- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 19, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano blamed “politicization” for a week of furor over a report that warned that right-wing extremists were recruiting troops returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. She also said the Obama administration’s veterans programs were necessary in combating such extremism.

“I regret that in the politicization of everything that happens in Washington, D.C., some took offense,” Ms. Napolitano said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with John King. “But I think any fair reading of the report says this is very consistent with other reports that have been issued before… . They are meant to give people what is called ‘situational awareness,’ and they are certainly not intended to give offense — far from it.”

The report, which said veterans could be suscepitble to recruitment by groups concerned about immigration, abortion and increasing federal power, set off a firestorm of protest from veterans groups and conservatives. Ms. Napolitano stressed that the report did not identify veterans as extremists, however.

“What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremists groups that are trying to recruit [them] to commit violent acts within the country,” she said, later adding, “That’s why the Obama administration wants to work with returning vets and make sure they’ve got health care, education opportunities, job opportunities, all the like so that they do not become a target of these extremist groups.”

Asked about the groups in question, the Ms. Napolitano said they are “almost far too numerous to name” and did not name any, but cited anti-abortion extremists that have committed bombings.

Criticism of the nine-page “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” was not solely from the right. The top House Democrat with oversight of the Department of Homeland Security earlier this week sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano, saying he was “dumbfounded” by the assessment.

“This report appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans — including war veterans,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

Veterans groups objected to the report’s citing of Timothy McVeigh, the Gulf War veteran who was executed in 2001 for killing 168 people when he bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

“The American Legion is well aware and horrified at the pain inflicted during the Oklahoma City bombing, but Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation’s uniform during wartime,” American Legion National Commander David Rehbein wrote in a letter to Ms. Napolitano. “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.”

On Sunday, Ms. Napolitano suggested that DHS could have used a better choice of words in its assessment.

“In retrospect, anything can be written differently to prevent politicization,” she said.

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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