Is the DHS Dropping the Ball on Tracking Rightwing Domestic Terrorists?
Bill Berkowitz printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 09:55:33 AM EST
Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst with the DHS, says that his `greatest fear is that domestic terrorists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within.'

In the wake of 9/11, law enforcement officials ramped up their efforts to prevent domestic terrorism. During the past two years, while energy of the expanded Department of Homeland Security has been focused on Muslims -- either American born or those coming from outside the country - according to a former DHS official, the DHS has basically put the kibosh on analyzing homegrown terrorist threats by white supremacists, militias, the patriot movement, and anti-abortion fanatics.

Right Wing Terrorism Happening in US

In 2009, a DHS report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," ( that was aimed at law enforcement officials, was leaked. The report stated that "Right-wing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning."

The report maintained that "The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s [during the Clinton administration] when right-wing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovereignty by other foreign powers."

"Rightwing Extremism" also pointed out that "Proposed imposition of firearms restrictions and weapons bans likely would attract new members into the ranks of right-wing extremist groups . . . 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."

In the blink of an eye, rightwing groups mobilized to discredit the report, and call for the resignation of DHS head Janet Napolitano. A remarkably well-organized chorus of conservative voices argued that their movement was being smeared by the Obama administration, and that legitimate administration critics were law-abiding citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.

"Rightwing Extremism" was written by a team of DHS analysts headed by Daryl Johnson, who in 2004, became the senior domestic terrorism analyst at the newly created Department of Homeland Security. Johnson told the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that his "greatest fear is that domestic terrorists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within. This is what keeps me up at night."

In a recent interview ( all-issues/2011/summer/inside-the-dhs-former-top-analyst-says-age ncy-bowed), published in the Summer 2011 edition of the SPLC's Intelligence Report, Johnson acknowledged that the "Rightwing Extremism" report came about as a result of four questions asked of his team by Napolitano: "Are we seeing a rise in domestic terrorism? If so, is it related to the election of a black president? What are the chances of it escalating to violence? And what are we going to do about it?"

Johnson "has been battling extremist groups for two decades," having got "his start in the field in 1991, when he worked on counterterrorism for the U.S. Army."

In its introduction to the interview, the SPLC pointed out that although the report was "intended for law enforcement only, [it] was quickly leaked and caused a firestorm among the political right who accused DHS of painting all kinds of conservatives as potential Timothy McVeighs." Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin dubbed it Obama's "hit job" to target conservatives; others said it called everyone "on the right" a terrorist.

Conservative pushback against the report succeeded in not only getting DHS officials to claim that the report was unauthorized, but it wound up virtually eviscerating DHS' "domestic terrorism analysis unit."

According to the Washington Post, the DHS "has stepped back for the past two years from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism, according to current and former department officials, even though law enforcement and civil rights experts have warned of rising extremist threats.

"The department has cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam, canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings, and held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups, the officials and others said," the Post reported.

Johnson pointed out that since the 2009 report leaked, "DHS has not released a single report of its own on this topic. Not anything dealing with non-Islamic domestic extremism-whether it's anti-abortion extremists, white supremacists, 'sovereign citizens,' eco-terrorists, the whole gamut."

Upon further review, especially in the wake of the May 2009 murder of abortion provider George Tiller by an anti-abortion zealot; the June 2009 murder of a security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. by neo-Nazi James von Brunn; and a number of other planned - but stymied -- attacks, it appears that the report's conclusions were dead on.

The former senior DHS analyst is concerned with "the fact that our country is under attack from within, from our own radical citizenry. There have been a lot of small-scale attacks lately, whether it's three mail bombs sent to U.S. government facilities in Maryland and D.C., or a backpack bomb placed near a [Martin Luther King Jr. Day] parade in Spokane, Wash., or two police officers gunned down at a traffic stop in West Memphis, Ark., [by antigovernment extremists in May 2010]."

In the Intelligence Report interview, Johnson, who says that he "personif[ies] conservatism" and acknowledges that he is a registered Republican and a Mormon, said that the mission of the DHS - as laid out in the 2002 Homeland Security Act - included "identifying and assessing possible terrorist threats to the homeland and notifying law enforcement officers of those threats." This included studying "how a law-abiding person becomes radicalized to the point of being willing to hurt people."

A 2010 DHS study concluded that a majority of the 86 major foiled and executed terrorist plots in the United States from 1999 to 2009 were unrelated to al-Qaeda and allied movements.

The massacre in Tucson is almost certainly another example. In my more pessimistic and paranoid moments, I can't help wondering if at least some of the authors of "conservative pushback" to the 2009 report aren't secretly rooting for the extremists to succeed.

by MLouise on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 01:07:27 PM EST
Much as a lot of the Left would have loved to see Loughner as a militia member/hanger-on, he really was just insane, and it could easily have been another politician, possibly on the right, that he targeted. Do you have some evidence that he followed militia-type propaganda? I could be wrong, so I'd be interested to see that.

by trog69 on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 04:08:07 PM EST
I believe it's been discussed here.  His "crazy stuff" was actually quoting one of the Sovereign Citizen "leaders".

He wasn't just a nutcase, no matter how much the media would like to spin it that way (ditto for the guy who shot up a UU church, and I can think of at least one other case where they try to portray the terrorist as a lone person with severe mental illness).

I don't know that much about the guy, but I do know that what seemed like crazy ideas were actually quotes from part of the Sovereign Citizen movement.

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 05:47:07 PM EST


by Pierce R Butler on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 10:16:26 PM EST

When we provided documentation of domestic right-wing terrorism to the FBI in the mid 1990s, they sent in an undercover agent who discovered plans to make bombs to use against human rights activists in Northern Puget Sound. That agent, Mike German, later left the FBI to work for ACLU due to the politicization of his department that was interfering with his ability to do his job. While we were grateful that the eight militia members were convicted before they could carry out their murderous plans, we were disturbed by the fact that vigilantes -- mostly Christian Patriots -- in our area had been recruited by agents of the building and real estate industries to threaten environmental activists and American Indian treaty proponents. Through electoral fraud and mainstreaming bigotry, these industries created a very dangerous political climate. One of the reasons we were able to contain the militia epidemic back then was that organizers like Bill Wassmuth and Eric Ward had teamed up with superb researchers like Paul de Armond and Bobby Crawford to expose the social crisis. With the crash of support for research and organizing since the late 1990s, all that public interest investigative work is left largely to the FBI, which evidently now prefers to harass peace and freedom activists.

by Jay Taber on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 04:12:32 PM EST
Jay, I would be VERY interested... very seriously interested in documentation of the connection between the terrorists and the construction/real estate industry.  Since you seem to have information on it, do you have links or can you give me references?

That would tie in with some rumors I've heard concerning this county and others... and it would also likely be of great interest to some colleagues of mine.  I'm not sure if they've heard about it or not.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 10:44:06 PM EST

On Public Good Project's Special Reports page, there are several related items. Reign of Terror and Wise Use in Northern Puget Sound provide a view of the context within which the building and real estate industries lent their resources to mobilizing vigilantes. Two articles by Paul de Armond published in Eastside Week -- Merchant of Fear and Steal This State -- take a closer look at some of the players involved. In A Not So Distant Mirror, Paul examined some of the millenarian aspects of the militia movement.

by Jay Taber on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 02:32:27 PM EST
Peer-reviewed articles?  Something like that?  (Something that could be considered evidence.)

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 05:54:13 PM EST
Peer-reviewed articles are not evidence. Primary documents upon which we based our reports are. Some of these are in our appendices, and others in our files are referenced. As we are no longer accepting requests for research related services, the public documents noted can be obtained through the appropriate public agencies.

by Jay Taber on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 06:47:50 PM EST
Peer-reviewed not evidence?  Well, maybe not if you take the meaning literally, but if you know anything about publishing research you know that in academia, internet publishing (caveat: some new peer-reviewed online journals) is considered for the most part worthless junk and for many valid reasons.  What you read in peer-reviewed work can be taken as valid, and since there are controls (peer review) meant to keep bad science and inaccuracy out, they can be trusted far over anything else.

Also, I mentioned newspaper articles.  I think I know far more than most people about them and their accuracy.  While a graduate student, most of my class papers were done on primary research I conducted (I KNOW the difference between primary and secondary).  Of that research, a good portion of it was content and discourse analysis of news articles and letters to the editor.  As background for those papers, I had to read all of the peer-reviewed research regarding bias, inaccuracy, and validity of these sources and their strengths and weaknesses.  One paper in particular, on the reporting of the Jena Six situation (I have been asked to submit it for publication and my professor said it was one of the best he'd seen in a while) demonstrated the inaccuracy and bias (actually racism) of the news reporting in this country.  It's so bad that even the most accurate reporting source I found (NPR) still didn't mention some critical facts and got a couple of things wrong.  What I did was compare the reporting to testimony, sworn statements, eyewitness accounts, and formal documentation.   (I must add that the most accurate source of information beyond official documentation that I found turned out to be an exception to the rule about internet inaccuracy - a website dedicated to defending the Jena Six.  I only mentioned it in the paper and I did comment about how I was surprised at their accuracy.  In that case their obvious bias in favor of the youths was based in reality and could be backed up by evidence.)

I strongly support T2A and a couple of other blogs, because of a few reasons.  First, T2A refers directly to sources... audio and visual recordings, or documentation.  Besides that, you will get testimony and eyewitness accounts or analysis (and of course comments about the topic).  I know some of the people connected with T2A, and others I know and trust have vouched for them.  A couple of the people here are known to academia and considered trustworthy.  Finally, the things reported and discussed here either match my own experiences or the experiences of people I know.  So I find T2A to be very accurate and consider T2A a valid source of information.

There are a couple of other places that I frequent, but I trust them because I know the people involved (or again, they've been vouched for).  If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have touched them with a ten foot pole, except as a place to give an opinion.  You see, in academia self-published papers and things like that are considered suspect at best.  We don't use internet sources (with a few exceptions and caveats) because of the problem with inaccuracy, bias, lack of peer review, and so on.  Indeed, when I helped to teach classes, we specifically instructed the students to NOT use internet sources such as Wikipedia,, and so on, because they would get the wrong information.  Many students still ignored us to their woe.  They may be OK for "general public" knowledge, but when you start getting to specifics...

As far as a blog dedicated to privately-published papers and those of a friend, I'm not very willing to trust what I read, until I know the person in question or have them vouched for.

If you're not willing to give me the links, I understand and no problem (I've been asked for references in the past and didn't have the time or energy to dig them out - things like that happen).  Beware taking me to task about things that I say, because I may have a far greater understanding that you may think.  I admit that sometimes I "say" something that doesn't come across quite the way I wanted; I was trying to say in a nice way "give me information that isn't just what you may believe and that can be traced".  I was going to share anything of value that I received with friends/colleagues in academia, as it may be of value in their own research - which would eventually end up in peer-reviewed reporting.

by ArchaeoBob on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 11:22:08 AM EST

Whether you choose to read or believe the reports on the Public Good Project website makes no difference to me. If you need to confirm our credibility, you can peruse the sidebar on our blog. Since some of our work has been published by institutions like RAND, perhaps that will give you more confidence in our claims. You might also ask T2A authors like Chip Berlet, Frederick Clarkson, or Bruce Wilson, who are aware of our work.

by Jay Taber on Sat Jul 09, 2011 at 12:47:03 PM EST

Hi Bob - yes, I agree with your points generally, but I'd add that the work Jay is citing is exceptional, in my opinion. I'd add that, while peer-review is the best solution out there, sometimes individual/small research efforts can dramatically outstrip academia. I've run across Paul de Armond's work, and it's extraordinary (and treated as absolutely credible by the heavyweight funded orgs in the business.) I don't know how to resolve this reference issue, but let me suggest that Jay has considerable relevant knowledge, and you do as well--and if you two can figure out how to share what you each know it would be a good thing. Best, BruceW

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 07:25:50 AM EST
I don't know about outstripping academia - I have problems with that thought because of the protections (for subjects of research as well as for the final outcome) built into the peer-reviewed publishing system, but as far as problematic "research" on the internet, vouching for people you know and for their work is about the best way to deal with it.  Your vouching for them goes a long way.

Things have come up that have put reading those articles on the back burner (it's hard to do anything anyway when you have no income, and I HAVE to try to find something).  

I might suggest to Jay that the documents be made available as a complete paper in PDF format (if that isn't already set up)... one that can be searched.  PDF format is the standard for peer-reviewed journal articles available via databases (like Jstor, although Jstor is always somewhat outdated) and it works well.  

(Their documents aren't always search-able, however and that can be a pain.)

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 08:55:44 AM EST

This might be a good place to reintroduce concepts developed by our colleagues David Ronfeldt and John Arquilla at RAND. Their profound analysis of social organization and conflict, in papers like Tribes Institutions Markets Networks, illustrate evolving power relationships where monopolies on knowledge and publishing are being subverted by independent scholars and activists. Inherent in our open source applied research is its availability to academia and governments, be they indigenous nations or industrial states. Since the intersection where the four forms of social organization come into conflict requires independent investigative research, we often find ourselves working more closely with tribes and networks than we do with institutions and markets. Our collaboration with the Center for World Indigenous Studies and Political Research Associates are cases in point.

by Jay Taber on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 06:35:06 PM EST

While we're discussing investigative research and documentation, it might be helpful to review the difference between primary and secondary documents. As explained here news reports are secondary. While our reports are replete with references to news articles, one of the points we made is that mainstream news did not cover this imbroglio. Newspaper accounts of militia events and court trials, cited extensively in our appendices, for the most part failed to dig into the industry connections. In some cases, reporters were threatened by publishers to lay off exposing them. In our reports, we name names of those involved.

by Jay Taber on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 07:28:45 PM EST
No need to go into details, but yes--money does has a funny way of undercutting truth in journalism.

by Bruce Wilson on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 07:36:54 AM EST

They need to look at attacks directed at people who publicly oppose the dominionists as well.  I'm sure that there are lots of examples (the poisoning of David Mullin's dog comes to mind) if they would just look. Attacks such as the 2008 shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church should also be considered (I noted in the report that they're only looking at attacks against government agencies, banks, and so on).  

Just because things like that aren't directed at the public in general or against the government/rich/corporations doesn't mean that they aren't terrorism.  After all, the poisoning of David's dog was an act meant to create suffering in someone because of their political stance, and probably meant to send a message (of fear) not only to David but to anyone else who might resist.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 04:15:15 PM EST

"Daryl Johnson, a former senior domestic terrorism analyst with the DHS, says that his `greatest fear is that domestic terrorists in this country will somehow become emboldened to the point of carrying out a mass-casualty attack, because they perceive that no one is being vigilant about the threat from within.'..."

I don't buy this fear-mongering conflation of alleged right wing extremist groups with those who have every right to be concerned about authoritarian encroachment as is personified by the out-of-control TSA:

TSA gropes
https:/ &q=TSA+gropes&aq=0&aqi=g5&aql=&oq=&pbx=1& amp;bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=64dbd374eaa39b9c&biw=1024&a mp;bih=540

by MIJ6VI on Thu Jul 07, 2011 at 04:00:50 PM EST worry about, soon enough. This interview with Z. Brzezinski on Morning Joe, concerning the unequalled income/wealth disparity in the US, sounds the alarm that we may indeed be looking at global unrest: 2547

To my mind, the militias in the US will have a heyday if they start seeing more and more of the "mainstream" talking about possible civil violence. It would be not only a great inlet for recruitment, but also good cover to indulge more freely in their pursuits.

by trog69 on Fri Jul 08, 2011 at 04:03:24 PM EST
There is a lot of angst in this area, and while the Tea Party is trying very hard to redirect it against the poor (the "lazy bums sponging off of the hard work of others", "Furriners", and the government, with a great deal of success, at the same time people are seeing that things aren't working.  This also seems to be the case nation-wide.

I read in the last couple of days that a vast majority of the people understand that the rich have caused the problem (a true assessment), but I would say that the majority of those people don't seem to understand that "lowering taxes" is not the solution.  I fear that there will be a rebellion if things get much worse, but the result of that rebellion may not be what the rebels want... they need to realize that what they want can be found in the constitution (exception: recent rulings by the Supreme Court).

by ArchaeoBob on Sun Jul 10, 2011 at 09:10:02 AM EST

This was posted over at the Daily Kos. It will be interesting to see how the FBI investigation turns out. .
If this isn't domestic terrorism then I don't know what is.

by Frank Frey on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 11:07:49 AM EST
The link as given returns an error message. Try this: ative-American-Family:-Guess-Who-Gets-Arrested?

The racism and corruption in local police departments is appalling, as we well know here in Pennsylvania by observing the handling of the murder in Shenandoah.

by MLouise on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 11:47:55 AM EST

In Florida, realistic death threats were made against my tribe in front of the governor (Chiles) in his office... to the face of elders and mikkos.

Nothing was ever done about it.

Around 20 years ago, one of our elders was gut-shot by a racist bigot who went around the panhandle area of Florida bragging about how he'd shot a "Injun".  A year or more later, he was still free and bragging.  It was an attempted hate-crime murder.  The last I heard (admittedly several years ago), nothing had ever been done about it.

It's common for the police to do nothing about crimes against people, unless the person in question is wealthy or powerful, or it's heinous and gets in the papers.  Native Americans very rarely are rich or powerful, and even heinous crimes like in the article are rarely investigated or dealt with.

Stories like this are common and based upon the few I know of, factual.  This is only part of the reason why I so distrust "Law enforcement" and the American legal system.  You get the best justice you can afford.

by ArchaeoBob on Mon Jul 11, 2011 at 12:37:06 PM EST

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