In light of the violence in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, over the weekend, there’s been a renewed interest in some circles about 2009 reports on threats posed by homegrown extremists. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security released reports about fringe radicals, alerting officials to potential violence. The DHS specifically said some extremist groups may specifically target American military veterans for recruitment.
Sunday’s alleged gunman, Wade Michael Page, was dishonorably discharged from the military in 1998, and became a white supremacist.
As we discussed on Tuesday, though, Republican outrage about the DHS reports was so intense three years ago, Homeland Security officials deliberately “stepped back … from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism.” The DHS unit responsible for the 2009 report was “effectively eviscerated,” and much of its work related to white supremacists was “blocked,” for no other reason than pushback from the right.
With this in mind, Spencer Ackerman talked with one of the officials affected by the DHS reaction to Republican apoplexy.
Daryl Johnson had a sinking feeling when he started seeing TV reports on Sunday about a shooting in a Wisconsin temple. “I told my wife, ‘This is likely a hate crime perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military experience,’” Johnson recalls.
It was anything but a lucky guess on Johnson’s part. He spent 15 years studying domestic terrorist groups – particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis – as a government counterterrorism analyst, the last six of them at the Department of Homeland Security. There, he even homebrewed his own database on far-right extremist groups on an Oracle platform, allowing his analysts to compile and sift reporting in the media and other law-enforcement agencies on radical and potentially violent groups.
But Johnson’s career took an unexpected turn in 2009, when an analysis he wrote on the rise of “Right-Wing Extremism” (.pdf) sparked a political controversy. Under pressure from conservatives, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) repudiated Johnson’s paper – an especially bitter pill for him to swallow now that Wade Michael Page, a suspected white supremacist, killed at least six people at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For Johnson, the shooting was a reminder that the government’s counterterrorism efforts are almost exclusively focused on al-Qaida, even as non-Islamist groups threaten Americans domestically.
What we saw in 2009 was a bizarre form of conservative political correctness – security officials feared violence from ideological extremists, and Republicans reflexively responded with an assumption that DHS was talking about the mainstream Republican activists.
But this conservative political correctness meant a shutdown in due diligence from law enforcement on legitimate threats posed by American radicals.
Ackerman’s report is well worth considering in detail. Ideally, congressional Republicans would reconsider their knee-jerk reaction, and law enforcement would revisit its work addressing what Johnson calls “the rising white supremacist threat.”