Thursday, August 24, 2017

Looking Clearly at Not-Seeism

thebulletin |  Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked. The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

Reflecting on the past five years, a leading far-right extremism expert I recently interviewed described the homeland security report as “prophetic.” Mark Pitcavage, the Anti-Defamation League’s director of investigative research, explained that most of the warnings in the 2009 report have become realities. Yet at the time of its release, the document was derided by many inside and outside of government as “ridiculous [and] deeply offensive,” an “inconceivable” assault on US veterans, and, in general, “a piece of crap.” Buckling under political pressure from conservatives, homeland security rapidly repressed the report. Promptly removed from department's website, the tabooed document also disappeared from the computer systems of state and local law enforcement divisions as well as federal intelligence agencies. The homeland security unit responsible for the report was virtually muzzled. The report essentially fell into obscurity.

The report’s demise was an unfortunate loss for all levels of law enforcement. Since its release, credible plots and attacks by violent extremists have surged. As the report forewarned, responsibility for the vast majority of these events lies with far-right individual extremists and extreme groups. Moreover, veteran and active-duty military personnel, when compared to the general population, were disproportionally involved in far-right extremist incidents. In just the first two months following the report, significant attacks occurred via the hands of major components of far-right extremism. For example, in May 2009, a “soldier” in the Christian terrorist anti-abortion network Army of God assassinated Kansas late-term abortion provider George Tiller. One day earlier, members of an anti-immigrant vigilante group—the Minutemen American Defense—invaded the home of an Arizona Latino and his 9-year-old daughter. Both were killed as part of a plan aimed at securing money to fund the group’s anti-immigrant terrorist operations. Less than two weeks later an octogenarian white supremacist shot and killed a security guard at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Reflecting the conspiracy theories adhered to by many white supremacists, hand-written notes found in his car read, “The Holocaust is a lie… Obama was created by Jews… Jews captured America’s money. Jews control the mass media.”