By William Fisher
Maybe we all ought to be overcome with joy to learn that the threat from those all-American homegrown terrorists is no more.
One less thing to worry about.
That might well have been your first thought upon reading that the Department of Homeland Security has reduced its monitoring of the violent right-wing of American terrorism. It has folded up the Unit that used to do this work and reduced its head count from six to one analyst.
Daryl Johnson, who headed that DHS unit, was the principal author of the April 7, 2009, report "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
The report was intended only for distribution to law enforcement agencies. But after it was leaked to the media, a firestorm erupted among conservative commentators who wrongly claimed it equated conservatives with terrorists.
No, not terrorists of the Al Qaeda stripe. Rather, those rosy- cheeked patriots known as white supremacists, skinheads, militias, neo-Nazis, and so-called Sovereign Citizens who may well resemble Timothy McVeigh. How quickly we forget!
Spencer Ackerman of Wired reported that, within days, Secretary Napolitano had disowned Johnson’s report. Today, the department no longer produces its own analytical reports on this subject. Presumably, this job has been handed off to the FBI, although the DHS would neither confirm nor deny that. It had the same reaction when asked if the Unit once headed by Daryl Johnson had been gutted.
What we do know is that our all-American miscreants have kept themselves busy. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, since Johnson’s report was leaked, in 2009, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Nothing dealing with …domestic extremism – whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, 'sovereign citizens,' eco-terrorists, the whole gamut."
The SPLC catalogs the crimes committed since then: “The murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion zealot in May 2009; the shooting of a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum by a neo-Nazi in June 2009; the March 2010 arrest of Michigan militia members for plotting to attack police officers and wage war against the government; the murder of two Arkansas police officers by "sovereign citizen" extremists in May 2010; the arrest of a neo-Nazi in the January attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Wash.; the January arrest of another neo-Nazi who was heading to the Arizona-Mexico border and later charged with possessing explosive devices packed with ball bearings; the arrests in March of members of an Alaska militia for conspiring to murder law enforcement officers and a judge; the murderous attack on the Sikhs; and the massacre of the Batman movie audience.
And Mark Potok of the SPLC said, "The fact is, the DHS report accurately predicted the sort of radical-right terrorism that we’re now seeing across the country."
He added, It’s troubling that the leadership of the Department of Homeland Security would bow to unfounded criticism from the political right."
In his SPLC interview, Johnson said, "What worries me is the fact that our country is under attack from within, from our own radical citizenry. My greatest fear is that domestic extremists 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. That is what keeps me up at night."
It’s what keeps us up at night too. Prism calls on Secretary Napolitano to share her thinking with the American people. The thing is: We know how difficult it is to apprehend terrorists of any kind – whether of the all-American or Al-Qaeda variety. Much of their activity is in the form of speech – protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
But doesn’t this give us more, not less, reason to keep a watchful eye on these figures while they are terrorists in speech only? If anyone should know when they cross that line from speech to action, it’s the Department of Homeland Security.
Secretary Napolitano needs to reassure us that we’re all on the same page.