Homegrown Terrorists Next Door

(A tip of the cap to Dan Levitas and his book The Terrorist Next Door)

Over the past two months, right-wing extremists have assassinated an abortion doctor in Wichita, Kansas, murdered three policemen in Pittsburgh, and killed a security guard while attempting to shoot up the U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

While all of these incidents appear to have been carried out by so-called “lone wolves” — right-wing extremists steep in movement politics but acting on their own initiative — all three killers have ties to, or have been involved with, radical right-wing organizations.

Scott Roeder, the alleged killer of Dr. George Tiller, has been identified with the right-wing Freeman movement, and was apparently related to the Army of God, one of the 1990s most radical anti-abortion groups.

According to friends of Richard Poplawski, the man accused of ambushing and murdering three Pittsburgh policemen, the killer was worried that the Obama Administration was poised to ban guns, a charge that has been repeatedly made by right-wing columnists and conservative hosts of talk radio programs. “If a total collapse is what it takes to wake our brethren and guarantee future generations of white children walk this continent, if that is what it takes to restore our freedoms and recapture our land: Let it begin this very second and not a moment later,” Poplawski wrote on a white supremacist Web site under the name Braced for Fate, the Anti-Defamation League recently noted. James W. von Brunn, the 88-year-old white supremacist who allegedly took a rifle into the museum and killed security guard Stephen T. Johns, an African American, was steeped in anti-Jewish, anti-Black and anti-immigrant hatred, was a Holocaust denier who had deep roots in the white nationalist movement.

The Wichita assassination and the Holocaust Museum attack occurred a month or so after the release of a report prepared by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, which warned of the possibility of an uptick in violent activities by right-wing extremist groups.

The report pointed out that the election of America’s first African American president, the sharp economic downturn, rising unemployment, and unfounded rumors that the administration of Barack Obama would be pushing for stricter gun control regulations, could fuel a resurgence of “right-wing extremist groups,” bringing with it a spate of homegrown terrorist activities.

The DHS assessment, titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” — originally ordered up by the Bush Administration — pointed out 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.”

“The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s [during the Clinton administration] when right-wing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovereignty by other foreign powers,” the assessment read.

“Proposed imposition of firearms restrictions and weapons bans likely would attract new members into the ranks of right-wing extremist groups . . . The high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by right-wing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans in some parts of the country continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement,” the report stated.

Department of Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said the assessment was one in an ongoing series published by DHS “to facilitate a greater understanding of radicalization in the United States.” An earlier report had focused on possible violence by left-wing activists.

“DHS has no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but right-wing extremists may be gaining new recruitments by playing on their fears about several emerging issues,” Kuban pointed out.

Release of the DHS assessment incurred the immediate wrath of a number of right-wing talk show hosts, commentators, and columnists. The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson pointed out that “some conservative commentators tried mightily to paint the memo as an underhanded attempt by the Obama administration to smear its honorable critics by equating ‘right wing’ with ‘terrorism.'”

A group spearheaded by some of America’s largest Religious Right groups — acting under the name No Political Profiling — released an ad that claimed the DHS report, “declared law-abiding citizens who express their First Amendment Rights as: ‘the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.'”

Jeffrey Mazzella of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom was among the first who called for the firing of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Mat Staver, the founder of the Orlando, FL.-based Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal operation, decided to “match fire with fire.” In a move both political and entrepreneurial, Staver invited supporters to get an official laminated, wallet-sized (“personalized with your name”) complimentary “Right-wing Extremist” card, “and Take a Stand against the New Administration’s Attack Machine.”

While originally pointing out that the card would be sent free (he now is apparently asking for a specific donation), Staver noted that “there are expenses associated with this national campaign, so any financial support you provide will be greatly appreciated and put to immediate use in advancing and protecting our precious liberties.”

In response to the criticism, the DHS pulled its report, promising to come up with a revised edition. Thus far, there has been no revised edition.

In a recent piece posted at PolitickerNY.com, Joe Conason pointed out that the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported that “authorities have discovered more than five dozen terror conspiracies by far-right groups, including militia outfits, neo-Nazi gangs and others claiming that their cause is above the law,” over the past fifteen or so years. “The Oklahoma City bombing was only the most notorious and tragic of those plots, which have cost lives, damaged property and infringed on our safety and freedom,” Conason noted. “The late Dr. Tiller, who was shot on an earlier occasion, was the eighth U.S. abortion provider murdered since 1977. At least 17 others have been targets for attempted murder.”

In its spring 2009 report, the SPLC, an Alabama-based watchdog group tracking hate groups for 30 years, found more than 900 hate groups — including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and Black separatists — currently operating in the U.S., an all-time high.

“Right across the board, extremist groups are thriving right now,” says Mark Potok, Director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. Potok, who attributed the rise in the number of hate groups to a number of reasons including the election of Obama and unresolved immigration issues, pointed out that “We’re looking at a kind of perfect storm of factors that really favor the continued growth of these groups.”

Responding to the murder of Dr. George Tiller, Attorney General Eric Holder sent federal marshals to protect doctors, nurses and abortion clinics from possible attack. But that may not be enough. And, in the aftermath of the attack at the Holocaust Museum, it remains to be seen how many people will be applying for Mat Staver’s “Right-Wing Extremist” card!

Meanwhile, as a guest on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC program recently pointed out, protesters in front of health clinics across the country have been emboldened by Dr. Tiller’s assassination, and have been cranking up the rhetoric and violent threats. And, the announcement on Tuesday, June 9, by the Tiller family that the Wichita clinic would be closed permanently, is an indication that homegrown terrorists have won another round.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His column, "Conservative Watch," documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right. Read other articles by Bill, or visit Bill's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. genicon said on June 17th, 2009 at 5:51pm #

    We better be very careful about throwing that “homegrown terrorist” accusation around. It is very easy to call any dissent from what big brothers agenda is, homegrown terrorism.
    Remember Jane Harman’s Violent radicalization and homegrown terrorist act that went through the house with 400 votes. that’s why we keep hearing Homegrown Terrorist, all of a sudden. They are laying the groundwork to bring this bill back, and brainwashing people into thinking the country is overrun with terrorists.

  2. Josie Michel-Brüning said on June 18th, 2009 at 6:45am #

    By this occasion, I want to remind all of you at some other “homegrown terrorists”: Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Vergilio or Vergil Paz, José Dionisio Suarez and Guillelmo Novo and others, all of them confessed assassinators, most of them living freely in Miami or New Jersey, at places where Cuban exiles are dominating the scene.
    While the Cuban Five having tried to prevent their terrorist acts are jailed in your country since almost 11 years!
    The longer American people don’t care about it, the more people around the world will have time to get aware about it.
    Sorry for your administration, for your country and after all for most countries, if not all of the world, because of your “leadership”.
    Sorry, I’m just now very angry, because of the decision of your Supreme Court on June 15 for denying a revison of the case of the Cuban Five.

  3. Francois Tremblay said on June 18th, 2009 at 2:47pm #

    “Sorry, I’m just now very angry, because of the decision of your Supreme Court on June 15 for denying a revison of the case of the Cuban Five.”

    Hello Fidel. Didn’t know you had the Internet.

  4. Brian Koontz said on June 18th, 2009 at 8:11pm #

    The word “terrorist” is one of the most overused in modern American politics, by people of all political stripes. It’s ridiculous.

    If we’re seriously going to call right-wing militants “terrorists” then we might as well broaden the term to include all violent criminals. The argument can go – violence is terrorizing, therefore violence is terror and those who employ violence are terrorists. We can extend “violence” to social or psychological violence as well as physical violence. Every abusive relationship features a “terrorist”.

    The most common and powerful perpetrators of terror in America are the ruling class and the police, yet they ironically are never called terrorists. Instead we stretch the term beyond belief onto bizarre avenues.

    Probably what’s going on here linguistically is that “terrorist” is seen as a trump card. Whatever issue one brings to the table has to include the term “terrorist” to favorably compare to other issues. Otherwise it’s not deemed a “serious issue”.

  5. greybeard616 said on June 19th, 2009 at 7:47am #

    In addition to Brian’s caveat, such accusations may be offered by agencies with their own protected agendas: the SPLC has a knack for seeing criticism of Zionism as “anti-Semitism” (by which definition M. Gandhi was “anti-Semitic”), and the ADL is just laughable. To be called “anti-Semitic” by Abe Foxman is very close to an affirmation that one speaks truth to power–maybe even uncomfortable truth.

  6. Josie Michel-Brüning said on June 24th, 2009 at 5:58am #

    Well, in case I could reach anybody of you yet.
    Please, inform yourselves about terrorists in you very own country.
    Or don’t you regard anybody as a terrorist who attacks Cuba and is responsible for innumerous assassinated people there?
    Cuba is only 90 miles far from your coast. But the American aren’t allowed to go there, to see the truth by themselves.
    As for me, a German woman, I could visit Cuba since 1995 frequently.
    Please, visit http://www.freethefive.org instead.