Homeland Security Shut Down Branch Investigating Militia Movement After Republican Pressure|
An insider’s account of how Homeland Security ignored the biggest terror threat.
When casting its terrorist surveillance web to ensnare extremists, the US government missed the most glaring threat: white anti-government militias.
Daryl Johnson, a former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, wasn’t surprised when Ammon Bundy and his group of right-wing gunmen took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. His office was responsible for the famous 2009 report, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which suggested right-wing groups would be an emerging domestic terror threat if left unchecked.
However, the report, which was published in the fraught political climate shortly after the first inauguration of Barack Obama, created outrage amongst Republicans and right-wing media outlets, and the political pushback resulted in the burying of the report, an apology from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the eventual closure of Johnson’s office. After his operation was shut down as a result Republican resistance, Johnson told the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that the reaction was surprising to him, given his own political leanings.
“They would have been shocked to know that I personify conservatism. I’m an Eagle Scout. I’m a registered Republican. I’m Mormon,” Johnson said. “In fact, I was helping the Boy Scouts with a fundraiser when I heard the report being attacked on the news.”
Sure enough, the government’s disowning of the report was premature. The SPLC tallied the right-wing white terror attacks that shook the nation in the months following the report’s burial:
Events in the immediate aftermath of DHS’ suppression of its report seemed clearly to exonerate its conclusions. In late May 2009, abortion provider George Tiller was shot and killed by an anti-abortion fanatic — just the kind of person the DHS report had warned of in one section. In June 2009, neo-Nazi James von Brunn killed a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., while trying to storm into the building. Many similar attacks and planned attacks by the radical right have followed, right up to the present day.
“The D.H.S. is scoffing at the mission of doing domestic counterterrorism,” Mr. Johnson said. “The same patterns that led to the growth of the antigovernment groups in the 1990s is being played out today. D.H.S. should be doing more,” Johnson told the New York Times.
Shortly after his firing in 2011, Johnson told the SPLC that he suspected the election of Barack Obama would lead to an explosion of predominantly white anti-government extremist groups:
“I started thinking, ‘What if the U.S. elects a black president? What impact will this have on extremism in this country?’ It seemed pretty clear to me that it would lead to a radicalization and recruitment boom by white supremacists, militias, and other right-wing extremists, because this is what they fear the most—a black president, the ultimate symbol of a minority population’s integration into U.S. society.
Just before the weekend, the White House announced a new task force involving the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and other federal agencies to sniff out ISIS’ supporters in the US. Not only has Johnson criticized the measure for ignoring legitimate threats from anti-government groups, but a leading member of Congress has, as well. In an interview with the Times, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims in Congress, said more Americans have been killed by right-wing domestic terrorists than by ISIS.
“Right-wing extremists have launched an average of 330 attacks a year and killed about 250 people between 2002 and 2011. These are dangerous people,” Ellison said, citing a 2013 report from the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.
Since Barack Obama’s first term began, the U.S. has seen an explosion in recruitment for right-wing anti-government groups. According to the SPLC’s research, there were 276 anti-government militia groups in 2015 — 74 more than in 2014.
Heidi Beirich, who leads the SPLC’s effort in tracking domestic terrorist groups, told the New York Times that the Cliven Bundy standoff in 2014 further enabled right-wing militias to take further action.
“A year and half later, there have been no prosecutions whatsoever,” Beirich said. “Pointing a gun at a federal officer is a crime.”
Johnson told the New York Times he feels its time for the DHS to re-open its domestic extremism office, given the prevalence of right-wing militia groups like the one that took over federal property in Oregon.
“[DHS is] supposed to provide the analysis and intelligence to track these kinds of things before it gets to the point of confrontation.”
Tom Cahill is a writer for US Uncut based in the Pacific Northwest. He specializes in coverage of political, economic, and environmental news. You can contact Tom via email at [email protected]