June 12, 2009

[Note: I confirmed earlier today that my interview with Anderson Cooper regarding "lone wolf" violence will air on AC360 tonight, so be sure to catch it on CNN.]

When that Homeland Security bulletin on right-wing extremism was issued two months, C&L was among the first to point out the report's complete factual accuracy. In retrospect, there are some methodological issues with the bulletin, which Leonard Zeskind ably limns; and the report's political framing unfortunately left it open to political attack.

Yet, as we've seen this week, it was clearly prescient in warning about the dangers posed by lone wolves and small-cell terrorists. Shepard Smith notwithstanding, everyone at Fox has been pushing hard to convince the public once again the DHS report was wrong. Next: Rupert Murdoch is the King of the Moon.

Among them: Neil Cavuto yesterday on his daily Fox News program. He invited a Gulf War vet named Matthew Burden on to talk about how wrong the report was. This produced some real howlers.

Burden: Well, first of all, this report was poorly written, and it was a completely unprovoked attack on our veterans.

Well, regardless of its literary qualities, the report in fact was not only perfectly accurate -- it was in fact issued largely in response to the shooting of three police officers in by a right-wing extremist Pittsburgh the week prior. Moreover, the warning raised regarding veterans was strictly about the effort by right-wing extremist groups, particularly neo-Nazi organizations, to recruit returning veterans -- a fact that had already been long established.

Finally, it must be pointed out that the DHS report in fact accurately predicted that the most significant domestic-terrorism threat Americans faced was going to come from "lone wolf" and small-cell terrorists motivated by right-wing extremism. Not that Neil or his guest ever bother to discuss this point.

Cavuto: I always wonder if -- the prior administration had said the exact same thing, you know, how differently that might have been treated.

Good question, Neil -- because, as Catherine Herridge and Shepard Smith reported on Fox they did say "the exact same thing" -- this report was in fact commissioned by the Bush administration.

So we wonder, indeed, how this would have been reported if any of the rest of Greater Wingnuttia had bothered to report that fact as well?

Most of all, Cavuto wants to emphasize the portion of the report that discussed veterans -- but ignores the fact that most right-wingers were outraged not just over that portion, but over what they saw as conflation of right-wing extremists with their own mainstream conservatism. Of course, what they mostly were intent on doing was futilely scrubbing to get that nasty right-wing extremist stain out.

Fortunately, all you had to do was switch the channel to MSNBC to get a reasonable and intelligent discussion of the DHS memo between Mark Potok of the SPLC and Keith Olbermann:


OLBERMANN: Is this not precisely—now that we have these investigations by Homeland Security—is this not exactly what Homeland Security foreshadowed in its report on right-wing extremism?

POTOK: Yes. The answer is—yes, it is precisely what they talked about. They talked about a resurgence of the radical right. They had a great deal of evidence to support that conclusion. It very much mirrored the conclusions of the Southern Poverty Law Center earlier.

And, you know, as you well know, DHS was pilloried by political opportunists on the right who were supposedly attacking all conservatives and all war veterans. I mean, it really was the most remarkable tempest in a teacup.

OLBERMANN: In less than two weeks, we‘ve had two fatal incidents: an assassination and an attempt, obviously, to shoot up a museum and just kill as many people as possible, stopped by quick work of true heroes. Are these two cases anomalies—certainly in terms of mortality they are—but are you seeing evidence of broader patterns of chatter—to use that term—or mobilization or recruiting or whatever, domestically?

POTOK: Yes. I mean, first of all, I think that the groups are definitely growing. They have been trying very hard to recruit around the idea of a black man being in the White House, sort of “horror of horrors.” And there has been quite a lot of criminal violence as well. In addition to the cases you‘ve mentioned, in just the last couple of months, five law enforcement officers have been murdered by right-wing extremists in two different incidents.

You know, we've had one guy who was so infuriated with Obama‘s election as president that he was allegedly building a dirty bomb—a bomb with radioactive parts. You know, and it goes on from there.

The day after Obama was inaugurated, a man in Brockton, Massachusetts, stormed out of his house and started murdering black people. When he was finally apprehended after murdering two and nearly killing a third, you know, he told the police that he was going on that evening to murder as many Jews as possible in an Orthodox synagogue. You know, his complaint was that the white race was suffering a genocide at the hands of others.

OLBERMANN: Do we now start to take this idea of domestic right-wing extremism and even terrorism seriously? And if so, what does taking it seriously look like?

POTOK: Well, I would argue that—really, in most law enforcement quarters, certainly since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, domestic terrorism has been taken seriously. Certainly, the authorities have done, I think, a very good job of protecting Obama up to now.

You know, the idea, though, that somehow, you know, this shooting at the Holocaust Museum was in any remote way an artifact of the left or Obama's fault somehow, you know—I mean, it's vile beyond words and just has no basis at all in fact of any kind.

Take that, Rush Limbaugh.

If I might be indulged ... my book, The Eliminationists: How Hate Talk Radicalized the American Right also predicted this (and I had finished writing it for the most part by last October). Here, from Chapter 7 ("Proto-Fascism, Para-Fascism, and the Real Thing") is an excerpt describing what's coming:

The Patriot movement on its own has been in a down cycle since the end of the 1990s. Its recruitment numbers have dropped. Its visibility and level of activity are in stasis, if not decline. During these down periods, the remaining True Believers tend to become even more radicalized. There is already a spiral of violent behavior associated with Patriot beliefs, particularly among the more unstable hard-core adherents—reflected, certainly, in the rampages of Eric Rudolph, Buford Furrow, and perhaps Jim David Adkisson. As Griffin suggests, we can probably expect to see an increase in these “lone wolf” kind of attacks in coming years.

But there is a more significant aspect to the apparent decline of the Patriot movement: its believers, its thousands of foot soldiers, and its agenda, never went away. They didn’t stop believing that Clinton was the anti-Christ nor that he intended to enslave us all under the New World Order. They didn’t stop believing it was appropriate to pre-emptively murder “baby killers” or that Jews secretly conspire to control the world.

They’re still with us, but they’re not active much in militias anymore. They’ve largely been absorbed by the Republican Party. Indeed, the movement in a sense has been fantastically successful in mainstreaming itself in the past decade—especially through the media (and general public) embrace of its anti-immigrant wing, as well as the spread of classical Patriot monetary and taxation theories reflected in the populist Republican presidential campaign of Rep. Ron Paul. And it is important to remember that right-wing populism has always gone in cycles. It never goes away—it only becomes latent, and resurrects itself when the conditions are right.


As America moves toward the concrete reality of a President Obama, it may want to brace itself for a spate of domestic terrorism and homegrown violence. Because even before Obama’s election, it was clear that some of the more violence-prone sectors of the Far Right were winding themselves up for just such an eventuality.

The prospect of an Obama presidency sent the racist Right into a frenzy as early as June 2007, when a Klan leader from Indiana named Ray Larsen promised that he would be assassinated before taking office. Things reached a fever pitch by the summer of 2008. On the Web, white supremacists were speculating wildly about what it meant to their movement.

Three white supremacists, reportedly plotting to assassinate Obama at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August, were caught a week before (though they were not charged with engaging in the plot). A week before the election, two neo-Nazi skinheads were arrested in Tennessee, charged with plotting to assassinate Obama at the culmination of a killing spree in which 102 black people were to be killed.

Earlier that summer, a 60-year-old militiaman named Bradley T. Kahle of Troutville, Pennsylvania, was arrested along with four other Patriots for plotting to attack local government buildings. The FBI confiscated hundreds of weapons, including hunting rifles, cannons, homemade bombs, and rudimentary rockets. Before the bust, Kahle told undercover agents “words to the effect of, that ‘if Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, get elected, hopefully they will get assassinated, if not they will disarm the country and we will have a civil war,’” according to their arrest affidavit. Kahle also told authorities he planned to visit Pittsburgh so he could get on top of a high rise and start shooting black people.

Some white supremacists welcomed Obama’s ascendancy because they saw it as likely to fulfill their fantasies of unleashing an open race war in America. “I hope Obama wins because in four years, white people just might be pissed off enough to actually do something,” said a Virginia Klan leader named Ron Doggett. “White people aren’t going to do a thing until their toys are taken away from them. So things have to be worse for things to be better.”

Web forums devoted to white supremacists held similar views. “He will make things so bad for white people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years,” wrote a poster named “Darthvader” at the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network. “I believe in the motto ‘Worse is Better’ and Obama certainly fits that description.” [add footnote and give url?]

At the white nationalist forum Stormfront, this view was echoed over and over:

“Oh man. I am gleefully, sadistically looking forward to Obama as president. . . . It will be a beautiful day when the masses look at the paper and truly realize they have lost their own country.”

“To the average white man and woman, they could look at Obama and see plain as day that whites are not in control.”

“Could it be that the nomination of Obama finally sparks a sense of unity in white voters? I would propose that this threat of black, muslim [sic] rule may very well be the thing that finally scares some sense back into complacent whites throughout the nation.”

This language makes clear that they expect a Democratic president to enact policies (particularly regarding gun control) that will provoke "civil war." And no doubt, regardless of how cautious and centrist a course Obama charts as president, they will find those provocations. After all, consider how they reacted to the presidency of Bill Clinton, a cautious and centrist Democrat, not to mention a white Southerner. In other words, they are looking for excuses to act out, and were finding them even before the election [okay so as not to date the book?] (the uproar over ACORN and supposed voter fraud, for instance, seemed posed to produce an endless array of conspiracy theories explaining how Obama cheated to win and undermining his legitimacy).

The extremist Right largely went into remission with the election of George W. Bush; militias disbanded because their followers believed the threat of an oppressive, gun-grabbing, baby-killing "New World Order" had passed. They bided their time by forming Minutemen brigades. Now they can see that their "safe" era is coming to an end. Throughout this time, they’ve been hankering for an excuse to start acting out violently, and any Democratic presidency can provide it. An Obama presidency, however, will do so in a significant way.

Of course, the book went to press before I was able to include the case of the three young skinheads arrested in Tennessee, plotting to kill Obama and kill scores of blacks along the way.

The DHS report was begun last year, incidentally, precisely because intelligence data showed that the problem was increasing on the ground. Reality, as Colbert likes to say, has a liberal bias.

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