Maybe we should defund Homeland Security after all
The Department of Homeland Security is up to its old tricks, warning police departments across the country of the threat of "right wing" terrorism.
DHS points out that there have been 24 attacks by the sovereign citizen extremists since 2010, some of them deadly. But just who is a "sovereign citizen"? The definition used by DHS could sweep up a lot of people who hold relatively mainstream views on government power.
Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that by some estimates, there are as many as 300,000 people involved in some way with sovereign citizen extremism. Perhaps 100,000 people form a core of the movement, he said.
The federal government's focus on the domestic groups waxes and wanes, Potok said, in part because the threat from foreign groups like al Qaeda and its affiliates.
Potok says sovereign citizen groups have attracted support because of poor economic conditions. Some groups travel the country pitching their ideology as a way to help homeowners escape foreclosure or get out of debt, by simply ignoring the courts and bankruptcy law.
The Homeland Security report's focus on right-wing terrorists is a subject that garnered political controversy for the Obama administration in the past. In 2009, a Homeland Security report on possible recruitment of military veterans by right-wing militia groups prompted an outcry from veterans groups.
The report was produced by staff members during the Bush administration but wasn't published until then Homeland Security Janet Napolitano had taken office. Napolitano criticized her own agency for the report.
Are there really 100,000 anti-government nutcases with itchy trigger fingers? That's a suspiciously high number, as is the 300,000 supporters. It isn't so much that they are going to round up conservatives and throw them in jail. But say something awful about the government and you're liable to be the target of a police or FBI probe. DHS has no clue when it comes to the difference between violent extremists and those passionate about changing the way government works. We simply can't trust them.
Jazz Shaw makes the point that the idea that right wing nuts are a bigger threat than Islamic terrorism, or gang violence, is ridiculous:
24 attacks in the last five years is 24 too many, as I’m sure we can all agree. But we should also put things in perspective. Islamic terrorists can pull off that many in a week without breaking too much of a sweat. They make no secret of their intentions, but you always have to be on the lookout for who might be helping them on the home front.
But if it’s domestic threats that we’re worrying about, is this really the top trophy to go after? In 2012 (the last year of full records) there were 500 gang killings in Chicago alone. For those of you keeping score at home, unlike the 24 in the last five years racked up by the “sovereign citizens” brigade, that’s more than 28 every three weeks. In New York, youth gangs commit an estimated 40% of the shootings each year, and while the Big Apple has done an admirable job of bringing their murder rate down for several years now, that’s still a lot of lead flying through the air. I could go through the numbers for the other cities, but you get the point.
It goes beyond that, though. We have parades of people marching down the streets calling for the murder of cops. That’s not single point violence… it’s mayhem on a cultural scale which seeks to tear down the fabric of civilization. And if that’s not enough, if you take a tour of the more southwest regions, massively well funded, heavily armed and well organized drug cartels make regular forays into our nation dealing death and destruction on a daily basis. Math may not be my strong suit in terms of placing things in order of importance, but that seems fairly serious.
But… hey. 24 attacks in five years is pretty bad too, so you get right on that.
There is little doubt that right wing extremists are a problem in some areas of the country. But DHS is giving local police and the FBI carte blanche to go after opponents of the government whose rhetoric may be a little too ripe for some.
And what about left wing terrorists? The FBI says that between 2004 and 2008, environmental terrorists caused $200 million in property damage. Animal rights extremists routinely attack people wearing fur and cause widespread destruction at labs and research facilities. Sovereign citizens may pose a big threat to police, but left wing activists put the rest of us in danger.
Shouldn't DHS recognize that too?