Iowa County Cancels Drill That Drew Ire Of Anti-Immigration Groups

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March 25, 2011 11:30 a.m.
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A planned disaster drill aimed at testing the readiness of emergency services in southwestern Iowa to deal with a school shooting has been canceled, after threats phoned into schools and days of criticism. Anti-immigrant groups claimed the exercise painted them in an unfair light.

The Pottawatomie County, IA Emergency Management Agency designed the exercise, which simulated a school shooting by racist students. The goal of the exercise, according to one official behind the plan, was to “prepare for a worst-case scenario to build our capacity for such an event and to test any gaps in our response system.”

But anti-immigration groups said the real plan was to paint them as armed and dangerous. That’s when the Internet ire, and eventually the threats phoned into public schools in Pottowatomie, began.From the Des Moines Register:

Members of so-called patriot groups opposed to illegal immigration had strongly objected to the plans for the exercise, which would have been held at the Treynor High School. Their complaints focused on a fictional scenario for the drill based on young white supremacists shooting dozens of people amid rising tensions involving racial minorities and illegal immigrants who moved into the area.

Patriot group leaders complained the exercise was intended to portray people who legally possess guns and who fight illegal immigration as extremists.

The plan was to include “more than 300 people” in the exercise, from “about 42 agencies, including area hospitals, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, schools and other organizations.” No state or federal agencies were involved.

A “terrorism scenario” was selected by county officials to make the exercise was eligible for federal funding from the Department of Homeland Security. A county EMA official told the Register the storyline was “purely the backdrop and the setup, if you will, to help create a perception of reality for the responders.”

The exercise’s scenario (apparently obtained by Fox News here) went far and wide among the patriot movement, with several anti-immigration groups raising a national cry about the perceived slight.

“We are trying to get this stopped because all it is doing is building up prejudices by calling people white supremacists and stuff like that,” Craig Halverson, national director of the Minuteman Patriots, told the Register. “We are mad at the government for ignoring illegal immigration, but nobody is going to run out there and start killing people in Iowa or anything like that.”

Americans For Legal Immigration, a North Carolina-based group, called on like-minded Americans “to gather outside the school” where the drill was to be held.

“A terrorism drill should not target tens of millions of Americans because of their popular political views in favor of gun rights and border security,” William Gheen, president of the group said in a statement released today. “Why is our own government targeting American citizens instead of those that come into America from outside of our nation to attack us?”

The criticism mounted and, county officials told the Register, the threats began rolling in.

“During the last 24 hours, the Treynor school system has received threats to their employees and buildings due to the planned ‘active shooter’ exercise,” Pottawattamie EMA coordinator Jeff Thuelen said. The threats led to the cancellation of the exercise and, ironically, real investigations into danger at the school. Thuelen said the threats have been considered “viable” and the county sheriff is investigating.

He added that it was “astounding” that “people claiming to be patriots would be opposed to emergency response agencies drilling to be prepared for any threat.”

The sheriff’s dept. did not immediately respond to a request for comment from TPM.

The anti-immigration groups are condemning the threats, but standing by their concern over the exercise.

“We are God-fearing people who believe in the sovereignty of our country and the
Constitution,” Halverson told the Register. “If somebody in my organization is making threats, I don’t want them in my organization. We are not lawbreakers and we follow the law of our country.”

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