Right: DHS extremist report was "crap." Really?

Will the conservatives who blasted a report warning of right-wing extremists apologize now? Don't count on it.

Published June 10, 2009 11:11PM (EDT)

WASHINGTON — A couple of months ago, the Department of Homeland Security issued a detailed report, in the works for months, warning that right-wing hate groups might find a fertile environment these days. The country's first black president had taken office during an economic downturn that some white supremacists have blamed on a Jewish banking cabal.

At the time, conservatives practically climbed over each other in their rush to denounce it as alarmist and unfair. "There is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything," Rush Limbaugh raged on his radio show on April 14, when news of the report came out a week after it was written.

That was then, before a violent, anti-Semitic white supremacist assaulted the Holocaust Museum with a shotgun, killing a security guard. Which, of course, happened less than two weeks after a radical anti-choice zealot murdered abortion provider Dr. George Tiller in his Kansas church. Suddenly, that DHS report doesn't look so alarmist, after all.

"Despite the inarticulate report that went out, it was based on sound intelligence," an administration official told Salon, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of both the report and the shooting. "DHS will continue to analyze and share information with local law enforcement, whether that information is politically correct or not."

James von Brunn, the suspect arrested in the Holocaust Museum attack, even served in the Army — though Republicans said the Obama administration was slandering the troops by warning that "disgruntled military veterans" might be targets for racist recruiting. And even a brief glance through von Brunn's "book," "Kill the Best Gentiles," shows how on the mark the report was in warning that "anti-Semitic extremists" blamed "a deliberate conspiracy conducted by a cabal of Jewish 'financial elites'" for the economic collapse.

Limbaugh's blustery insistence that right-wing groups had never done anything violent obviously seems even more foolish now than it did then. (Some liberal critics had also noted, before the shooting, that Limbaugh went on a mini-tirade about President Obama's insistence on "ripping Germany for what it did 60 or 65 years ago" while visiting Buchenwald last week, which also sounds even dumber now than before.) But he wasn't the only conservative upset over the report. Rep. Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican, badgered Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about it at a budget hearing last month. "Let me just ask specifically, who in the Extremism and Radicalization branch of the Homeland Environment Threat Analysis division have you fired for this report?" he asked. Aides didn't immediately return a phone call asking if Kirk still stands by his criticism.

Conservatives appeared to put far more time and energy into bashing the administration over the report than the administration did writing it. Radio host Michael Savage sued DHS for issuing what the lawsuit disingenuously called a "Rightwing Extremism Policy" — though in retrospect, having a policy like that might not be a bad idea. Bill Kristol called it "juvenile." Michelle Malkin called it "a piece of crap," and implied it had been written only to smear the people who were, at the time, about to gather at anti-tax "Tea Party" protests around the country. (Of course, at the time, Democrats were also happy to denounce the report, which seemed to be a political liability. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Homeland Security Committee, complained about it even though he had asked DHS to investigate right-wing hate groups four years earlier. The administration backed away from the report as well, with Napolitano apologizing for it.)

None of those GOP critics are likely to back down now; in fact, reminders of how they reacted to the report will probably become a new talking point for Limbaugh and his pals, who love to play the victim. Just look at how Bill O'Reilly turned Tiller's murder into a chance to complain that a lot of people — including Salon — took note of his vicious rhetorical campaign against Tiller in the past. Already this afternoon, some conservatives had seized on von Brunn's belief in 9/11 conspiracy theories, and his hatred of George W. Bush, as proof that he wasn't even remotely one of them. "Many of von Brunn's political views track 'Left' rather than 'Right,'" Kathy Shaidle wrote in the Examiner.

But with two shootings by right-wing extremists in two weeks — as well as the unrelated murder of an Army recruiter in Arkansas by a recent convert to Islam — the government might want to start taking political violence more seriously. Tragic as the Army recruiter's murder was, the evidence so far indicates that focusing some anti-terrorism attention on the lunatic fringe of the conservative movement would make sense.

It may be impolitic to say so, but white supremacist hate groups get a lot more fired up when the president is a half-Kenyan man named Barack Hussein Obama, whose chief of staff is an observant Jew, than they did when the president was a WASP from Connecticut by way of Texas. Do all conservatives feel that way? No, of course not. But are there violent wackos out there, just as the DHS report warned? Sadly, yes, there are. And the government shouldn't pretend they don't exist, no matter how loudly Rush Limbaugh howls.

(Additional reporting by Josh Loewenstein.)

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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