Chill Out About the DHS 'Right-Wing Extremist' Memo

After eight years of the paranoid opposition biting at the heels of President Bush, rejoicing at any possibility of evildoing in an attempt to vindicate their bitterness, it is now President Obama's turn to feel the hyper-partisan heat. Michael Savage and the Thomas More Law Center are suing Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano after her department issued a memo warning of "right-wing extremists." Parroting the claims of those who say the use of the term "radical Muslims" is bigoted, will lead to civil rights infringements, and is part of a political-religious crusade, we now hear that the term "right-wing extremists" is part of a political offensive aimed at destroying free speech.

The Drudge siren blared when the Washington Times report was published and within hours there was a mad dash by TV and radio hosts, blogs, and commentators to use the report to take aim at the Obama administration. They sunk their teeth into the portion of the memo warning that right-wing extremists could be motivated by issues like illegal immigration, gun control, abortion, or loss of U.S. sovereignty; they claimed that the Obama administration was viewing conservatives as dangerous radicals. Their quick and efficient drawing of arms, though, did not follow a quick and efficient reading past the first page of the three-page article.

The second page refers to a similar memo released in January by the Department of Homeland Security warning about the increasing threat of cyber-attacks from left-wing extremists. It warns of "left-wing groups within the animal rights, environmental, and anarchist extremist movements that promote or have conducted criminal or terrorist activities," listing the issues touted by the left-wing extremists as the later memo about right-wing extremists does. Another memo was written on March 26 warning of anti-capitalist, socialist, and communist radicals seeking "to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes."

House Minority Leader John Boehner says the memo characterizes veterans as potential terrorists and is "offensive and unacceptable," even though the memo does not say that all veterans, or even a significant fraction, are expected to join extremist groups. In fact, the memo references an FBI report from July 7, 2008 (under the Bush administration, that is), that states that between October 2001 and May 2008, 203 individuals with "confirmed or claimed military experience" had joined extremist groups, 19 of which have "verified or unverified service" in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The numbers may not be accurate, but the extremists' emphasis on recruiting those with military backgrounds and the deadly effect of only a few being willing to join them makes the threat worthy of such a cautionary memo.