The commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) defended Homeland Security officials for assessing all possible threats to the U.S., but said the report should have been worded differently.
“A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility,” said Glen M. Gardner Jr., VFW commander.
“The report should have been worded differently, but it made no blanket accusation that every soldier was capable of being a traitor like Benedict Arnold, or every veteran could be a lone wolf, homegrown terrorist like Timothy McVeigh. It was just an assessment about possibilities that could take place,” Mr. Gardner said.
Mr. Gardner said that such future assessments should “tone down the ‘disgruntled military veteran’ angle” and include other professionals who have paramilitary training including police, Secret Service, FBI, and Homeland Security’s own Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
Under the heading “Disgruntled Military Veterans,” the assessment said that “right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”
“The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today,” the report said.
The assessment cited only a few examples, most prominently McVeigh, the Operation Desert Storm veteran who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, and also a 2008 FBI report stating “that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.”
The FBI report found 159 veterans with “confirmed or claimed” military service active in Aryan, skinhead, Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups from a period between October 2001 and May 2008, from among nearly 24,000 veterans, a number it described as “minuscule.”
The Homeland Security assessment also cited a 2006 report, credited only to an unnamed “prominent civil rights organization,” as having said “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the (U.S.) armed forces.”
That same clause appears as part of a July 2006 “Intelligence Project” report by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled “A Few Bad Men.”
Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, criticized the singling out of veterans, saying that veterans fight for their country, not against it.
“America’s veterans are not helpless victims or damaged goods that become pawns for extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.
“They fight extremists that threaten our nation. It is beyond disappointing to see our heroes portrayed in such a fashion in an official government report. Our veterans have pledged to support and defend the Constitution, not extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.
Seven Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano defending others described in the report as potential terrorists.
“The report identifies those individuals who believe in such issues as pro-life legislation, limited government, legal versus illegal immigration and limited federal government as potential terrorist threats,” the senators said.