The New McCarthyism: DHS Reports on Right-Wing Extremism

So much for Janet Napolitano's attempts to eschew the use of the word "terrorism."

By + More

By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, whose Orwellian turns of phrase have helped transform the war on terror into a series of "overseas contingency operations," may want to rethink her qualifications for her current job.

During her confirmation hearings, Napolitano told a Senate committee she preferred to use the term "man-caused disasters" in lieu of "terrorism" to describe the threats and potential threats with which her department must deal. "That is perhaps only a nuance," she told the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, "but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur."

So far, so good I guess. But then comes the news that Napolitano's department prepared a report for state and local police officials titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." Little more than a nine-page screed against phantoms, the report purports to address potential threats from religious and racial hate groups as well as "those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely." The report also singles out for special consideration anti-abortion activists, gun owners, immigration opponents and, with allusion to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, returning veterans.

So much for rejecting the "politics of fear." 

Napolitano says she was briefed on the topic of the report and is standing by it. "Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," she said in a statement. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence." So much for eschewing the use of the word "terrorism" now that the focus of the discussion is so-called threats coming from within the United States.

There are a lot of people who are unhappy about the report, perhaps none more than David Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion.

In a letter that can charitably be described as strongly worded, Rehbein attacks Napolitano's department's assertion that returning veterans need to be watched with care by federal, state, and local police officials.

"The American Legion is well aware and horrified at the pain inflicted during the Oklahoma City bombing," Rehbein writes, "but Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation's uniform during wartime. To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical 'disgruntled military veteran' is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam."

Rehbein closes his letter by stating, "I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are." I could not have said it better myself.

Secretary Napolitano needs to understand the damage this report has done, rather than continue to stand by it. It smacks of the worst kind of McCarthyite guilt-by-association, slandering tens of thousands of honest, hardworking, patriotic, taxpaying Americans who hold political opinions the Department of Homeland Security have now decided are fertile ground for recruiting homegrown terrorists, excuse me, homegrown perpetrators of man-made disasters.

The report needs to be recalled, the person who oversaw its production reassigned or fired and the total amount of money spent on the project—from staff time to production costs to the postage used to mail it—needs to be returned to the U.S. Treasury out of the budget of the Office of the Secretary of Homeland Security. As we have been told time and again, it is no small matter when the U.S. government, as an official matter, questions someone's loyalty. The consequences for this catastrophic misuse of taxpayer dollars needs to be severe for all those involved.

On Facebook? You can keep up with Thomas Jefferson Street blog postings through Facebook's Networked Blogs.

  • Read more by Peter Roff.
  • Read more from the Thomas Jefferson Street blog.
  • Read more about the Department of Homeland Security.