The American Legion on Tuesday criticized a new Homeland Security report as unfairly stereotyping veterans by suggesting that some soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could be recruited by right-wing extremists to participate in violent actions.
“I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are,” David K. Rehbein, national commander of the veterans organization, said in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano about a security assessment titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence and Recruitment.”
The report, which prompted a storm of outrage Tuesday from conservatives, cited the example of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in warning that the return of disgruntled military veterans could lead to “terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
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Mr. Rehbein also challenged the department on that score, speaking on behalf of the legion’s 2.6 million members. “To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical ‘disgruntled military veteran’ is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam,” he said.
• Click here to download a PDF of the report.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said the department also has warned about the dangers from “leftwing extremists” in occasional reports to federal, state, local and tribal counterterrorism and law enforcement officials. The Washington Times independently obtained and verified such a report from Jan. 26 titled, “Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade.”
Ms. Kuban said work on the “Rightwing Extremism” report, which was reported Tuesday by The Times, began more than a year ago, during the Bush administration.
However key findings in the report, which cited the economic downturn and the election of President Obama, indicate that much of the work was done in the past few months.
Ms. Kuban added that the report’s authors were not political appointees. “The people who wrote the April 7 report are career officials, the acting head of Intelligence and Analysis is a career official,” she said.
Regardless, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich sent a Twitter message saying that “the person who drafted the outrageous homeland security memo smearing veterans and conservatives should be fired.”
John Raughter, the communications director for the American Legion, said the group’s commander was responding to a quick surge in sentiment from veterans.
“We have heard from our membership in e-mails and so forth. As soon as the national commander saw the report from Homeland Security, he had that letter sent. The letter went out yesterday,” Mr. Raughter said.
In his letter to Ms. Napolitano, Mr. Rehbein asked to meet with her “at a time of mutual convenience to discuss issues such as border security and the war on terrorism.”
Ms. Kuban said her boss would be open to meeting with Mr. Rehbein.
The nine-page security assessment was sent to local law enforcement officials nationwide and warned, though without numbers or contemporary examples, about a rise in “rightwing extremist activity.”
The “Leftwing Extremists” report, on the other hand, focuses on “animal rights, environmental, and anarchist extremist movements,” warning that such organizations will focus their attacks on economic targets and specifically cyberattacks such as overwhelming a corporation’s servers with spam e-mail or hacking into closed networks and deleting user accounts.
The report, however, limits its warnings to “animal rights and environmental extremists,” which it says “seek to end the perceived abuse and suffering of animals and the degradation of the natural environment perpetrated by humans”; and “anarchist extremists” who the report says “generally embrace a number of radical philosophical components of anticapitalist, antiglobalization, communist, socialist and other movements.”
That report does not lump such groups, though, with single-issue advocacy on broad topics and the stances of mainstream liberals. It also cites specific attacks by contemporary groups that fit the given descriptions, rather than draw analogies from the 1990s.
Regardless, Republicans on Capitol Hill were not buying Homeland Security’s explanations on the reports.
Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, questioned the purpose of the report, which says that people dedicated to single-issues such as “abortion or immigration” are defined as “rightwing extremism.”
“DHS offers no specific data or evidence to back up its claim that ‘rightwing extremism’ is resurgent,” Mr. Smith said.
“As far as I can tell, the only thing this report does do is attempt to stigmatize people who disagree with the president,” Mr. Smith said.
Rep. Peter T. King of New York, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, said that while terrorism can come from many quarters, Homeland Security “should spend less time focusing on ideology and the exercise of free speech and association, and instead focus on specific, actionable intelligence to counter the terrorist threats to our nation.”
Congress is in recess, with many members traveling overseas, and attempts to reach both several key Democrats and some Republicans were unsuccessful.
However, Rep. Ron Paul, the Texas Republican whose presidential supporters were targeted in a March report by the Missouri Information Analysis Center as being linked to militia members, said the report signals government intrusion.
“This report is a sign of bad things to come: more profiling, more surveillance and more Big Brother government for the American people,” Mr. Paul said. “All Americans should be opposed to any sort of government profiling. If we don’t wake up to what is going on, our country stands to lose the liberties we hold so dear.”
Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, denounced the report as a bid “to vilify mainstream conservatism” and also warned that such tactics could backfire and distract Homeland Security from counterterrorism activities.
“The last time a liberal left administration tried to increase public apprehension about alleged right-wing extremism, they ended up with tragedies like Waco while ignoring the increasing presence of radical Islamic terrorists on American soil that ended up with 9/11,” he said.
Mr. Smith also detected in the report something of the Obama administration political style and a double standard regarding terror threats.
“For an administration that uses word games to downplay the threat of foreign terrorists, and regularly accuses others of promoting the ‘politics of fear,’ they’re awfully willing to paint law-abiding Americans, including war veterans, as ‘extremists.’ ”
The report said the federal government “will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months” to gather information on “rightwing extremist activity in the United States.”
The category of suspects also includes gun rights supporters, economic critics of China, India and Russia, and supporters of states’ rights.
Eric Odom, an organizer of the Tax Day Tea Party which is holding protests Wednesday against big government and federal taxation in more than 750 cities, said the report is “very disconcerting.”
“That is exactly our message, so based on this memo, this is a government funded and fueled attack on federalism,” Mr. Odom said. “The assertion here that these people are all extremists and for the Department of Homeland Security to put us on a list is absolutely outrageous and a direct attack on a great chunk of American society.”
Mr. Odom called the report “scary stuff,” because “it makes me wonder who is looking at me right now. Every single issue they state is what we support. So the federal government needs to keep an eye on me, because I am protesting their actions? That doesn’t sit right.”
Homeland Security spokesman Sean Smith said the department “is only interested in monitoring groups who have a nexus to criminal and violent activity. The peaceful protests of the tea parties is not that.”
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, denounced the report as a smear of Americans who believed in federalism and gun rights and opposed abortion by lumping them together with hate groups.
“They can’t possibly have had time to be fitted for their brown shirts and they are behaving like this,” Mr. Norquist said of the Department of Homeland Security. “This memo belongs in Paraguay circa 1957.”