After letting a special unit devoted to monitoring domestic terrorism fall dormant following the Al Qaeda attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this week that it was reviving the group. The Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee will focus on extremists motivated by antigovernment and racial hatred, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement Tuesday.
Predictably, pundits from the extreme conspiracist right, particularly antigovernment “Patriot” groups, worked themselves into a frenzy over the announcement, warning their followers that a “war on the white man” was about to come down from the Obama administration. A similar reaction greeted the 2009 leak of a report from the Department of Homeland Security that focused on the domestic radical right, with right-wing groups describing it as an attack on the political conservatives.
In his statement announcing the DOJ committee’s revival, Holder noted that this decision comes after more than a decade of focus on the threat of international terrorists, while a number of recent incidents have underscored that they are not the only threat. "We must also concern ourselves with the continued danger we face from individuals within our own borders who may be motivated by a variety of other causes from anti-government animus to racial prejudice," Holder said.
Several news accounts noted the move appeared to be in response to such incidents as the April murder of three people at Jewish institutions near Kansas City, Mo., the bombing of the Boston Marathon last year, a neo-Nazi attack on a Sikh temple in 2012, and a number of similar attacks. Non-Islamic domestic terrorist activity has clearly picked up in the years since Barack Obama was first elected in 2008.
“We’ve been pushing DOJ to devote more resources to domestic terrorism for a long time, so we’re delighted that the Attorney General has taken this step,” said SPLC President and CEO Richard Cohen, who recently wrote a column for MSNBC describing how the committee was meant to meet on 9/11 but never did again.
The response was considerably less measured, however, when it came to right-wing media, particularly pundits inclined to promoting conspiracy theories. One far-right website, run by documentarian Pat Dollard, headlined the news story: “Holder Mobilizes Group To Wage War On The White Man.”
Over at conspiracist pundit Alex Jones’ Infowars website, there was little doubt about Holder’s intentions: “In reality, Holder’s task force will undoubtedly focus on the Obama administration’s political enemies, mainly returning military veterans, conservatives and those who identify with the Tea Party. Such groups have been increasingly linked to terrorism by multiple federal agencies. … Given the documented history of the federal government’s involvement in facilitating terrorism, the administration will likely do whatever it can to create the necessary scenario to bolster its executive power.”
The conspiracist website The Daily Slave was similarly hysterical, adding some personal vilification into the mix by claiming that Holder “only obtained his job because of his Black skin and his support of government financed terrorism,” and suggesting that he had been “accused of direct involvement in the Oklahoma City bombing back in the mid 1990s through his role in the Clinton regime.” (The only such accusations came from the extreme right and they were utterly baseless.)
“Simply put, this clown is an evil lawyer terrorist who should be tried for high crimes and treason,” The Daily Slave concluded. “His announcement of a task force to stop ‘homegrown’ terrorists is a joke when he himself is a terrorist criminal. This savage should be rotting in a prison cell.”
Another conservative website called The Daily Dose published a post claiming that Obama administration officials already “exhibit behavior consistent with that of despotic tyrants.”
“One of the chief offenders, Eric Holder, has just announced that he is coming after everyday American patriots, especially those who use the Internet,” it read, claiming that Holder is using recent terror incidents “as the premise to target both Americans and our right to freely communicate over the Internet.”
“One can expect that the domestic group comprised of those evil racist heterosexual redneck Christian veteran gun-owning crackas will be occupying most of the top positions and garnering most of the attention,” it concluded.
The commenters at these sites, just as predictably, were even more wild-eyed. “Holder needs [to be] executed for treason and murder of the American People and their blood bought Constitution,” wrote “propel7” at Infowars. “He is nothing more than a degenerate NAZI. His end will be the same as Mussolini, at the hands of the People. Shove this up your Homo-grown ass.”
At Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, where the reportage was relatively restrained, commenter “timeryder” wrote: “This regime is now justifiably terrified that attempts to overthrow them and re-establish our constitutional government and the rule of law may occur. A nazi/Stalin regime like rule is about to begin where people will be arrested and detained without evidence but on suspicion alone. Unlike Germany, there are no allies to come to our rescue to stop it.”
While it has so far remained confined to far-right conspiracist sites, this sort of hysteria is reminiscent of the response in 2009 when the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a bulletin to law-enforcement agencies warning of recruitment of returning veterans by far-right extremist organizations and its potential to enable domestic-terrorist attacks. Then, a number of right-wing pundits from the mainstream denounced the bulletin for supposedly “targeting” veterans and smearing them, a narrative that dominated media reportage despite the efforts of then-DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano to defuse the situation. Eventually, Napolitano caved in, withdrew the report, and publicly criticized its authors.
That response resulted, as the SPLC later reported, in the gutting of the DHS’s section on right-wing domestic terrorism and the retirement of the veteran analyst who headed it up, Daryl Johnson, from the agency. Most of the rest of his team, which focused on non-Islamic domestic terrorism soon followed.
As it soon emerged, the DHS bulletin in fact anticipated a substantial resurgence in right-wing extremism and its associated violence that began in 2009 and has only begun to subside slightly in the past year. The report also was somewhat prescient in accurately noting that some of the more lethal of these extremist recruits would be military veterans, an observation that became manifest in such incidents as the attack on a Sikh temple in 2012 by a neo-Nazi who was recruited while in the Army, and last year’s arrest of a group of Georgia radicals who organized a far-right militia unit while in the Army, eventually murdering two people in an attempt to hide their plans to commit terrorist acts.