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Washington Post Says DHS Backed Off Domestic Terrorism Analysis

By Mark Potok on June 7, 2011 - 12:41 pm, Posted in Domestic Terrorism, Extremist Crime, Hate Crime

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.”

  • P.H.J.

    As always my biggest concern is the labeling of extremist groups right or left. Timothy McVeigh, was kicked out of the militia groups yet always used as an example for the right. James von Brunn a neo-nazi is labeled as right wing extremist yet he would never fit into a Christian conservative group who are big supporters of Jews and Israel, while the left is much less supportive of Israel. Also Christian conservative speak out allot about holocaust deniers.

    From day one of the tea party assembly it was immediately painted as racist group because it appose the Obama health car bill for fear of increased taxes. Yet their has only been a few of shady character that have infiltrated it and they were late in coming.

    My point is this when we start attaching extremist to right wing or left wing we start putting them into the democrat and republican political bucket. Were as if the extremist political persuasion in place in second instance the this allows for these two parties to work in outing them from their ranks.

  • Shadow Wolf

    “Shadow Wolf, why did you call Janet Napoltiano[sic] “nappy”?”

    I picked up the moniker from the Feathered Bastard and a few local home bloggers there. No pun if you are Black.

  • A.D.M.

    Shadow Wolf, why did you call Janet Napoltiano “nappy”?

  • Shadow Wolf

    The history of how Janet “Nappy” Napolitano runs things politically is quite disturbing. She’s labeled as a Demorcrat, runs on a D-ticket. But her stratagems of endeavors on how she’s done things, is contradictory to what a traditional Democrat would do. Some of her prime examples can best be found during her tenure as a Governor of Arizona. Where she was an avid political ally of the self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Shurf” Arpaio, who is a diehard senile wing-nut, whose support base comprises of racist-like nativists and pseudo-WN extremists and just plain nut-cases on the right. She protected the Shurf political interests as a former AZ-Gov. In exchanged for political support.

    Folks in Arizona were aghast by Obama’s selection of Napolitano as the head honcho of DHS.

    I’m not surprised by her ineffective to vigorously pursue research on domestic extremists of the lunatic fringe.

  • Jonas Rand

    I don’t think that most of the resurgent extremist groups are coming back once again because the President is half black. Sure, there are the Birthers, who are probably motivated by racism, but many of these “Patriot” people are concerned about the slightly more centrist (than the last Administration) stance on social issues that the Obama cabinet has taken. The last period that these people were highly active was when a white centrist president, Bill Clinton, took power following a recession. The anti-abortion fanatics are not motivated by racism, but by Fox News and Obama’s budget proposal not cutting funding for Planned Parenthood (which some erroneously believe is an abortion clinic). Clinton’s politics are much like Obama’s, and neither did much to improve the situation of communities of color, though one could say they did a better job than Reagan. Obama takes a regressive stance that still infringes on the civil liberties of Americans, and it’s hard to disagree when the “Patriots” are concerned about their rights in this country. Police brutality, unaccountable federal “security” agencies, search-and-seizure, and intimidation of activists and journalists should arouse skepticism and suspicion. That is not to say that theories about FEMA camps, alien invasion plots, martial law, and legal ways to exempt oneself from the law are justified. I think the increase in such fears, as well as anger towards the federal government is more due to the recession and right-wing talk show propagandists. Alex Jones, not in the same category as Limbaugh, Beck, and Savage, has been promoting these wacky theories about the necessity for survivalism, federal government gulags, and destruction of guns for years. But with the recession and absence of the “recovery”, people turn to extremism. Obama being half black doesn’t seem to be the main inspiration for a resurgence in right-wingers, but it surely is a good excuse for demonizing opposition (i.e., “You must be a racist” just because you don’t like Obama’s economic policies).