Mike Allen of The Politico has impeccable credentials as a mainstream journalist. So what are we to make of the statement he made the other day on Hugh Hewitt's show, after a DHS report said there was a risk of increased rightwing terrorism?
"... I think some bureaucrat who wrote this report, like, misstated in a way that doesn't comport with your or my observations about the real America. I think it was somebody who, written inside the Beltway, who maybe has fantasies about what happens outside in the real America."
Let's leave aside the implicit political pandering in the Palinesque "real America" construction, or the supplicating Hewitt flattery in that "... your or my observations" phrase (because "we" know what's really what, right?)
Let's just stick with the facts, a journalist's stock in trade: Isn't Oklahoma City in that "real America" of Mike Allen's? And doesn't the death of 168 people, some of them children in a day care center, rise above the status of a "fantasy"?
But wait, someone is saying. One terror incident in Oklahoma, however horrifying, does not mean there is an ongoing threat of "rightwing terrorism." That's true. So let's recall the 1984 machine-gun assassination in Dallas of talk show host Alan Berg by a rightwing paramilitary group called The Order. And the conviction of white supremacist Demetrius"Van" Crocker in 2004 for trying to purchase sarin gas and C-4 explosives from undercover agents. Then there's Chad Conrad Castanaga, who was arrested by the Joint Terrorism Task Force and charged with mailing fake anthrax to Nancy Pelosi and other public figures. (Mr. Castanaga was a frequent and enthusiastic commenter on right-wing blogs.)
And let's not forget Jim Adkisson, who killed a roomful of Unitarians he perceived as "liberal" while they were staging a children's musical version of "Annie." Adkisson had books by Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Savage on his bookshelf at home.
More recently, an extreme rightwinger named Richard Poplawski was arrested after allegedly calling police officers to his apartment so that he could shoot three of them. He was reportedly a fan of far-right radio host Alex Jones, and espoused widely-disseminated conservative disinformation about Obama's plans to "confiscate guns."
Thought Experiment: What would you do if you wrote angry books about a group of people and then one of your readers shot a few of them down? Wouldn't you express some remorse, and perhaps reconsider your rhetoric? Not these guys. And now that rightwing extremism has been identified as an ongoing terror concern, is the supposedly "tough on terror" Right acknowledging the violent acts of a few and applauding our law enforcement officers for protecting us? Not at all.
Strange ... very strange.
Not that we're indulging in guilt by association. (Let's leave that to David Horowitz and his ilk.) And we can sympathize with conservative concern about the potentially chilling effect reports like this could have on free speech. It's a legitimate issue, which is why many of us objected when the DHS discussed left-wing groups in a previous report - one that was applauded by many of the same conservatives who are now expressing outrage. (Hypocritical speech deserves protection, too.)
But why aren't we hearing from responsible voices on the Right - people who understand the genuine security concerns and who, while defending their colleagues' freedom of speech, deplore incitements to hatred or violence? And why has the long history of rightwing terrorism disappeared down a journalistic memory hole?
Thought Experiment #2: If Michael Moore had written a book calling conservatives "evil" (which unlike Hannity he has never done), if Al Franken had publicly called for Al Qaeda to blow up landmarks in a conservative city (as Bill O'Reilly has done with San Francisco), if Keith Olbermann had suggested that conservative be beaten with baseball bats ... if after all of that a left-leaning psychopath had then shot up a church full of people he considered "conservative," with their books on his shelf, what do you think the public reaction would have been?
What do you think the conservative reaction would have been? Do you think they would have taken the position that the act was not "terrorism"?
And if somebody then shot some cops while repeating conspiracy theories they'd heard on, oh, let's say MSNBC, there would be calls to shut the network down. Not so with Fox News and Poplawski, however. All we hearing instead is fury at the very idea that rightwing violence might ... just might ... be a real threat.
DHS isn't talking about Glenn Beck here, by the way. It is talking about truly dangerous people, and not merely to themselves. Consider this account of right-wing radio host Hal Turner from the Southern Povery Law Center's Intelligence Project:
""I advocate using extreme violence against illegal aliens. Clean your guns. Have plenty of ammunition. Find out where the largest gathering of illegal aliens will be near you... scope out several places to position yourself and then do what has to be done."
Turner [writes the Law Center] linked the post to a website titled "Ka-Fucking-Boom!" that provides detailed instructions on constructing pipe bombs, ammonium nitrate "fertilizer bombs," car bombs, chlorine gas bombs, and dozens of other homemade explosive devices.
... Turner promoted a survey on his website that asked, "What method of 'communication' would be best understood by members of the United States House of Representatives and The United States Senate so they know not to give ILLEGAL ALIENS Amnesty?"
Get it? He's advocating assassination of Congressmen and Senators. Whether or not you believe such speech should be censored, it certainly demonstrates there's a reason for DHS to be concerned about violence from the right, don't you think?
Conservatives who object to the report also complain that it doesn't mention specific rightwing groups as threats. But there's a reason for that, as this sentence from the report indicates:
"DHS/I&A assert that white supremacist lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing extremist rightwing ideology are the most dangerous terrorism threat in the United States."
The lack of group names isn't an oversight, nor does it disprove the report's validity. The report is saying that "free agents" and unaffiliated groups are the danger. Seems reasonable, especially given the horrendous attacks already carried out by far-right "lone wolves" and "terrorist cells" in North America.
And "lone wolf" isn't a phrase the government made up. White Aryan Resistance (W.A.R.) leader Tom Metzger wrote that "The most feasome pack of wolves are (sic) a collection of cells."And Christian Identity leader Louis Beam added, "Leaderless resistance presents no single opportunity for the Federals to destroy the Resistance." There is, in fact, a violent rightwing movement that has outlined a terrorist strategy precisely as it is described in the DHS report.
So tell me again: What is everybody so angry about?
To repeat, I do have some concerns about potential impact some government activities could have on civil liberties for the right, just as I did when they were directed exclusively toward the left. Everyone has a right even to hateful speech, and to speech that - like Hannity's and O'Reilly's -may have ghastly consequences. That's the price we pay for living in a free society.
(Interestingly, I'm told that Sean Hannity went on a radio tirade about I piece I wrote stating what should be obvious - that there's a connection between the hateful speech he and his colleagues produced and the killings carried out in Knoxville by their fan Mr. Adkisson. But, despite the fact that I've appeared on his show, his tirade wasn't directed against me - but against Arianna Huffington for publishing me. Two instincts of Sean's were thus displayed: the urge to censor speech, and the bullylike impulse to find a Mommy Figure and complain to her when criticized.)
The rapidly spreading trope that conservatives are being targeted for their beliefs is absurd - unless by "targeted" you mean given massive media exposure, while journalists like Mike Allen come on their broadcasts and forget the long and bloody legacy that gave rise to the Department of Homeland Security's concerns. Notions that the report "clearly appears to censor right-wing opinion," as the Hudson Institute's Herb London states, are nowhere to be found in the actual report itself (which is available publicly). The report never suggests any form of censorship.
These angry conservatives seem to think the report overstates the impact President Obama's election might have on rightwing terrorism, too. Maybe they missed this report:
Police say a man in Brockton, Massachusetts, allegedly targeted minorities after President Obama's inauguration. They say the man raped a woman, killed her sister and another man after several months of researching white supremacist groups on the Internet.
Newt Gingrich doesn't seem interested, however. He 'tweeted' a Twitter message that read ""the person who drafted the outrageous homeland security memo smearing veterans and conservatives should be fired." It's as if that rape victim in Brockton didn't exist. It's as if her sister's corpse didn't exist, either, or that of the murdered man.
In fact, it's as if the bodies of the Oklahoma dead had disappeared too. And the Knoxville Unitarians. And Alan Berg. It's as if the "lone wolves" aren't out there, as if Tom Metzger and Louis Beam and Hal Turner hadn't made their intentions and their plans perfectly clear. It's as if all of them, lone wolves and victims alike, had suddenly turned invisible.
But terrorists want to be seen. When they think their work has become invisible... they strike again.