What and who exactly are President Obama's homeland security officials afraid of these days? If you are a member of an active conservative group that opposes abortion, favors strict immigration enforcement, lobbies to protect Second Amendment rights, protests big government, advocates federalism or represents veterans who believe in any of the above, the answer is: You.
Department of Homeland Security Sec. Janet Napolitano has turned her attention away from acts of Islamic jihad on American soil (which she now refers to as "man-caused disasters"). Instead, her department is sounding the alarm over an unquantified "resurgence" in "right-wing extremism activity." On April 7, DHS sent a nine-page warning memo to law enforcement offices across the country titled "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
The report includes a sweeping definition of the threat:
"Right-wing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."
You cannot ignore the context or the timing of this DHS report. It's no small coincidence that Napolitano's agency disseminated the assessment just a week before the nationwide April 15 Tax Day Tea Party protests. The grassroots events organized by fiscal conservatives, independents, Libertarians and, yes, even some Blue Dog Democrats were fueled by the "current economic and political climate" of bipartisan profligate spending and endless taxpayer-funded bailouts. The growing success of the loose-knit movement has invited scorn, ridicule and fear-mongering from Obama's supporters. Liberal bloggers have likened the Tea Party movement to neo-Nazis, militias and even Weather Underground terrorists.
These attempts to demonize the Tea Party movement come on the heels of widespread conservative-bashing over the recent shooting sprees in Pittsburgh and Binghamton, N.Y. Taking Hillary Clinton's advice to "never waste a good crisis," left-wing pundits and analysts have blamed the tragedies on everyone from Rush Limbaugh to Fox News to the NRA.
The DHS spokespeople I talked to on Monday insisted that the report was not a politicized document and that DHS had done similar assessments on "left-wing extremism" in the past. But past domestic terrorism reports have always been very specific in identifying security threats -- such as the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front -- and very specific in identifying their methods and targets, including repeated physical harassment, arson and vandalism against pharmaceutical companies, farms, labs and university researchers.
By contrast, the Obama DHS report is an overarching indictment of conservatives. "Right-wing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the perceived loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and home foreclosures," the assessment warns. When I asked DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban to explain who was responsible for this "extremist chatter," she could not and would not name names.
Moreover, the report relies on the work of the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center to stir anxiety over "disgruntled military veterans" -- a citation that gives us valuable insight into how DHS will define "hate-oriented" groups. The SPLC, you see, has designated the venerable American Legion a "hate group" for its stance on immigration enforcement. The report offers zero data, but states with an almost resentful attitude toward protected free speech: "Debates over appropriate immigration levels and enforcement policy generally fall within the realm of protected political speech under the First Amendment, but in some cases, anti-immigration or strident pro-enforcement fervor has been directed against specific groups and has the potential to turn violent."
"Potential to turn violent"? So did the hysterical fervor whipped up by Capitol Hill over the AIG bonuses, which prompted ugly death threats from across the country. No mention here, though. Not "right wing" enough. Nor will you see Obama DHS warnings to police and sheriff's departments about self-proclaimed bank terrorists such as Bruce Marks of the aggressive Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America or the mob activists of ACORN who have committed burglary, stormed corporate executives' homes and vowed to conduct "civil disobedience" by "any means necessary" in response to the "current economic and political climate."
If you can redefine dissenting opinion as "hate," you can brand your political opponents as "extremists" -- and you can marginalize electoral threats. "Antigovernment"? "Pro-enforcement"? "Disgruntled"? Feeling taxed enough already and "recruiting" and "radicalizing" your friends and neighbors through "chatter on the Internet"?
We are all right-wing extremists now. Welcome to the club.