Things are getting weirder and weirder in Washington, D.C., these days as evidenced last weekend when Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told an annual gathering of governors that "domestic extremism" is now as big a threat to the nation as international terrorism. Perhaps not coincidentally, a new article in the March-April issue of Mother Jones magazine explores the issue and provides startling evidence that maybe things really are starting to spiral out of control in the good ol' USA.
Titled "Oath Keepers and the Age of Treason: Meet the fast-growing 'patriot' group that's recruiting soldiers to resist the Obama administration," the article opens with a young soldier looking longingly at the .50 caliber rifle and scope he intends to buy to defend himself against, you guessed it, Janet Napolitano. He's sure that a declaration of martial law is just around the corner and plans on using the skills he learned in the military to fight against his own government when that time comes.
In belief that the federal government is "already turning on its citizens," the soldier and his military pals are "stashing weapons, running drills, and outlining a plan of action," writes Justine Sharrock. Moreover, the young man and five of his fellow soldiers have joined a group called Oath Keepers, which was formed just last spring by a Yale-educated lawyer and a former Ron Paul aide. Sharrock says the groups is "unique" because "its core membership consists of men and women in uniform, including soldiers, police, and veterans. At regular ceremonies in every state, members reaffirm their official oaths of service, pledging to protect the Constitution—but then they go a step further, vowing to disobey 'unconstitutional' orders from what they view as an increasingly tyrannical government."
The "plan" that the young soldier and his cohorts have is to "go AWOL [Absent Without Leave] and make their way to their 'fortified bunker'—the home of one comrade's parents in rural Idaho—where they've stocked survival gear, generators, food, and weapons." It's from this base that, "if it becomes necessary, they say, they will turn those guns against their fellow soldiers." Just to make sure they have plenty of lead, the young soldier's pal "sends 500 rounds of ammunition home to Idaho each month." (You can read the whole story online at motherjones.com.)
Ironically, Napolitano got in very hot water last April when her agency's Extremism and Radicalization Branch, Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division, coordinated with the FBI to issue an intelligence assessment to law enforcement officials warning that "the economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment," and suggested some "military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
In a footnote, the report also defined right-wing extremism as "broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."
It cited Timothy McVeigh, who engineered the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building as someone who had turned to domestic terrorism after leaving the armed service and warned that: "Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to right-wing extremists," raising the concern that "right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities." It went on to state: "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 outraged some veterans' groups and brought calls for Napolitano's resignation or firing, which didn't happen. Instead, Napolitano's response was to apologize, saying: "We do not mean to suggest that veterans as a whole are at risk of becoming violent extremists."
Only a month prior to that report, Napolitano's agency had issued another intelligence assessment that defined left-wing extremists as those who embrace anti-capitalist, communist or socialist beliefs and want "to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes."
The reports drew fire from both Republicans and Democrats on the House committee that oversees Homeland Security, prompting Rep. Bennie Thompson of Missouri, the senior Democrat on the committee, to question both privacy and civil liberty issues in a letter to Napolitano saying: "This report appears to have blurred the line between violent belief, which is constitutionally protected, and violent action, which is not."
Where it all gets weirder is that the reports are routinely issued to alert law enforcement agencies to possible security threats. But if you believe the Sharrock article and its extensive references, those members of the military or law enforcement that belong to Oath Keepers now know what Homeland Security knows and, obviously, how best to disguise their intentions.
In her latest statements, Napolitano asked: "What really is it that draws a young person being raised in the United States to want to go and be at a camp in Yemen and then come back to the United States with the idea of committing harm within the United States? Where in that person's formulation is there an opportunity to break that cycle?" She did not, however, have any answers to her own question and admitted that the government simply does not have a good idea of how to prevent people from becoming violent extremists.
We have morphed, it appears, into a very paranoid nation in recent years. And unfortunately, as the famous line from the cartoon character Pogo says: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
Helena's George Ochenski rattles the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at firstname.lastname@example.org.