Homeland Issued ‘Extremism’ Report Despite Objections

Daily News Article   —   Posted on April 17, 2009

(by Audrey Hudson, WashingtonTimes.com) – Homeland Security Department officials disregarded warnings from their internal civil liberties watchdogs before releasing a security assessment of “right-wing extremism” that had Secretary Janet Napolitano apologizing to veterans Thursday.

A spokeswoman confirmed that the department’s Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties raised objections about some of the language in the nine-page report before it was sent to law enforcement officials nationwide.

The office “did object to a part of the document, which was not resolved before the product went out. This was a breakdown of an internal process that we will fix in the future,” said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

Homeland Security officials declined to elaborate on or describe in detail the objections of the civil liberty officials, or say whether Ms. Napolitano was made aware of the objections when she was briefed on the general nature of the threat before the report’s release on April 7.

However, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is demanding answers on how the report was cleared with privacy and civil liberty officials.

“I am dumbfounded that (Homeland Security) released this report,” Mr. Thompson said in a letter to Ms. Napolitano.

Ms. Napolitano appeared on several morning news shows in an effort to damp down criticism on both sides of the political aisle over the report, titled “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which states that veterans could be recruited for use in attacks against the government.

“I know that some veterans groups were offended by the fact that veterans were mentioned in this assessment, so I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended,” Ms. Napolitano told CNN’s “American Morning.”

In an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Ms. Napolitano said, “The last thing we want to do is to offend or castigate all veterans.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano made her first public statement on the security analysis of emerging threats among white supremacists, and said she would meet with American Legion national commander David K. Rehbein, who criticized the report as negatively stereotyping veterans.

Ms. Napolitano stands behind the intent of the report, but conceded to Fox News that some of the language was unfortunate.

In particular, a footnote at the beginning of the report that defines “right-wing extremism” as “broadly divided into those groups, movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religions, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

“It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,” the report continued.

“Let me be very clear: If there’s one part of that report that I would rewrite in the wordsmithing ‘Washingtonese’ that goes on after the fact, it would be that footnote,” Ms. Napolitano told Fox News.

Mr. Rehbein accepted Ms. Napolitano’s apology and is expected to meet with her next week over the report’s findings.

The commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) defended Homeland Security officials for assessing all possible threats to the U.S., but said the report should have been worded differently.

“A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility,” said Glen M. Gardner Jr., VFW commander.

“The report should have been worded differently, but it made no blanket accusation that every soldier was capable of being a traitor like Benedict Arnold, or every veteran could be a lone wolf, homegrown terrorist like Timothy McVeigh. It was just an assessment about possibilities that could take place,” Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Gardner said that such future assessments should “tone down the ‘disgruntled military veteran’ angle” and include other professionals who have paramilitary training including police, Secret Service, FBI, and Homeland Security’s own Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

Under the heading “Disgruntled Military Veterans,” the assessment said that “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”

“The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today,” the report said.

The assessment cited only a few examples, most prominently McVeigh, the Operation Desert Storm veteran who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, and also a 2008 FBI report stating “that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.”

… Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, criticized the singling out of veterans, saying that veterans fight for their country, not against it.

“America’s veterans are not helpless victims or damaged goods that become pawns for extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.

“They fight extremists that threaten our nation. It is beyond disappointing to see our heroes portrayed in such a fashion in an official government report. Our veterans have pledged to support and defend the Constitution, not extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.

Seven Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano defending others described in the report as potential terrorists.

“The report identifies those individuals who believe in such issues as pro-life legislation, limited government, legal versus illegal immigration and limited federal government as potential terrorist threats,” the senators said.

“We can assure you that these beliefs are held by citizens of all races, party affiliations and sex, and should not be listed as a factor in determining potential terror threats. A better way to describe them is as citizens exercising their First Amendment rights,” the senators said.

The letter was signed by Sens. James M. Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, David Vitter of Louisiana, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

And in a measure of how much the conservative backlash against the Homeland Security Department’s assessment has grown, one of the nation’s most popular conservative talk-radio hosts Thursday filed a federal suit in Michigan against Ms. Napolitano over the report.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of radio host Michael Savage, pro-life activist Gregg Cunningham and Iraq war veteran Kevin Murray, says the report “violates the civil liberties of combat veterans as well as American citizens by targeting them for disfavored treatment on account of the political beliefs” and attempting to chill their free speech and free association rights.

Mr. Savage’s show is produced and distributed by Talk Radio Network, which recently announced a deal to distribute and produce a new radio show by The Washington Times.

Copyright 2009 News World Communications, Inc.  Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times.  For educational purposes only.  This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization.  Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.

Questions

1. Define civil liberties and extremism as used in the article.

2. How did the DHS respond to objections about their report “Right-wing Extremism” from their Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties?

3. DHS would not say what the Civil Liberties Office objected to, or if DHS Head Janet Napolitano was made aware of the objections. Secretary Napolitano is ultimately responsible for reports that come from her department. Do you think she used good judgment in releasing the report? What responsibility do you think she had to read the entire 9-page report and evaluate the objections before releasing the document to law enforcement officials nationwide?

4. How is Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, reacting to Homeland Security’s report?

5. How did Secretary Napolitano respond to veterans and other citizens’ objections to the report?

6. How do the reactions from VFW commander Glen Gardner (para. 16-19) and Vets for Freedom chairman Pete Hegseth (para. 23-25) differ?

7. a) Name the seven Republican senators who sent a letter to Secretary Napolitano defending those described in the report as potential terrorists.
b) How did the senators defend those identified in the report?

8. Read the following information on the purpose of the DHS from wikipedia.org:
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a Cabinet department of the federal government with the primary responsibilities of protecting the territory of the U.S. from terrorist attacks and responding to natural disasters. Whereas the Department of Defense is charged with military actions abroad, the Department of Homeland Security works in the civilian sphere to protect the United States within, at, and outside its borders. Its stated goal is to prepare for, prevent, and respond to domestic emergencies, particularly terrorism.
Should citizens object to DHS’s report “Right-Wing extremists?” Explain your answer.

9. Regarding the DHS definition of “right-wing extremist,” the blog redstate.com says: the second clause is both far too broad (as it stands, it could be taken to mean anybody who espouses a federalist position) and downright offensive (apparently, federalists are as bad as racists & anti-Semites). Unfortunately, it’s also written down – which means that intent doesn’t really come into it. Somebody in the government who gets this document isn’t going to try to figure out what the author(s) meant before they craft policy based on it; they’re going to go with what the text says, because that’s how government officials keep their jobs.
Do you agree with this assertion? Explain your answer.

10. Law enforcement officials nationwide have been given this DHS report, which says people who oppose abortion or illegal immigration, as well as veterans, could be a potential threat to national security. Is it enough for DHS Secretary Napolitano to apologize for offending veterans? What action, if any, should she take?


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Background

The federal Homeland Security Department document entitled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Environment Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” says the following:

Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carryout violent acts. Nevertheless, the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn – including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit – could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.

Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

The DHS report contains the following definition of right-wing extremism:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Read the entire DHS report at:
gordonunleashed.com/HSA%20-%20Rightwing%20Extremism%20-%2009%2004%2007.pdf.