This short piece led the Noted section of the June 8, 2009 issue. Because Noted is only accessible online to subscribers, comments are allowed on this post.
Picture credit: uscgpress (via Flickr)
The oddly controversial Rightwing Extremism report, issued by the Department of Homeland Security on April 7, was officially withdrawn by Secretary Janet Napolitano in mid-May. The nine-page report was a routine threat assessment issued to law enforcement and counterterrorism officials that warned of the potential for a rise in homegrown terrorists. It concluded that the combination of an economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president could cultivate a right-wing “resurgence in radicalization and recruitment,” including among disgruntled veterans.
Conservatives immediately claimed that the threat assessment was a politically motivated attack on Republicans. Texas Representative John Carter suggested that the report was evidence of “a level of contempt for a healthy democracy” and demanded Napolitano’s ouster, even though the assessment was initiated during the Bush administration. Columnist Michelle Malkin wrote that “the piece of crap report…is a sweeping indictment of conservatives”–this despite the fact that the assessment never once used the word “conservative.”
When it was revealed that DHS had released a similar report on left-wing extremists three months earlier, claims of bias gave way to support for supposedly maligned veterans. The right-wing threat assessment drew unconvincing, and some said offensive, parallels between the present and the mid-’90s, when Timothy McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War, staged the second deadliest terror attack in US history. While Napolitano subsequently conceded that the report “should not have gone out,” the overblown Republican reaction to it is nonetheless significant.
Conservatives’ response–which began with outrage over a DHS report focused on “threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups” and concluded with calls for a Congressional inquiry and a lawsuit being filed by the Thomas More Law Center at the behest of shock jock Michael Savage–suggests that either Republicans did not read the threat assessment closely or that there really is something to all their incendiary, inchoate “Tea Party” ranting. We will soon find out: Napolitano has promised that the report is in the process of being “replaced or redone in a much more useful and much more precise fashion.”