The world is beset by terrorists — witness the American hostages taken in Algeria this week — but portions of our federal government continue to obsess about alleged home-grown threats from the “far right.”
The Combating Terrorism Center, which is based at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has issued a new report on its website entitled “Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right.”
Normally, the center’s activities are focused on al-Qaeda and other violent Islamic groups seeking to topple governments around the world. But the latest report looks inside America itself, and if the center is to be judged by the quality of its analysis in this report, it might be wise for all of us to be skeptical of its other work. The Center’s report lumps together entirely legitimate tea-party-style activists with three groups it says represent “a racist/white supremacy movement, an anti-federalist movement and a fundamentalist movement.” Together all these forces are said to have engaged in 350 “attacks initiated by far-right groups/individuals” in 2011, although the report never specifies what makes an attack a “far right” action.
The report’s author is Arie Perliger, who directs the Center’s terrorism studies and teaches social sciences at West Point. I can only imagine what his classes are like as his report manages to lump together every known liberal stereotype about conservatives between its covers.
As Rowan Scarborough of the Washington Times, who broke news of the report on Thursday, recounts:
[The Center’s report] says anti-federalists “espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government. Extremists in the anti-federalist movement direct most their violence against the federal government and its proxies in law enforcement.”
The report also draws a link between the mainstream conservative movement and the violent “far right,” and describes liberals as “future oriented” and conservatives as living in the past.
“While liberal worldviews are future- or progressive -oriented, conservative perspectives are more past-oriented, and in general, are interested in preserving the status quo,” the report says. “The far right represents a more extreme version of conservatism, as its political vision is usually justified by the aspiration to restore or preserve values and practices that are part of the idealized historical heritage of the nation or ethnic community.”
The report adds: “While far-right groups’ ideology is designed to exclude minorities and foreigners, the liberal-democratic system is designed to emphasize civil rights, minority rights and the balance of power.”
The Times quotes a congressional staffer who has served in the military calling the report a “junk study.” The staffer then asked: “The $64,000 dollar question is when will the Combating Terrorism Center publish their study on real left-wing terrorists like the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, and the Weather Underground?”
This is not the first time elements of the federal government have tried to smear conservatives with sloppy work and a broadbrush analysis.
In 2009, liberals in the Department of Homeland Security prepared a report defining “rightwing extremism in the United States” as including not just hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of federalism or local control. “It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,” a footnote in the report warned.
The DHS report bore the ominous title: “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Sent to hundreds of local-law-enforcement officials, the report claimed that “right wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African-American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.”
A casual reader might have concluded that “attack planning” by said groups is inevitable. But the report is silent on just how the groups will attack, and indeed since 2009 there has been precious little evidence any of them ever did.
After much public ridicule, the DHS report vanished from public view as did a similar effort at the same time by the Missouri Highway Patrol, which had to retract its own report linking conservative groups with militia activity and mentioning 2008 presidential candidates Ron Paul and Bob Barr.
No one doubts the existence of racist and hate-filled groups that require monitoring. But both the DHS and West Point reports read as if they were laying the groundwork for a rhetorical attack on mainstream conservatism of the sort that President Clinton launched in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, when he blamed talk radio for stirring up anti-government passions. No one should be surprised if supporters of new gun-control measures begin justifying them by referring to the West Point report.
The Obama administration raised eyebrows back in 2009 when Janet Napolitano’s DHS substituted the phrase “man-made disasters” for the dangers posed by Islamic terrorism. My sources inside Congress tell me they continue to worry that efforts to monitor domestic Muslim extremists as well as interdiction efforts against radical Islamists crossing the U.S. border are sometimes put on the back burner. The government denies this, but it seems to me its protestations would be more persuasive if it spent less time producing half-baked warnings about the danger of “right-wing extremists.”