How the Political Right Bullied the Department of Homeland Security Into Ignoring the Threat of Right-Wing Extremism
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The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a detailed and unsettling list of "major terrorist plots and racist rampages that have emerged from the American radical right in the years since Oklahoma City," a pattern Potok says continues to this day. That prompted SPLC’s president, J. Richard Cohen, to send a letter to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano two months ago, urging her to reassess the level of resources that DHS is devoting to the threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism.
The letter highlights several recent examples of thwarted attacks, one of which occurred this past January, when "a neo-Nazi activist was arrested for planting a bomb along an MLK Day parade route in Spokane, Washington. That same month, another neo-Nazi was arrested on his way to the Arizona-Mexico border and later charged with possessing explosive devices packed with ball bearings – to “maximize human carnage,” as a federal prosecutor put it. In March, authorities arrested five members of a militia in Alaska and charged them with plotting to murder or kidnap police officers and judges if their leader, who was then fleeing prosecution on weapons charges, were arrested or killed." Unfortunately, Secretary Napolitano has yet to respond to the SPLC’s letter.
That the right’s outrage over the report managed to influence the Department of Homeland Security should raise alarm bells for anyone who is concerned about homegrown extremism. It's frightening that the US government bowed to political pressure. The atrocity that took place in Norway is a reminder of the brutality that ideological extremists are capable of dishing out.
According to Johnson, Anders Breivik "was under the radar, he acquired relatively unsophisticated weaponry and was able to go and target people that he opposed because of his ideology and beliefs and was able to kill close to 80 people, and it was done effortlessly. He didn’t go to some place in Pakistan and learn how to build a bomb. He learned how to do this on the Internet, and he was able to acquire these materials legally. And I know for a fact that that is going on here in this country, people are stockpiling weaponry.”
Potok believes the right’s ability to silence the conversation about right-wing extremism will have fatal consequences, warning, “The danger of pretending this movement doesn’t exist is that it will grow more and more deeply entrenched in our society and more dangerous. There’s an immediate criminal danger. Timothy McVeigh murdered 168 men women and children in 15 seconds. It absolutely could happen again. It hasn’t because we are lucky and because law enforcement has done a fine job overall.”
Similarly, Daryl Johnson fears that, "These incidents are starting to add up. Yet our legislators, politicians and national leaders don't appear too concerned about this. So my greatest fear is that domestic terrorists 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. This is what keeps me up at night."
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been corrected since its original publication for more accurate attribution to original sources.