By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
In Wednesday's blog post I took Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to task over her department's production of a report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." That report, I said, amounted to "little more than a nine-page screed against phantoms" and was an overly broad attack that lumped returning veterans and people who hold certain political beliefs that are well within the mainstream of American political thought in with what the department referred to as religious and racial hate groups.
Several of the people who left comments—not to mention my Thomas Jefferson Street colleague Robert Schlesinger—pointed to the existence of a similar report released under the auspices of the Bush administration that they maintained was the functional equivalent of the Napolitano report, only with its rhetoric directed at the American left. In fact, it is remarkably different, and I'd like to show how.
The Napolitano report, first and foremost, includes "no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence" but is written in contemplation by the Department of Homeland Security that "The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization." It is, in a word, supposition.
The earlier report, Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade, "focuses on the more prominent leftwing groups within the animal rights, environmental, and anarchist extremist movements that promote or have conducted criminal or terrorist activities."
And it cites specific examples, something the Napolitano report, with the exception of references to the Oklahoma City bombing (which is cast as a reason to be concerned about returning veterans), fails to do in anything resembling the same level of detail. The earlier report on left-wing extremism cites cyber attacks as being "attractive options to leftwing extremists who view attacks on economic targets as aligning with their nonviolent, "no harm" doctrine and tactic of "direction action."
And to support this claim, DHS offers up the following: "The North American Earth Liberation Front Press Office, the media arm of the Earth Liberation front (ELF), published the following guidance for activists: 'By inflicting as much economic damage as possible, the ELF can allow a given entity to decide it is in their [sic] best economic interest to stop destroying life for the sake of profit.'"
And, also in support of its thesis, the earlier report documents several specific actions committed by liberal organizations that included the deletion of user accounts and flooding a company's servers with E-mails.
"On 13 July 2007, an animal rights extremist hacked into a U.S. company's computer system and deleted more than 300 associates' user accounts. To restore the accounts, the perpetrator demanded that the company sell its shares in a corporation that conducts tests using animal subjects," the report says.
And there's more. "In October 2005, animal rights extremists launched an e-mail attack against a Milwaukee, Wisconsin firm that held stock in an animal testing laboratory. The firm subsequently sold its shares in the laboratory, with losses it estimated at approximately $1.4 million."
The report on threats to cyberspace from left-wing extremist groups even goes so far as to identify national organizations that "seek to end the perceived abuse and suffering of animals and the degradation of the natural environment perpetrated by humans" by name: the Animal Liberation Front, the Earth Liberation Front, Stop Hunting and Animal Cruelty, and chapters within the Animal Defense League. It also identifies groups it refers to as "Anarchist extremists" who, the report says, "generally embrace a number of radical philosophical components of anticapitalist, antiglobalization, communist, socialist, and other movements."
The groups, DHS says, "seek abolition of social, political, and economic hierarchies, including Western-style governments and large business enterprises, and frequently advocate criminal actions of varying scale and scope to accomplish their goals," identifying by name Crimethinc, the Ruckus Society, and Recreate 68—groups I have to admit I am not familiar with.
You get the idea. In any case, the level of specificity in the earlier report—while still thin—is nonetheless light years ahead of what is contained in the Napolitano report. And its a far cry from "be wary of returning veterans," as the Napolitano report suggests, because they may be disgruntled and Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, was both disgruntled and a returning veteran.
Whether it is, in a global sense, right or wrong for the U.S. government to produce reports such as these and to share them with state and local police officials is another issue entirely. The simple fact is that the two reports discussed are, beyond the fact that they both purport to examine the threat of ideologically motivated extremists, significantly dissimilar.
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