Is Homeland Security Gun Shy About Confronting Far Right?

The Obama administration didn't hesitate recently to pick a fight with Fox News, but its Department of Homeland Security now appears to have backpedaled on a report expressing concern about what its analysts earlier this year described as "right-wing extremists." Back in April, Homeland Security's intelligence analysis division produced a nine-page "assessment" describing how the nation's economic problems and the ascent of the first African-American president "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists" and might even lead to violence between such groups and the government. Although the paper was stamped "for official use only" and bits of it were labeled "law enforcement sensitive." the document quickly made its way onto the Internet. Its contents provoked howls of rage from conservative activists (some of which was reflected in reports from ... Fox News). The report's critics expressed particular outrage at a paragraph stating that returning veterans "possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to right-wing extremists." The report stated directly that Homeland Security's intelligence shop was "concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities." (Despite these concerns, the report also acknowledged up front that the Feds had "no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence.")

After the report became public, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano backed away from it, telling members of Congress that it had been disseminated to state and local officials without proper authorization. She said the department's procedures for vetting such documents had not been followed. But Napolitano also indicated that the report would be "replaced or redone in a much more useful and much more precise fashion." After gunmen with extreme right-wing pedigrees separately killed a Kansas abortion doctor and a security guard at Washington's Holocaust Museum, some liberal activists raised questions as to when Homeland Security was going to produce an updated version of the April report. 

That is unlikely to happen. Instead, said a source familiar with Homeland Security Department thinking, the contents of the April report have already been sliced and diced and put into other reports about extremism that the department has no plans to make public. "We have reused pieces of the [April] report in operational products that we've put out over the course of the last few months," a Homeland Security Department official said, asking for anonymity when discussing a politically sensitive topic. But the department evidently has no plans at this point to replace the old right-wing extremists report with a more useful or more precise version, as Secretary Napolitano initially suggested. Officials emphasize that Homeland Security keeps an eye on all kinds of extremists who could threaten violence inside the U.S., including Islamic extremists and left-wing extremists. In another paper leaked online (posted here on the Fox News Web site), the department's analysts did express concern that left wingers, such as animal-rights campaigners or environmental extremists, might try to use cyberattacks to cause economic damage.

News that Homeland Security is unlikely to revise its April report surfaces just as one of the nation's most prominent private monitors of political extremists, the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, has issued a new report expressing alarm about a resurgence of right-wing extremism. This ultraconservative revival is contributing to a "toxic atmosphere of rage in America," the ADL says. Among the manifestations of such rage, according to the ADL, are antigovernment "tea party" protesters who have alleged that the current administration is acting like Nazis, a resurgent "militia" movement, and a proliferation of conspiracy theories. (The ADL explicitly condemns Fox News host Glenn Beck for "demonizing the Obama administration and promoting conspiracy theories about it.") Heidi Beirich, research director at the Southern Poverty Law Center, another private group that keeps an eye on the extreme right, told NEWSWEEK that Homeland Security's reluctance to stand by its analysis of the right-wing threat is disturbing. "From our perspective, this is ridiculous. The [April Homeland Security report] was dead-on. Why the [department] won't stand by an accurate report is incomprehensible."