The Threat from Within

On April 7, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis released a disturbing assessment of right wing extremism in the United States. The Department noted that “the economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” Recalling the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, the Department speculated, “The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”

Of particular concern to the Department was the recent spike in gun sales nationally. The assessment stated that “the high volume of purchases and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by rightwing extremists in anticipation of restrictions and bans in some parts of the country continue to be a primary concern to law enforcement.”

Richard Poplawski, a Neo-Nazi gun enthusiast who recently murdered three police officers responding to a 911 call from his house, was also mentioned in the assessment. DHS cited Poplawski’s cold-blooded murders as an example of violent right wing extremism and noted, “The alleged gunman’s reaction reportedly was influenced by his racist ideology and belief in antigovernment conspiracy theories relating to gun confiscations, citizen detention camps, and a Jewish-controlled ‘one world government.’”

The Department also voiced concerns about disgruntled military veterans who possess combat skills and experience that right wing extremist groups find attractive. “These skills and knowledge have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists,” said DHS. The assessment noted that Timothy McVeigh was an Iraq War veteran and referred to a 2008 FBI report that found that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan had joined extremist groups.

Unlike insurrectionist activity during the Clinton Administration, DHS was concerned that “the advent of the Internet and other information-age technologies since the 1990s has given domestic extremists greater access to information related to bomb-making, weapons training, and tactics, as well as targeting of individuals, organizations, and facilities, potentially making extremist individuals and groups more dangerous and the consequences of their violence more severe.”

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence recently addressed the increased threat of right wing extremism—and the promotion of anti-government violence through mainstream media news sources—in a Huffington Post blog entitled “Insurrectionism Goes ‘Mainstream.’”

Many other commentators are expressing their unease regarding current right wing paranoia and rhetoric. Eric Boehlert, in an article for Alternet entitled “Fox News’ Unhinged, Irrational Obama Attacks Stir up Violent Right-Wing Militants,” states that “What Fox News is doing today is embracing the same kind of hate rhetoric and doomsday conspiratorial talk that flourished during the ‘90s, and Fox News is now dumping all that rancid stuff into the mainstream. It’s legitimizing accusatory hate speech in a way no other television outlet in America ever has before.” Boehlert writes that “the Oklahoma City bombing story broke 18 months before Fox News made its cable-news debut. But if [Fox owner Rupert] Murdoch’s team maintains its current course—if Beck and company insist on irresponsibly fanning the militia-type flames of distrust—there’s the danger Fox News might soon have to cover other episodic gestures of anti-government payback.”

In another article, “Glenn Beck and the Rise of Fox News’ Militia Media,” Boehlert correctly notes that Richard Poplawski is not the first American to be inspired to murder by extreme right wing rhetoric. On July 28 of last year, Jim Adkisson brought a sawed-off 12-gauge shotgun into the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee and opened fire on parishioners, killing two and wounding several others. He specifically targeted those on the Liberal end of the political spectrum, and made that painstakingly clear in a suicide note: “Who I wanted to kill was every Democrat in the Senate & House, the 100 people in Bernard Goldberg’s book. I’d like to kill everyone in the mainstream media. But I know those people were inaccessible to me. I couldn’t get to the generals & high ranking officers of the Marxist movement so I went after the foot soldiers, the chickenshit liberals that vote in these traitorous people.” Investigators who searched Adkisson’s house discovered copies of Michael Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental DisorderSean Hannity’s Let Freedom Ringand The O’Reilly Factor, by Bill O’Reilly.

In a post 9/11-era, where terrorist threats from abroad are taken very seriously by the public and law enforcement officials, the threat from within is quickly becoming equally—if not more—grave.

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