legitimate need to monitor real threats begins to come under the sway of politics. The report concludes by declaring that:
"DHS/I&A will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months to ascertain with greater regional specificity the rise in rightwing extremist activity in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the political, economic, and social factors that drive rightwing extremist radicalization."
This is a frighteningly broad mandate. The biggest factor driving "rightwing extremist radicalization" could very well be the activity of government in stigmatizing the political right, classing them as extremists and terrorists and launching partisan investigations of anyone who speaks out against the current administration and its policies. When you start calling people radicals and extremists because you disagree with their political beliefs you take the first step towards driving them to become what they are unfairly accused of being.