Monday, April 13, 2009

Latest DHS report on "Rightwing" extremism shows hands of multiple authors--Updated with the blindness/blandess of the liberal blogosphere

Updated: Once you've read this, for a real laugh visit the Delawareliberal thread that (a) attempts to make something substantive out of this report; (b) features Cassandra intentionally missing/misrepresenting the point of this entire post; and (c) illustrating the blandness/blindness we've all come to expect from those who do not see that certain topics of legitimate political discussion are slowly edged toward the dangerous and extremist categories.

Particularly revealing is the failure of DL posters to see any problem with the report's repeated insistence that returning disgruntled veterans are likely targets for extremist recruiting, which stops just an intellectual step short of recommending the profiling of discharged soldiers so that we can follow the potentially dangerous.

My point below--that there is evidence of dissonant voices/dynamics in the DHS report is, sadly, pretty much beyond them.

Next time, just for a few people, I'll try it with one-syllable words.

Now back to the original post:

This latest DHS Unclassified/For Official Use Only document on Rightwing extremism, while much more slickly prepared than the controversial Missouri Militia document, shows distinct signs of having been cobbled together from multiple documents whose authors do not necessarily agree.

Some examples:

First, two succeeding Law Enforcement Sensitive paragraphs:

— (U//LES) Threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical and have not indicated plans to carry out violent acts. Nevertheless, the consequences of a prolonged economic downturn—including real estate foreclosures, unemployment, and an inability to obtain credit—could create a fertile recruiting environment for rightwing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past.

— (U//LES) Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

Now, in order to parse the distinctions between these two paragraphs, you also have to understand the definition of Rightwing Extremist employed in this document:

(U) Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

Note that the writer of the first paragraph (we'll call this person Author A) is using the two basic terms from the definition, although A qualifies the hate groups by only using white supremacists, and qualifies the antigovernment groups by only using violent groups. Author A also sees future violece in the form of possible, potential confrontations between these groups and government authorities--meeting engagements, if you will.

The writer of the second paragraph (Author B) is not using the same definition of Rightwing extremists, and instead focses purely on racially motivated groups [the election of an African American president is seen as sufficient motivation, with no indication that he is also perceived as being far left-of-center], and takes their eventual turn to organized violence as inevitable--to say, they have not yet turned to attack planning is to argue that the occurrence of such organized violence is (a) only a matter of time; and (b) will be an initiated strike [attack] rather than a confrontation that builds out of circumstances.

This twin tension between the different understandings shared by A and B regarding the composition and threat potential of various groups extends through the document, which is presented in bullet-format, probably to hide the lack of consensus behind the different writers/compilers/editors.

Author B resurfaces a page later with this segment:

The historical election of an African American president and the prospect of policy changes are proving to be a driving force for rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalization.

Note that African American president again, but look at the purported example to support this case:

— (U) A recent example of the potential violence associated with a rise in rightwing extremism may be found in the shooting deaths of three police officers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 4 April 2009. The alleged gunman’s reaction reportedly was influenced by his racist ideology and belief in antigovernment conspiracy theories related to gun confiscations, citizen detention camps, and a Jewish-controlled “one world government.”

Note first that the paragraph has nothing to do with recruitment whatsoever, as this gunman was the stereotypical lone wolf that the report will discuss repeatedly as being unpredictable.

Note also that there is nothing said about this alleged gunman being (clinical term here) batshit nuts, and had long held all of these beliefs prior to President Obama's election. This is Author B again, with the inevitability argument--an argument that was entered into a report dated 7 April 2009 referring to events of 4 April 2009, of which the writer could have had little to go on besides very fragmentary initial press reports.

Author A is consistently more measures in conclusions drawn, and seems to be interested in being far more judicious in use of language, and in pointing out that some of the concerns mentioned in this briefing paper are also the concerns of law-abiding citizens, to wit:

(U//FOUO) The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms...

(U//FOUO) Scholars and experts disagree over poverty’s role in motivating violent radicalization....

(U//FOUO) Many rightwing extremist groups perceive recent gun control legislation as a threat to their right to bear arms and in response have increased weapons and ammunition stockpiling....

— (U//FOUO) On the current front, legislation has been proposed this year requiring mandatory registration of all firearms in the United States....

(U//FOUO) Open source reporting of wartime ammunition shortages has likely spurred rightwing extremists—as well as law-abiding Americans—to make bulk purchases of ammunition. These shortages have increased the cost of ammunition, further exacerbating rightwing extremist paranoia and leading to further stockpiling activity. Both rightwing extremists and law-abiding citizens share a belief that rising crime rates attributed to a slumping economy make the purchase of legitimate firearms a wise move at this time....

— (U//LES) DHS/I&A has concluded that white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy—separate from any formalized group—which hampers warning efforts....

Author A--who appears to be the senior voice in the document (probably the compiler)--has a nuanced view of rightwing extremism, including (a) a willingness to note that many law-abiding Americans share some of these concerns; and (b) that the primary domestic terror threat today is not from groups but from nutty lone wolf individuals.

Author B is a powerful enough dissenting voice to place directly contradictory statements into the record. For Author B, white supremacist groups are the primary threat, and they are inevitably moving toward attack plans.

Author B, for example, finds debates over immigration or foreign policy to be pretty much the province of right-wingers, with no exculpatory language to say that for many these are legitimate arguments. Take, for example, the way Author B presents the issue of anti-immigration, followed by Author A's significantly divergent take:

Author B:

(U//FOUO) Rightwing extremists were concerned during the 1990s with the perception that illegal immigrants were taking away American jobs through their willingness to work at significantly lower wages. They also opposed free trade agreements, arguing that these arrangements resulted in Americans losing jobs to countries such as Mexico.

Author A:

(U//FOUO) Over the past five years, various rightwing extremists, including militias and white supremacists, have adopted the immigration issue as a call to action, rallying point, and recruiting tool. Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent.

There is no real reason to have these two, structurally similar paragraphs follow one another, unless Author A was consciously trying to soften Author B's presentation of anti-immigration concerns as being the sole prerogative of rightwing extremists.

There are other examples, but none of them are going to convince you beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am correct that there are two different voices within this report. It's an inferential thing, a habit of listening for different emphases in collectively authored documents, and Authors A and B as I have proposed them may be groups rather than individuals.

Nonetheless, I think the dynamic is important to consider. This document (almost but not quite) melds two different views of domestic terrorism threats in the US today.

From one perspective, there are a lot of volatile issues that people can feel passionate, legitimate differences about, and which may be exploited for recruiting purposes by some groups, even though the primary domestic terrorist threat remains the lone wolf individual.

The other perspective shifts several inches further along of the paradigm of laying the groundwork for denying the legitimacy of some political arguments, and asserting the existence of certain conditions (an African-American president and debate over gun control issues to name but two) as sufficient in themselves to spark major, group-organized, aggressive violence.

The result is a report that, quite frankly, is almost as useless to law enforcement officials as that Missouri Militia report, because it tells them absolutely nothing they didn't already know, and it is ambiguous enough to support any interpretation those LEOs would like to place on it. It is a piece of bureaucratic double-speak that hedges virtually every single statement it makes.

I am not sure if the poor quality of the report bothers me more or less than the intimation that within the homeland security apparatus there are obviously some pretty powerful voices willing to tie anybody with an anti-immigrant, anti-gun control, anti-big government point of view very closely to white supremacists, hate groups, and militias.

The Missouri report told us those folks were around, and in positions of some power. This tells us that their reach is probably much higher than we previously thought.


Miko said...

I've never been able to understand how someone could claim to be simultaneously anti-government, anti-immigration, and anti-abortion. Anti-abortion is impossible without a state and anti-immigration is impossible without a monopoly state.

Anonymous said...

I'm equally concerned that returning veterans have been designated as potential threats.

Anonymous said...

First, this was posted originally by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) and not through legitimate channels. The fact that it contains both FOUO and LES confirms that it was leaked.

(the use of those caveats do restrict their dissemination)

Second, this is a standard DHS aggregation; that why you see authors A, B and whomever. DHS rarely is on the production end of much usable information.

Third, it should be easy to do a few searches that turn up redacted information that clearly indicates that there have been reports from more reliable sources than this that have questioned the returning military. That is not new news.

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