This week the Homeland Security Department released a memo outlining ongoing terror threats and new ones that are developing.
Within hours the right was all over the document, and distorting it in misleading and terrible ways.
Well, let me defend the memo and the department and its chief, former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.
First, let's address the whole issue of domestic versus foreign terrorism. Despite what you may have heard, nowhere does the memo suggest that we should be any less vigilant on the issue of foreign terrorists. We still live in a world containing people outside the United States who want to kill Americans and the memorandum says nothing to downplay that fact.
It does however highlight domestic terrorism as the fastest growing terror threat at this time. If anything, I'd think the right would be taking plaudits and repeating their oft-repeated assertion that this shows that the Bush administration's policy against foreign terrorists worked, at least inside the United States. And while I may feel that some of the tactics employed by the Bush administration may have been unnecessarily intrusive and a violation of civil rights (such as the right to search your home when you are not present and without presenting a warrant) I'm willing to give them credit in that attacks by foreign terrorists since 9/11 have all occurred outside rather than inside the United States.
But the right chooses to go after the whole 'domestic terrorist' argument as an attack on them. Where does it say that? The memo is about growing terrorist threats, and nowhere does it suggest that anyone who speaks out peacefully against the administration is a threat.
It does go into some detail about the profile of people that domestic terror groups are looking to recruit. One sentence states that returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are more likely to be recruited by these groups because they value their weapons training and combat experience. Unfortunately the right has turned this on its ear and said that the memo claims that veterans are now being called terrorists. House Republican Leader John Boehner called the language 'offensive' and demanded an apology. The commander of the American Legion demanded that that section of the document be retracted. Napolitano has contacted him to set up a meeting to discuss the issue. However the interpretation that the memorandum calls veterans domestic terrorsts is a gross distortion. For one thing, the memo says that these groups are looking to recruit returning veterans. Obviously if you are recruiting someone they are not yet a member of your organization. Further, it is a fact that all terrorist organizations (foreign or domestic) need to recruit people and if you know who they want to recruit then you can take advantage of that knowledge (for example if the FBI wants to infiltrate a domestic terror group then they would probably start by looking for agents that fit the profile of who the group is recruiting.) Saying that domestic terror groups look to recruit veterans is no more an indictment of veterans than for example the statement that al-Qaeda likes to recruit young unemployed muslims is an indictment of all young unemployed muslims (at least not to any rational person-- maybe the right does read it that way since some of them actually do believe that all young unemployed muslims are therefore terrorists.)
The memo goes on to discuss a number of specific issue-indentified terror threats, most notably militant anti-abortion groups or individuals. From this, the right has twisted it to claim that anyone who expresses a pro-life opinion on abortion is therefore being tarred as a terrorist. Which is of course ridiculous. Nothing in the memo says any such thing, but it is a fact that we live in a nation in which several doctors have been murdered and numerous abortion clinics have been bombed. This is terrorism, plain and simple, and if the right can't figure out the difference between a pastor who uses his First Amendment right to speak out against abortion and Eric Robert Rudolf, then they are either stupid or are being wilfully ignorant. The Homeland Security Department is concerned with preventing acts of violence, and if there is an increased potential for violence from anti-abortion extremists then it is the responsibility of the deparment to recognize that and take action to prevent it. The memo isn't about shutting anybody up, it's about stopping terrorists before they strike.
And that is the crux of the problem. If this memorandum was never issued and a terrorist attack occurred then the department would be attacked for never delving into the groups that carried it out (just as the right used the occasion of the Oklahoma City Bombing to jump all over the Clinton administration for supposedly weakening domestic surveillance and not looking closer at those kinds of groups after Waco.)
Incidentally the same memorandum suggests that left-wing extremists are more likely to be involved with cyberterrorism. I'm not sure how come computer literate people on the left are more likely to engage in malicious hacking than computer literate people on the right, but I am throwing that in to show the contrast-- for the most part the righties are assuming this memo targets them and are ignoring that section of the document, except for a couple of talk radio heads who have instead jumped on it as what they claim is 'the only thing in it that is true.' You can't win with this paranoid, xenophobic crowd.
I would like to conclude that I believe that it was a mistake to put FEMA under the auspices of the Homeland Security Department. DHS is tasked with stopping terrorism before it happens, not picking up the pieces afterward. That is what FEMA does, but if DHS does its job well then FEMA will be able to concentrate on natural disasters.
But instead of 'you're doing a great job, Brownie' apparently the reaction of the right to the memo put out by DHS is that they are baking something into the brownies.