Friday, June 10, 2011

SPLC's Potok Calls Out Obama Administration For Its 'Political Cowardice' On Domestic Terrorism

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

[H/t Heather]

Apparently, the SPLC's intelligence director, Mark Potok agrees with our assessment of the Obama administration's disastrous failure to take right-wing domestic terrorism seriously. Here is on The Ed Show the other night, discussing the report in the Washington Post on ex-Homeland Security analyst Daryl Johnson raising the red flag on the issue:
POTOK: What it means in concrete terms is that law enforcement officials, agencies out there in the 50 states, are not getting the intelligence that was very useful to them in helping to understand what was going on out there.

What DHS really did or used to do was to produce intelligence. It wasn‘t so much building actual criminal cases as in intelligence as to what was going on out there on the radical right.

Daryl‘s report was really a very prescient report. It very much fell in line with our own independent findings. And of course, it was immediately confirmed. As it was being pilloried by people like Michelle Malkin, the columnist, by the American Leagues and so on, things were happening that absolutely confirmed it.

Very shortly after the leak of the report, for instance, George Tiller, an abortion provider, was murdered. Not long after that, I‘m sure viewers will remember, a guard was murdered at the Holocaust Museum by a well-known neo-Nazi.

And the list goes on and on. In January of this year, a man tried to murder hundreds of people at a Martin Luther King Day Parade in Spokane, Washington, A well known neo-Nazi, allegedly at least.

SCHULTZ: Daryl Johnson—

POTOK: So it‘s a disaster basically.

SCHULTZ: You spoke with him. How adamant is he about the fact that this lack of resources being focused here is really playing into the increase of some of these events that you are talking about?

POTOK: Well, Daryl is a friend. And I think that Daryl is really deeply concerned. And it is not only him. I know that he‘s received all kinds of messages in the last few days since he went public from other people in law enforcement, talking about how very right he was.

And, you know, the shame of this, as you suggested in your intro, is that Secretary Napolitano essentially seemed to have acted out of mere political cowardice.
You know, the fact is that the DHS report of 2009 did not pillory conservatives. It did not suggest that all veterans were potential Timothy McVeighs or people who were concerned about abortion or immigration were terrorists.

And yet it was accused of all of those things. And the reaction of the Department of Homeland Security was after a very brief and kind of weak knee defense of the report, was to absolutely pull back and, moreover, to suggest that Daryl had gone out of normal channels, that this was an unauthorized release of the report, when in fact it had been fully authorized.

The secretary was briefed on the report by Daryl personally before it was released. And then beyond that, as you suggested already, the unit was gutted. It has produced not a single substantial report since the report of 2009. Daryl has left the agency, as have four other senior analysts there.

So essentially, the department is doing nothing because it is afraid of offending conservatives, or at least the leadership of the department.
Of course, we've been writing about this issue for awhile now. But it is yet further confirmation -- beyond simply the reported data already available -- that we have a serious problem on our hands.

Unfortunately, there has been no indication whatsoever from the administration that it intends to address the issue. Apparently it's bought into the Beltway Village narrative that merely bringing up these matters is deeply uncivil.

But What About All Those Terrorists Crossing The Mexican Border? Er, What Terrorists?

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

One of the incessant mantras we hear from right-wingers demanding we "secure the border" -- particularly the Minuteman types and their media enablers -- is that the need to do became incredibly important after 9/11, because Islamist terrorists were certain to be crossing into the United States through the desert.

That's certainly what we've been hearing constantly at Fox News and its many onscreen nativists, perhaps most notably Michelle Malkin. Remember how Glenn Beck tried to stir up a panic over the finding of a book on Iranian martyrs out in the desert -- which just happened to be an English translation? It even inspired Rep. Trent Franks to proclaim: "If terrorists ever come across our border with nuclear weapons... they (could) hold an entire city hostage ... This book is a grave reminder of the mindset and intent of the indescribably dangerous enemy we face."

And then there are the politicians who've used the claim to attack President Obama, such as wingnut Sheriff Paul Babeu of Pinal County: ""If the majority of regular illegal immigrants can sneak into America, what does this say about the ability of terrorist sleeper cells?"

Well, as we've been saying about this supposed threat for some time now: They're barking up the wrong tree:
A turning political tide has renewed fears that raged after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks - that terrorists will sneak into the country across the U.S.-Mexico border.

Nobody disputes that's possible, but analysts and government officials say terrorists plotting to kill Americans are more likely to use other routes into the country, if they're not here already.

It's much more common for people convicted in the U.S. of crimes connected to international terrorism to have been U.S. citizens or legal residents, or come into the country on visas.

"There is no serious evidence that the U.S.-Mexico border is a significant threat from terrorism," said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank based in New York.

Claims of terrorist threats on the Southwest border distract legislators and policymakers from addressing long-term solutions to drug smuggling and illegal immigration, said Tom Barry, senior analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington.

"It's politically motivated," Barry said, "playing on that sense of fear that certain people are susceptible to."
That's pretty much what we said awhile back:
Meanwhile, if terrorists really want to sneak into the country, they'll likely do it the way they do traditionally: forge papers and come in through the front gate with visas. That's how the 9/11 terrorists came in, and it's fairly simple and easy for them -- unlike, say, paying large sums to drug lords to sneak you over in a highly dangerous illegal crossing in the remote backcountry, which is how nativists like Malkin seem to imagine the terrorists are sneaking in.

Moreover, if Malkin wants to worry about terrorists sneaking over our borders, she'd be better off keeping an eye on the Canadian border. After all, the only known case of a terrorist caught bringing materiel over the border -- the 1999 Ahmed Ressam incident -- happened in Washington state, on the ferryboat from Canada. A quantitative analysis of terrorist threats to the U.S. found that there was "no terrorist presence in Mexico and no terrorists who entered the U.S. from Mexico"; but there was in fact "a sizeable terrorist presence in Canada and a number of Canadian-based terrorists who have entered the U.S."
The idea that it's possible to completely secure the border by physical means is a fantasy anyway. You defeat terrorism with intelligence -- not stupidity.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Domestic Terrorism Of The Right-Wing Kind: One Of The Obama Administration's Most Abject Failures

[Cross-posted at Crooks and Liars.]

We all know that progressives have been getting agitated for the past couple of years over the many failures of the Obama administration to stand up on behalf of their issues, with good cause. Largely, it seems, the White House is choosing not to fight for key issues because they fear the right-wing noise machine and its ability to dictate the terms of the national discourse in their favor.

But there may be no area where the White House has been more cowardly than it has in dealing with domestic terrorism, where it has abjectly caved to the noise machine's angry complaints that trying to tackle right-wing extremism makes everyday conservatives look bad. The result: Americans are far more vulnerable to right-wing domestic terrorism and its lethal effects than they have been since at least the days of the Reagan administration -- particularly because that toxin has been dramatically on the rise since the day that Obama was elected president.

The Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported
on this problem yesterday:
The Department of Homeland Security has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.

The department has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups, the officials and others said.

The decision to reduce the department’s role was provoked by conservative criticism of an intelligence report on “Rightwing Extremism” issued four months into the Obama administration, the officials said. The report warned that the poor economy and Obama’s election could stir “violent radicalization,” but it was pilloried as an attack on conservative ideologies, including opponents of abortion and immigration.

In the two years since, the officials said, the analytical unit that produced that report has been effectively eviscerated. Much of its work — including a digest of domestic terror incidents and the distribution of definitions for terms such as “white supremacist” and “Christian Identity” — has been blocked.

Multiple current and former law enforcement officials who have regularly viewed DHS analyses said the department had not reported in depth on any domestic extremist groups since 2009.

“Strategic bulletins have been minimal, since that incident,” said Mike Sena, an intelligence official in California who presides over the National Fusion Center Association, a group of 72 federally chartered institutions in which state, local and federal officials share sensitive information. “Having analytical staff, to educate line officers on the extremists, is critical.…This is definitely one area” where more effort is warranted by DHS.
We've addressed this very issue here previously, in the context of the sovereign citizens' movement and its lethal attacks on law-enforcement officers, most notably those horrifying cop killings in West Memphis, Arkansas:
The incident was yet another reminder that one of the most significant ongoing threats to law enforcement officers in this country comes from right-wing extremists of the Patriot/"sovereign citizen" variety -- people who take Republicans' government-bashing rhetoric to its illogical extreme and declare themselves free of federal laws and functionally laws unto themselves. There are constant reminders of this threat -- from the Hutaree Militia to the Richard Poplawskis out there.

Of course, we all were witness to the right-wing shrieking over that Department of Homeland Security bulletin warning police officers around the country about the nature of this resurgent threat. That's because conservatives are more concerned about whitewashing away these embarrassments than they are with the lives of police officers.

They like to use dead cops as props to attack liberals while loudly arguing, as Glenn Beck did a couple years ago, that even paying attention to such right-wing threats is a smear of mainstream conservatives.

.... The unfortunate reality is that federal officials are almost certainly not sharing this vital intelligence with police officers because, whenever they do, they're viciously and loudly attacked by right-wing pundits for allegedly smearing mainstream conservatives. Amazingly, no one in the mainstream media seems to have yet cottoned to the fact that this really is a near-outright confession of complicity.

Indeed, domestic terrorism is sharply increasing in the past two years, as evidenced by the 22 incidents and counting we've documented involving right-wing extremists committing acts of violence against "liberals" and government targets.

But because right-wing talkers only want to discuss terrorism as a "Muslim" phenomenon, we're getting a badly skewed understanding of the nature of terrorism.
Ironically, this all is being explained away by the Obama administration as a civil-rights issue:
DHS’s caution or avoidance, as its critics claim, may partly stem from worries that aggressive intelligence operations could be seen as civil liberties violations. A DHS official explained that “unlike international terrorism, there are no designated domestic terrorist groups. Subsequently, all the legal actions of an identified extremist group leading up to an act of violence are constitutionally protected and not reported on by DHS.”
Seriously? There are "no designated domestic terrorist groups"? That's not only an astonishing assessment by a supposed domestic-terrorism official, it's outrageous.

Have these supposed terrorism experts never heard of the National Alliance, the folks who distribute literature promoting domestic terrorism as an avenue to fomenting race war, and one of whose members recently was responsible for attempting to bomb the MLK Day parade in Spokane? Or the Aryan Nations, one of the major conduits of domestic terrorism for the past 20 years and more in America?

Or, for that matter, how about the sovereign citizens movement, the subject of a recent 60 Minutes expose on the rising threat of right-wing domestic terrorism?

Indeed, since that piece ran, two more serious cases of violence involving "sovereign citizens" have made headlines -- but, the "liberal media" being what it is, only local headlines. In Ensley, Florida, a sovereign citizen shot up a local seafood market with an AK-47 because they didn't carry crawfish (!).

And in Colorado, a father of 11 who claimed sovereign citizenship shut down the state Capitol for a day by terrorizing state officials with a fake-anthrax threat mailing -- one of their favorite tactics.

The threat of right-wing domestic has been steadily mounting, as we've documented here at C&L. Here's our map of the incidents so far:


It's not only tragic that the Obama administration has -- out of apparent cowardice -- simply turned its back on this problem. It's also outrageous, considering that its own electoral base is often one of the chief targets of these crazies.