Back in early April, the Department of Homeland Security released a report warning that the ranks of right wing extremist groups might swell. There was nothing especially controversial about the memo, which was put together under the supervision of a Bush appointee. It was the sort of threat assessment certain government agencies are supposed to provide; and DHS had prepared a similar memo about the threat of left wing extremists just three months beforehand.
But that didn’t stop conservatives and Republicans from turning on the outrage. The story drove cable news coverage for days, and inspired elected officials like Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) to stand before Congress and denounce the report.
“The Homeland Security Secretary [Janet Napolitano],” said Bachmann, “has redefined pro-life gun owning veterans who like smaller government and who believe America should secure our border against invasion from illegal aliens are labeled the domestic right wing extremists.”
Napolitano was ultimately compelled to apologize for the memo. But she probably shouldn’t have since subsequent events have vindicated the original warnings.
Let’s take stock of what’s happened in the months since President Obama was elected just over six months ago, and in the weeks since the DHS story broke. In November, the New York Times reported that “gun owning” Americans — responding to rumors that the incoming administration would confiscate their weapons — had embarked on a shopping binge and were hoarding guns and ammunition. By the time Obama was inaugurated, the climate of fear on the far right had grown hotter. In February, MSN’s moneyblog noted that the surge in sales had led, unsurprisingly, to a surge in gun stock prices.
Then on Sunday May 31 of this year, George Tiller–a Witchita doctor who provided late term abortions–was murdered while attending church services, allegedly by a right wing anti-abortion zealot named Scott Roeder.
And today, a white supremacist, Obama birth certificate conspiracy theorist–and World War II veteran–named James W. von Brunn entered the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum with a shotgun and opened fire, killing one guard.
Of course, the plural of anecdote isn’t data–but this is just the sort of violent extremism the DHS report warned about.
The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks….
Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.
All of this seems to indicate that the DHS report was actually prescient; its critics refuted. Indeed, one of the chief sources of that criticism was Fox News–which led the charge against Napolitano in the media. And today a Fox anchor acknowledged that it’s time to look at the DHS report in a new light.
It remains to be seen what the report’s more high-profile critics have to say.