Something is rotten in the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s not just its name. Having bowed down to political pressure from conservatives after releasing a report (ordered by the Bush administration) that indicated our biggest threat was right wing extremists, the department reportedly has only one to two people handling domestic terrorism.
Daryl Johnson, who headed the DHS unit responsible for analyzing security threats from non-Islamic domestic extremists, wrote a report on the resurgence of right wing extremists in April in 2009, which was leaked by someone with a “political agenda” within days to right wing press, and immediately attacked. The right inaccurately claimed that the report made every conservative into Timothy McVeigh.
In 2011, Johnson, who has since left the department, told the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “DHS stopped all of our work and instituted restrictive policies. Eventually, they ended up gutting my unit. All of this happened within six to nine months after the furor over the report. Since our report was leaked, DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism – whether it’s anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, ‘sovereign citizens,’ eco-terrorists, the whole gamut.”
Johnson added in that 2011 SPLC interview, “What worries me is the fact that our country is under attack from within, from our own radical citizenry. My greatest fear is that domestic extremists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within. That is what keeps me up at night.”
Feeling safer yet? Mark Potok of the SPLC, one of the country’s leading experts on the world of extremism, clarified to PoliticusUSA on Tuesday that they are not suggesting the DHS not focus on Islamic extremists, but rather that DHS also keep their eye on other threats of domestic terrorism, “It’s not that they are paying too much attention to jihadists, but that DHS has taken their eye off of the ball of other domestic terrorist threats.”
Potok also noted that the 2009 DHS report was a prescient document, “It was a sober and prescient document, that noted same thing we had noted; there was a dramatic right wing insurgency. Secretary Napolitano caved in and withdrew the report. In my opinion, it was an act of political cowardice. It allowed Daryl’s unit to collapse. He was pilloried. Daryl left a year later, and most of the team followed him out. There are very few left in DHS, one or two, of what used to be a team of 6-7.”
The administration countered that the DHS unit isn’t gone, but by many accounts, all of the expertise is gone, after they were undermined by leadership. The Washington Post reported in 2011, “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.”
At that time, the Washingon Post also reported that a study conducted for the DHS had concluded that a majority of foiled and executed terrorist plots were unrelated to Islamic extremists, “(A) majority of the 86 major foiled and executed terrorist plots in the United States from 1999 to 2009 were unrelated to al-Qaeda and allied movements.”
A 2012 Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security study confirms that assessment, “Since 9/11, Muslim-American terrorism has claimed 33 lives in the United States, out of more than 180,000 murders committed in the United States during this period. Over the same period, more than 200 Americans have been killed in political violence by white supremacists and other groups on the far right, according to a recent study published by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military Academy. Sixty-six Americans were killed in mass shootings by non-Muslims in 2012 alone, twice as many fatalities as from Muslim-American terrorism in all 11 years since 9/11.”
In March of 2013, the SPLC sent a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and AG Eric Holder, urging them to address the disparity of resources going to domestic terrorism, “In the last four years, we have seen a tremendous increase in the number of conspiracy-minded, antigovernment groups as well as in the number of domestic terrorist plots. As in the period before the Oklahoma City bombing, we now also are seeing ominous threats from those who believe that the government is poised to take their guns. Because of the looming dangers, we urge you to establish an interagency task force to assess the adequacy of the resources devoted to responding to the growing threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.”
The SPLC’s 2012 report “documents that the number of militias and radical antigovernment groups grew from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012… Now that gun control is again being hotly debated, we are seeing a repeat of that anger, and it is likely to continue to swell the ranks of antigovernment groups.”
As of April 2012, Think Progress determined that 56% percent of domestic terrorist plots were perpetrated by right wing extremists.
Think Progress, writing on April 19, 2012, determined, “Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, as compared to 30 percent by ecoterrorists and 12 percent by Islamic extremists. Right-wing extremism has been responsible for the greatest number of terrorist incidents in the U.S. in 13 of the 17 years since the Oklahoma City bombing.”
You wouldn’t know these facts judging by the bias evident in our culture, assisted if not incited by right wing politicians and pundits in recent years. According to the SPLC, “the number of anti-Muslim groups tripled in 2011, jumping from 10 groups in 2010 to 30 last year. That rapid growth in Islamophobia, marked by the vilification of Muslims by opportunistic politicians and anti-Muslim activists, began in August 2010, when controversy over a planned Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan reached a fever pitch.”
It’s really very simple. The Right wants to profile extremists in order to prevent terrorism, claiming that “political correctness” is stopping the facts from surfacing. I would agree. Let’s look at the facts and act accordingly. The facts are that as of April 2012, our number one threat was right wing extremists (56%), while just 12% came from Islamic extremists. The majority of foiled and executed domestic terrorist plots were unrelated to Islamic extremism.
Our resources should be distributed according to the math, not according to right or left wing outrage or political correctness. Let the facts dictate the allocation of resources.
Image: Southern Poverty Law Center
Ms. Jones is the co-founder/ editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA and a member of the White House press pool.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.