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The Washington Post today reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism” despite what experts describe as a rising threat from domestic extremists. The Post story was sparked by an explosive interview by the Southern Poverty Law Center of Daryl Johnson, who was DHS lead analyst of non-Islamic domestic terrorism until quitting in frustration last year.
As the Post noted, DHS “effectively eviscerated” Johnson’s team, cut the number of analysts studying such matters, and effectively stopped issuing reports meant for law enforcement agencies after the leak of an April 2009 DHS report on “rightwing extremism.” That report, which was meant for law enforcement only but was quickly leaked, was attacked by an array of conservative groups and individuals for supposedly tarring all on the political right as potential terrorists.
The Post also noted that SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano last Friday requesting a reassessment of resources devoted to “the threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.” It also pointed out that the SPLC had compiled “Terror From the Right,” a list of almost 100 domestic terrorism and similar incidents on the radical right since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. In addition, it said, the SPLC recently reported that the number of hate groups has been growing for more than a decade, topping 1,000 for the first time in 2010.
The SPLC has repeatedly pointed out since 2009 that the DHS report was, in fact, absolutely correct in its analysis of rising right-wing extremism in the context of a faltering economy and the nation’s first black president. And it was false that the report demonized any political group. Among other things, it pointed out that some extremists were interested in only a single issue like immigration or abortion, and added that extremists were interested in recruiting returning war veterans. It did not, as many conservatives alleged, suggest that all veterans were potential terrorists or that most people opposed to immigration or abortion were dangerous.
Nevertheless, the DHS report was repudiated, after being initially defended, by Napolitano. She acted after 20 conservative groups sponsored ads calling for her ouster, saying the report had been released without being properly reviewed and criticizing some of its contents — even though Johnson said that she initially seemed pleased in a private review of the report with him before its release. She apologized to the American Legion, which had complained about the report’s warning that hate groups were interested in recruiting Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans.
Johnson’s interview, carried in the issue of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report that is due out later this month, was provided early to Post reporter R. Jeffrey Smith, who went on to conduct many additional interviews and other reporting. Smith found that officials in many of the nation’s 72 “fusion centers” — institutions in which local, state and federal officials share sensitive information — were frustrated by the lack of information from DHS. He cited Mike Sena, who oversees all the centers, as saying more DHS effort was warranted, as did officials the Post interviewed at fusion centers in Missouri, Virginia and Tennessee.
In his interview with the SPLC, Johnson said that his unit, which once numbered six full-time analysts, had been cut to just one. The Post quoted an unnamed DHS official saying it was more than that, but giving no further details.
In his letter to Napolitano, the SPLC’s Cohen pointed out a number of recent domestic terrorist attacks or planned attacks since the 2009 DHS report.
“These incidents are starting to add up,” Johnson said in the SPLC interview. “Yet our legislators, politicians and national leaders don’t appear too concerned about this. So my greatest fear is that domestic terrorists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within. This is what keeps me up at night.”