Is The DHS Watching Returning Veterans? Only When They Join Far-right Hate Groups

February 2009: A Marine named Kody Brittingham is arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate President Obama. Brittingham also collected white-supremacist material.

Well, the talkers at Fox, along with the rest of the right-wing propaganda machine, just can't stop talking about that Department of Homeland Security bulletin about the potential threat of right-wing domestic terrorism. Which means, as always, that they are spreading the bullmanure far and wide.

Of course, what they're doing in the process is essentially substantiating one of the central theses of my book The Eliminationists -- namely, that the gravitational effect of the extremist right on mainstream conservatism in recent years has pulled conservatism even farther right, to the point that the differences between them are rapidly vanishing. Hey, if they want to make my point for me, I'm all too happy to let them.

Now, here are the main talking points raised by Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, and their guests about the DHS bulletin:

-- Beck says the report specifically singled out veterans and targeted them for investigation of possible far-right extremism.

-- Byron York says the report really was based on nothing but speculation, since in its opening lines it explains there is no evidence of specific plots yet.

-- York adds that the similar report on left-wing terrorists named specific groups, while the right-wing report was more amorphous (and thus had less "meat on its bones") since it did not list any specific groups.

-- Col. Ralph Peters (last seen attacking President Obama for his "weakness" on the Somali pirates just before Obama's order freed that ship captain) says this report is the product of military-hating "Hollywood" people in the new Obama administration.

-- O'Reilly says the report was "unnecessary," cooked up by a bevy of myopic "far left" liberals freshly ensconced in their DHS offices.

-- O'Reilly tells Beck that these liberals' myopia leads them to ignore Al Qaeda while pinning the terrorism label on ordinary conservatives. (He echoes Pat Robertson in this claim.)

All of it, of course, is wrong. Complete, freshly laid, unfettered bullmanure.

OK, I'm going to walk quickly through these backwards, since the first talking point is the most pervasive and most in need of addressing:

-- This bulletin was just one of several assessing various terrorism threats to our national security; because these bulletins were intended for local law-enforcement officials, they necessarily focused on domestic threats. Overseas-based threats are a completely different bailiwick and would not be part of this particular assessment, but that doesn't mean the threat is being ignored or that, for that matter, Homeland Security's ongoing focus on Al Qaeda has dropped even one iota since Janet Napolitano took over.

-- Neither O'Reilly nor Peters appear to have watched what Shepard Smith reported on Fox the day before: Namely, that the bulletin was ordered by the Bush administration, well before Obama took office, and was conducted by Bush-hired intelligence specialists.

-- York is right that the DHS was much more specific in its similar bulletin about left-wing extremists. But there's a reason for that: Far-right extremists absurdly outnumber eco-terrorists, by an exponential factor. It's easy for DHS to list ELF and a handful of other far-left groups capable of acts of terrorism because that's about all there are. On the other hand, there are over 900 hate groups in the SPLC's database, including a large number of them outfits fully capable of (in fact, some essentially built around) inflicting violence on the public. If York (and Michelle Malkin, who's made a similar claim) wanted more specifics in this bulletin, there'd have been quite a bit of ink and space wasted listing them all. If Byron wants a few, let me give him just those in New York state, where he lives. There are 25 of them there. Or just look around a little: Do the names National Socialist Movement, or National Alliance, or Stormfront, or White Aryan Resistance, or Aryan Nations ring a bell anywhere?

-- What the report says is that DHS "has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence", which is very specific language that is quite correct in what it does say -- but it doesn't say that this assessment is based on speculation about economic stresses and political anger. Rather, as anyone can assess from reading the bulletin itself throughout, it's predicated on a good deal of solid factual data regarding the activities of far-right extremists. Some of this, as we'll see, comes from FBI intelligence; and some of it from publicly available sources.

-- Finally, and most on the tip of wingnut tongues, is the claim that the report "singles out" all returning veterans as potential recruits for right-wing extremists. In reality, the report only singles out returning veterans who become active in violent hate groups.

Here's the actual language of the report:

U//FOUO) Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.

This is, in fact, precisely accurate -- and as we pointed out from the get-go, this is the view not merely of DHS, but of the FBI. A July 2008 assessment of the situation by the FBI (titled White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel Since 9/11) found that the numbers of identifiable neo-Nazis within the ranks was quite small (only a little over 200), but warned:

Military experience—ranging from failure at basic training to success in special operations forces—is found throughout the white supremacist extremist movement. FBI reporting indicates extremist leaders have historically favored recruiting active and former military personnel for their knowledge of firearms, explosives, and tactical skills and their access to weapons and intelligence in preparation for an anticipated war against the federal government, Jews, and people of color.

... The prestige which the extremist movement bestows upon members with military experience grants them the potential for influence beyond their numbers. Most extremist groups have some members with military experience, and those with military experience often hold positions of authority within the groups to which they belong.

... Military experience—often regardless of its length or type—distinguishes one within the extremist movement. While those with military backgrounds constitute a small percentage of white supremacist extremists, FBI investigations indicate they frequently have higher profiles within the movement, including recruitment and leadership roles.

... New groups led or significantly populated by military veterans could very likely pursue more operationally minded agendas with greater tactical confidence. In addition, the military training veterans bring to the movement and their potential to pass this training on to others can increase the ability of lone offenders to carry out violence from the movement’s fringes.

This is underscored by a Wall Street Journal story today outlining the FBI work that both produced this assessment and the operation that followed:

The FBI said in the memo that its conclusion about a surge in such activities was based on confidential sources, undercover operations, reporting from other law-enforcement agencies and publicly available information. The memo said the main goal of the multipronged operation was to get a better handle on "the scope of this emerging threat." The operation also seeks to identify gaps in intelligence efforts surrounding these groups and their leaders.

The aim of the FBI's effort with the Defense Department, which was rolled into the Vigilant Eagle program, is to "share information regarding Iraqi and Afghanistan war veterans whose involvement in white supremacy and/or militia sovereign citizen extremist groups poses a domestic terrorism threat," according to the Feb. 23 FBI memo.

Michael Ward, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview Thursday that the portion of the operation focusing on the military related only to veterans who draw the attention of Defense Department officials for joining white-supremacist or other extremist groups.

"We're not doing an investigation into the military, we're not looking at former military members," he said. "It would have to be something they were concerned about, or someone they're concerned is involved" with extremist groups.

It's important to understand how FBI investigations into these kinds of activities take place: The FBI is constrained by DOJ guidelines that do not allow them to investigate organizations merely because of incendiary rhetoric or politically worrisome beliefs. They only open investigations into the activities of members of such groups when there is evidence of actual criminal activity.

And it's at that time that the presence of an extremist with a military background becomes not merely relevant, but potentially important. This is especially so considering one of the realities of the extremist right -- namely, that the vast majority of its members are incapable of anything remotely resembling a terrorist act; what they actually specialize in is the Verbose Bellyache. Yet simultaneously they have developed over recent years a decidedly militaristic culture that prizes actual military background.

So when investigators begin dealing with potential criminal or terrorist activity by right-wing extremists, the presence and involvement of people with military backgrounds -- particularly with skill at armaments -- is a huge red flag. Because these kinds of people transform these groups from Verbose Bellyachers to potentially competent -- lethally competent -- extremist cells.

The most famous example of this, of course, is Timothy McVeigh. But -- contrary to what the right-wing talkers have been saying this week -- McVeigh is hardly the only example of what happens when an alienated veteran is radicalized by these kinds of belief systems -- he's just the most famous. There have, in fact, been a number of veterans who have played significant roles in the radical right in recent years, including acting as terrorists. Besides McVeigh, for instance, there is also Eric Rudolph, who spent two years in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, attending the Air Assault School there, and earning the rank of Specialist/E-4.

Then there was our old friend Col. James "Bo" Gritz, ex-Green Beret and Special Forces veteran:

BoGritz1_eba41.jpg

Though he adamantly denied harboring such beliefs much of the time he was promoting militias back in the 1990s, Gritz is now a full-fledged adherent of Christian Identity.

More recently -- and certainly more relevant to the point here -- there's the case of Kody Brittingham, recently of the U.S. Marines:

Brittingham, 20, was with Headquarters and Support Battalion, 2nd Tank Battalion, when he allegedly made the threats against Obama, president-elect at the time. Brittingham was administratively separated from the Corps on Jan. 3.

Brittingham_dff69.JPG

Brittingham’s legal troubles began in mid-December, when he and three other Lejeune Marines were arrested by Jacksonville police in connection with attempted robbery. He was charged Dec. 16 with attempted robbery, breaking and entering, and conspiracy. His bond was set at that time.

After his arrest, Naval investigators found a journal allegedly written by Brittingham in his barracks room, containing plans on how to kill the president and white supremacist material, a federal law enforcement official told The Daily News of Jacksonville.

This points to a significant dimension of the problem: The recruitment of young men into the military who already harbor white-supremacist beliefs.

It's been long reported that hate groups and other extremists, including neo-Nazis, have been making actual inroads into the ranks of the military in recent years. A July 2006 report by the SPLC found this infiltration occurring at an alarming rate. Neo-Nazis "stretch across all branches of service, they are linking up across the branches once they're inside, and they are hard-core," Department of Defense gang detective Scott Barfield told the SPLC. "We've got Aryan Nations graffiti in Baghdad," he added. "That's a problem."

The source of the problem, as the report explained, was the extreme pressure military recruiters were under to fill their recruitment quotas. "Recruiters are knowingly allowing neo-Nazis and white supremacists to join the armed forces," said Barfield, "and commanders don’t remove them . . . even after we positively identify them as extremists or gang members." The military downplayed a neo-Nazi presence in the ranks, Barfield added, "because then parents who are already worried about their kids signing up and dying in Iraq are going to be even more reluctant about their kids enlisting if they feel they’ll be exposed to gangs and white supremacists."

An example of this kind of crossover is the case of Shaun Stuart, a young man from Montana who returned from Iraq ready to join the National Socialist Movement, and gave a speech three years ago at the state Capitol steps in Olympia:

Shawn Stuart-764380_36d56.jpg

And, as we noted awhile back, there are predictable results:

Earlier this year, the founder of White Military Men identified himself in his New Saxon account as "Lance Corporal Burton" of the 2nd Battalion Fox Company Pit 2097, from Florida, according to a master's thesis by graduate student Matthew Kennard. Under his "About Me" section, Burton writes: "Love to shoot my M16A2 service rifle effectively at the Hachies (Iraqis)," and, "Love to watch things blow up (Hachies House)."

Kennard, who was working on his thesis for Columbia University's Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, also monitored claims of active-duty military service earlier this year on the neo-Nazi online forum Blood & Honour, where "88Soldier88" posted this message on Feb. 18: "I am in the ARMY right now. I work in the Detainee Holding Area [in Iraq]. … I am in this until 2013. I am in the infantry but want to go to SF [Special Forces]. Hopefully the training will prepare me for what I hope is to come."

One of the Blood & Honour members claiming to be an active-duty soldier taking part in combat operations in Iraq identified himself to Kennard as Jacob Berg. He did not disclose his rank or branch of service. "There are actually a lot more 'skinheads,' 'nazis,' white supremacists now [in the military] than there has been in a long time," Berg wrote in an E-mail exchange with Kennard. "Us racists are actually getting into the military a lot now because if we don't every one who already is [in the military] will take pity on killing sand niggers. Yes I have killed women, yes I have killed children and yes I have killed older people. But the biggest reason I'm so proud of my kills is because by killing a brown many white people will live to see a new dawn."

This phenomenon reflects the increasingly military style of the Far Right in recent years, particularly the militias in the 1990s, who openly recruited veterans and current military members. The two cultures have become increasingly enmeshed, as embodied by Steven Barry's recruitment plan for neo-Nazis considering a military career as a way to sharpen their "warrior" skills.

And yes, the economic conditions are a worrying potential, particularly given the rising tide of hate-group activity in America:

Last year, 926 hate groups were active in the U.S., up more than 4% from 888 in 2007. That's more than a 50% increase since 2000, when there were 602 groups.

This is where I wonder about the grotesquely skewed priorities of the conservative movement and its leading pundits. Because all the yammering has been fearmongering about the DHS potentially targeting ordinary conservatives -- especially VETERANS!!!! -- when in fact there is not a scintilla of evidence they have done so or are considering it.

Yet in the meantime, as we just pointed out, these right-wing extremists who are the subject and the raison d'etre of this bulletin are also known lethal threats for the men and women who work in law enforcement:

* In the United States, 42 law enforcement officers have been killed in 32 incidents in which at least one of the suspects was a far-rightist since 1990.

* 94% of these incidents involved local or state law enforcement. Only two events—high-profile attacks at Ruby Ridge and at the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City—involved federal agents. Much more common are events like the tragic Pittsburgh triple slayings.

* Attacks on police by far-rightists tend to occur during routine law enforcement activities. 34% of the officers killed by far-rightists were slain during a traffic stop, and a number of law enforcement officers have been killed while responding to calls for service similar to the domestic violence call that precipitated the Pittsburgh murders.

So while the folks at Faux News fearmonger for the sake of yet-unharmed veterans and conservatives, they're completely turning their backs on the interests of the men and women who risk their lives each day serving as law-enforcement officers.

Evidently, not even three dead cops in Pittsburgh can convince them otherwise.

About David Neiwert

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