[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]
We all know that progressives have been getting agitated for the past couple of years over the many failures of the Obama administration to stand up on behalf of their issues, with good cause. Largely, it seems, the White House is choosing not to fight for key issues because they fear the right-wing noise machine and its ability to dictate the terms of the national discourse in their favor.
But there may be no area where the White House has been more cowardly than it has in dealing with domestic terrorism, where it has abjectly caved to the noise machine's angry complaints that trying to tackle right-wing extremism makes everyday conservatives look bad. The result: Americans are far more vulnerable to right-wing domestic terrorism and its lethal effects than they have been since at least the days of the Reagan administration -- particularly because that toxin has been dramatically on the rise since the day that Obama was elected president.
The Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported on this problem yesterday:
The Department of Homeland Security has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.We've addressed this very issue here previously, in the context of the sovereign citizens' movement and its lethal attacks on law-enforcement officers, most notably those horrifying cop killings in West Memphis, Arkansas:
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.
Multiple current and former law enforcement officials who have regularly viewed DHS analyses said the department had not reported in depth on any domestic extremist groups since 2009.
“Strategic bulletins have been minimal, since that incident,” said Mike Sena, an intelligence official in California who presides over the National Fusion Center Association, a group of 72 federally chartered institutions in which state, local and federal officials share sensitive information. “Having analytical staff, to educate line officers on the extremists, is critical.…This is definitely one area” where more effort is warranted by DHS.
The incident was yet another reminder that one of the most significant ongoing threats to law enforcement officers in this country comes from right-wing extremists of the Patriot/"sovereign citizen" variety -- people who take Republicans' government-bashing rhetoric to its illogical extreme and declare themselves free of federal laws and functionally laws unto themselves. There are constant reminders of this threat -- from the Hutaree Militia to the Richard Poplawskis out there.Ironically, this all is being explained away by the Obama administration as a civil-rights issue:
Of course, we all were witness to the right-wing shrieking over that Department of Homeland Security bulletin warning police officers around the country about the nature of this resurgent threat. That's because conservatives are more concerned about whitewashing away these embarrassments than they are with the lives of police officers.
They like to use dead cops as props to attack liberals while loudly arguing, as Glenn Beck did a couple years ago, that even paying attention to such right-wing threats is a smear of mainstream conservatives.
.... The unfortunate reality is that federal officials are almost certainly not sharing this vital intelligence with police officers because, whenever they do, they're viciously and loudly attacked by right-wing pundits for allegedly smearing mainstream conservatives. Amazingly, no one in the mainstream media seems to have yet cottoned to the fact that this really is a near-outright confession of complicity.
Indeed, domestic terrorism is sharply increasing in the past two years, as evidenced by the 22 incidents and counting we've documented involving right-wing extremists committing acts of violence against "liberals" and government targets.
But because right-wing talkers only want to discuss terrorism as a "Muslim" phenomenon, we're getting a badly skewed understanding of the nature of terrorism.
DHS’s caution or avoidance, as its critics claim, may partly stem from worries that aggressive intelligence operations could be seen as civil liberties violations. A DHS official explained that “unlike international terrorism, there are no designated domestic terrorist groups. Subsequently, all the legal actions of an identified extremist group leading up to an act of violence are constitutionally protected and not reported on by DHS.”Seriously? There are "no designated domestic terrorist groups"? That's not only an astonishing assessment by a supposed domestic-terrorism official, it's outrageous.
Have these supposed terrorism experts never heard of the National Alliance, the folks who distribute literature promoting domestic terrorism as an avenue to fomenting race war, and one of whose members recently was responsible for attempting to bomb the MLK Day parade in Spokane? Or the Aryan Nations, one of the major conduits of domestic terrorism for the past 20 years and more in America?
Or, for that matter, how about the sovereign citizens movement, the subject of a recent 60 Minutes expose on the rising threat of right-wing domestic terrorism?
Indeed, since that piece ran, two more serious cases of violence involving "sovereign citizens" have made headlines -- but, the "liberal media" being what it is, only local headlines. In Ensley, Florida, a sovereign citizen shot up a local seafood market with an AK-47 because they didn't carry crawfish (!).
And in Colorado, a father of 11 who claimed sovereign citizenship shut down the state Capitol for a day by terrorizing state officials with a fake-anthrax threat mailing -- one of their favorite tactics.
The threat of right-wing domestic has been steadily mounting, as we've documented here at C&L. Here's our map of the incidents so far:
It's not only tragic that the Obama administration has -- out of apparent cowardice -- simply turned its back on this problem. It's also outrageous, considering that its own electoral base is often one of the chief targets of these crazies.