CNN‘s AC360º news magazine focused its Keeping Them Honest segment Monday night on the question of whether or not political criticism of the Department of Homeland Security’s ill-fated April 2009 report on the rise right-wing extremism led to its withdrawal. As we like to say in academic circles, “Duuuhh!”
Sadly, no one questioned whether the report was original work. I attended an educational conference organized by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS) at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) hosted by George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute in March 2009 during which Dr. Dave Brannan used almost identical language to describe the threat posed by rising right-wing militancy. He spoke plainly and passionately about signs he was witnessing that suggested the country’s deteriorating economy, the election of the nation’s first African-American president, the increasing disillusionment of the evangelical right, and the difficulties faced by veterans seeking to reintegrate following their return from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan created a perfect storm for ideologically motivated violence.
Today’s arrest of nine suspects in Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio on charges of seditious conspiracy is only the most recent evidence that some of our fellow citizens may be moved to violence. Whether they are linked to or took comfort from the overheated rhetoric surrounding the Tea Party Movement and mainstream opposition to the Obama Administration’s health insurance reform bill remains unclear, but it probably did not discourage them.
Other media outlets have questioned whether the steeped rhetoric of the right has become too astringent. At a minimum, some mainstream commentators have suggested, the right’s conspiracy of silence when it comes to disavowing extreme views, including those espousing violence, may all too easily be taken for silent assent.
What should we make of all the chest-beating and gnashing of teeth about the decision to withdraw the DHS report? Well, we are all familiar with 20/20 hindsight. Rather than questioning whether DHS was influenced to withdraw the report by political criticism or was motivated to issue it as a way of currying political favor with the new administration, we should question why its sources and methods could not withstand the scrutiny to which this work was subjected when it came to light.
We desperately need honest assessments of this sort and open sharing of information with state and local officials to detect and interdict genuine threats. But no one will condone the efforts required to produce such intelligence unless we can have confidence in the competence and independence of those those responsible for collecting the information and conducting the analysis.