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How the Political Right Bullied the Department of Homeland Security Into Ignoring the Threat of Right-Wing Extremism

After right-wingers freaked out about a report detailing the rise in right-wing extremism, Homeland Security effectively dismantled a unit tasked with tracking it.

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According to Mark Potok, director of SPLC's Intelligence Project , these groups are driven by resentment over changing racial demographics, which he describes as, "The idea that the country is becoming less white every day and in fact the prediction by the census bureau that whites will lose their majority about the year 2050 in the United States is very important. Virtually every white supremacist in America knows that date." Other drivers include "frustration over the economy, and the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories and propaganda aimed at various minorities."   

Potok told AlterNet that events following the 2009 DHS report have proved it to be prescient.  

In May 2009, just one month after the report’s release, the SPLC reports that "an anti-abortion zealot murdered Dr. George Tiller in Kansas. In June 2009, neo-Nazi James von Brunn murdered a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In March 2010, nine members of a Michigan militia were charged with seditious conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction in connection with an alleged plot to murder police officers."

On May 20, 2010, two West Memphis Arkansas police officers were shot to death during a routine traffic stop by a father-son duo of “ sovereign citizens ,” a group of US residents who believe the government has no authority over them. West Memphis Police Chief Bob Paudert, whose son was one of the officers killed, told me that prior to the loss of his son, he had never heard of sovereign citizens, nor had any other law enforcement officials he spoke to about the matter. After some digging and research he discovered that his son's murder was not an isolated incident, and in fact sovereign citizens were responsible for dozens of police officer deaths around the country.

Paudert was particularly surprised to learn that the Sovereign movement is estimated at 300,000 people strong and growing, which is why he was disappointed in the federal government's failure to alert state and local law enforcement that such a threat existed. Paudert says he is absolutely positive that had they been alerted and trained to recognize sovereign citizens, “my son would still be alive today."

Conservatives Throw a Temper Tantrum

The loudest outcry came from the right-wing shock jocks like  Rush Limbaugh , who claimed that Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama were "portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than al-Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong-Il."   Sean Hannity  warned his Fox News viewers that “if you have a pro-life bumper sticker on your car, if you have an 'America is overtaxed' bumper sticker, if you have a pro-Second Amendment bumper sticker, they're viewing you potentially as a radical.”

In possibly the most deranged interpretation, conservative blogger  Michelle Malkin  wrote that the report was a “hit job on conservatives” and “one of the most embarrassingly shoddy pieces of propaganda I’d ever read out of DHS. I couldn’t believe it was real….the piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives.”

In a sad sort of irony, Johnson told SPLC that the conservative media personalities who misinterpreted and attacked his report “would have been shocked to know that I personify conservatism. I'm an Eagle Scout. I'm a registered Republican. I'm Mormon. In fact, I was helping the Boy Scouts with a fundraiser when I heard the report being attacked on the news."

Outrage over the report's findings quickly spread to Congress, where several conservative lawmakers demanded the ouster of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. Among them was Rep.  John Carter , R-Tex., who remarked, "We shouldn't even give her the respect of letting her resign. She should be fired by the administration for accusing honest, American citizens — because of their political beliefs — of being domestic terrorists."

 
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