Homeland Insecurity for Conservatives

The Department of Homeland Security was created in the wake of the 9/11 attacks for the purpose of protecting America against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda.  It was not intended to spy on ordinary Americans or track their political affiliations.  But now DHS seems to be spending as much time tracking and prosecuting "domestic terrorism" as it does foreign terrorists and actual criminals, including those gang members who are crossing our southern border every day.  That's the same border that Kamala Harris is in charge of.

An official at DHS stated in May 2021 that "domestic violent extremism poses the most lethal, persistent terrorism-related threat to our homeland today" — that in connection with a new program of monitoring extremism on public social media.  DHS is going to be collecting and analyzing social media data in an effort to identify possible threats.  That seems straightforward enough, except that one often discovers what one is looking for, and recent history suggests that government is tracking conservatives more closely than radical groups like Antifa.  

On July 1, in one of many such actions, DHS predicted "increased activity" by what it calls "rightwing groups."  It is mystifying how the department could make this prediction, especially since no such highly public prediction was made in regard to those terrorist groups that actually have stated their intention to harm us.  Those groups, like Iran's Revolutionary Guards, seem to get a pass, but ordinary Americans become targets for bureaucrats who believe that the "biggest terrorism threat" comes from "individuals and small groups in the U.S."

Contrary to those, like the ACLU, who question the right of DHS to collect information on American citizens, I believe that government agencies do have the right to collect whatever information they need to avert violence.  But unlike many in these agencies, I also believe that these efforts must be even-handed.  Conservatives who are actually conspiring to commit illegal actions should be prosecuted, but so should those on the left who plot violence.

None of that seems to be happening.  As Charles Marino writes, during summer 2020, "protests by Black Lives Matter ... became associated with the destruction of cities, attacks on law enforcement and other forms of violence."  Yet how many of those responsible for this violence were ever prosecuted and jailed?  One has to question whether the same standards are applied to BLM, Antifa, and other groups on the left.  In my view, all who engage in violence or conspire to commit it should be prosecuted equally.

Americans must never relinquish their rights to free speech, but there are limits to expression.  In our democracy, one has the right to speak freely, to criticize the government and its leaders, and even to express radical views so long as one does not advocate violence.  Government does not have the right to track speech that is legal and within bounds.  The danger is that government, with its power to judge what constitutes "extreme" expression, may be monitoring the wrong groups.  

DHS needs to be extremely careful to avoid gathering information on lawful citizens.  There is not, as some at DHS believe, a "close proximity between constitutionally protected speech ... and the threat of violence."  Constitutionally protected speech is entirely different from speech that incites violence, and one would expect high-level DHS officials to know this.  DHS was created in order to protect Americans from those who do not recognize this difference, but now it appears that some of those may be working at DHS itself.

DHS may be confused as to what its mission is.  At the center of current DHS policy is Alejandro Mayorkas, a person who has worked in government or government-related jobs, mostly located in Washington, D.C., for his entire life.  Are his ideas concerning "rightwing groups" connected with the fact that he grew up in Beverly Hills, attended Beverly Hills High School, and graduated from U.C. Berkeley?  True, one can hardly expect a person who has lived only in Beverly Hills, Berkeley, and Washington to have a very sophisticated understanding of heartland values.  Perhaps that is why DHS is so quick to accuse conservatives of extremism.

Part of this bias is the notion that left-wing violence is committed by "decentralized" groups like Antifa, while right-wing actions like the Jan. 6 protests were "coordinated" and "insurrectionary."  In fact, thousands of protesters do not show up without some sort of coordination: in the era of social media, Antifa and the Proud Boys are equally "coordinated."  The idea that left-wing violence is decentralized and thus less of a threat is extremely dubious. 

Ironically, Mayorkas was in charge of DHS's Citizenship and Immigration Services unit under President Obama from 2009 to 2013, a period that saw a surge in illegal immigration and in criminals such as MS-13 gang members crossing our border.  Unrestricted immigration always brings with it an increase in violent crime, terrorism, and drug importation — just the sort of activities that DHS ought to be investigating and blocking.  Failure to secure the border simply abets crime and terrorism.

Shouldn't DHS spend more time securing our borders than tracking legal citizens who may entertain what it considers extreme views?  According to ICE, the total number of criminal illegal aliens stands at 1.9 million, about 16 percent of the officially recognized illegal alien population.  (Of course, all illegal aliens are criminals by virtue of their having crossed the border illegally, but ICE tabulates those who have committed other crimes.)  Surely these criminal illegal aliens pose a greater threat than the swaggering of native extremists, some of which may be simply letting off steam.  After all, one motto heard among MS-13 members is "kill, rape, control."  Why isn't Homeland Security more effective in protecting Americans against these and other gang members instead of letting them in?

A percentage of the 30 million illegals who may be here are members of criminal gangs, and the numbers may be much larger than government wants us to believe.  In many places, Americans live every day in fear of these gangs, and for good reason.  In the midst of crime waves in many cities, senior citizens are afraid to venture outside their homes, and even at home they do not feel safe.  Meanwhile, Biden minimizes the numbers and denies that a "crime wave" exists — this despite a near doubling of violent crime in many large cities this year.

There are an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in the US, but this is only a fraction of the number of illegal alien gang members in our country.  It is difficult to obtain accurate numbers because search results are buried beneath articles claiming that "nondocumented" criminal activity is less prevalent than "native" criminal activity.  (The same apparent manipulation of search results takes place when one googles "crime wave.")  Progressives are going to great lengths to obscure the truth that illegals do commit violent crimes, that the borders are in fact wide open, and that a crime wave is sweeping across America.

Instead, progressives including Joe Biden focus on "right-wing groups."  DHS officials have stated that domestic extremism is more of a threat than foreign terrorism or even than gangs such as MS-13.  DHS was created for the purpose of combatting foreign terrorism, but somehow under Biden it is evolving into an agency that tracks conservatives on social media and focuses on domestic extremism.  That mistake needs to be corrected while we still have the freedom to do so.     

Jeffrey Folks is the author of many books and articles on American culture including Heartland of the Imagination (2011).

Image: DonkeyHotey via Flickr, CC BY 2.0 (cropped).

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