Feds Back Off Monitoring Right-wing Threats

By Beacon Staff

The Washington Post has a very interesting report out today detailing how the Department of Homeland Security has essentially curtailed its effort to monitor right-wing extremism for potential domestic terror threats. It’s a decision, apparently, based primarily on the political backlash from conservatives and members of the tea party movement who felt that a controversial report by DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano could infringe on their freedom of assembly, among other things.

The department has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups, the officials and others said.

The decision to reduce the department’s role was provoked by conservative criticism of an intelligence report on “Rightwing Extremism” issued four months into the Obama administration, the officials said. The report warned that the poor economy and Obama’s election could stir “violent radicalization,” but it was pilloried as an attack on conservative ideologies, including opponents of abortion and immigration.

In the two years since, the officials said, the analytical unit that produced that report has been effectively eviscerated. Much of its work — including a digest of domestic terror incidents and the distribution of definitions for terms such as “white supremacist” and “Christian Identity” — has been blocked.

I’ve often wondered, since the Flathead Valley, and Montana, have produced their share of extremist groups and domestic threats, how much increased monitoring may have been going on here. (Federal agencies don’t reveal that information unless charges are filed against someone.) The pullback is occurring despite evidence that right-wing extremism is on the rise, and the article cites the recent alleged attempted bombing of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade by neo-Nazis in Spokane as an example:

An annual tally by the [Southern Poverty Law Center] of what it calls “Terror From the Right” listed 13 major incidents and arrests last year, nearly double the annual number in previous years; the group also reported the number of hate groups had topped 1,000 in 2010, for the first time in at least two decades.

Slate‘s Dave Weigel took note of the Washington Post article, and argues that the neutering of monitoring right-wing extremism is due in large part to political correctness, that the infamous Napolitano report went public right as the tea party protest movement really began surging. But he makes the great point that when it comes to monitoring terror threats, political correctness in either ideological direction is probably not the best approach:

“…the sin was that it wasn’t politically correct. Republicans, the American legion, and basically every conservative with access to blogging software was offended by it. And that was amplified more than it might have otherwise been because Eli Lake broke the news of the report the day on April 14, the day before the first robust round of Tea Party protests. I remember covering the D.C. leg of the protests and seeing plenty of signs, drawn up overnight, mocking ‘Big Sis’ Janet Napolitano or jokingly pronouncing the protesters ‘right-wing extremists.’ The report was mostly relevant as an artifact in Tea Party history — proof that Democrats wanted to take conservatives’ rights away, like Nancy Pelosi’s later claim that the town hall protests were un-American.

What’s the proper amount of political correctness to consider when assessing terror threats. I’m going to go with “none,” and conservatives typically agree with that. They’re right: it makes no sense for a report on Nidal Hassan’s rampage at Fort Hood to whistle past the issue of Islamic terrorism. It’s cheap to pillory Peter King whenever he talks about radical Islam. If you’re going to oppose hypersensitivity about this stuff, though, better oppose it everywhere.'”

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