Anti-Anti-Terrorism on the Right

Remember the brouhaha back in 2009 when a Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing militias was leaked? Well, it’s back.

Patrick Poole of Pajamas Media raised the alarm after unearthing a DHS “lexicon” that defined “militia extremists” as:

Groups or individuals who facilitate or engage in acts of violence directed at federal, state, or local government officials or infrastructure in response to their belief that the government deliberately is stripping Americans of their freedoms and is attempting to establish a totalitarian regime. These individuals consequently oppose many federal and state authorities’ laws and regulations, (particularly those related to firearms ownership), and often belong to armed paramilitary groups. They often conduct paramilitary training designed to violently resist perceived government oppression or to violently overthrow the US Government.

This sends Poole off to the races, suggesting that anyone concerned about Big Government or gun rights is being targeted for scrutiny by DHS. He rather notably ignores the language about “acts of violence” and “to violently overthrow the U.S. government,” which gives the entire statement its essential context.

But I dunno, maybe he thinks advocacy of violence in a good cause should not be grounds for a bit of official suspicion. A lot of today’s right-wing foot soldiers have a bad habit of blurring the bright lines between issue advocacy and justification of violence. A distressingly common theme among some of the fringier Tea Party activists is the assertion that a divinely inspired Constitution (in its original form, give or take a slavery sanction) in conjunction with a theocratic reading of the Declaration of Independence created an immutable set of policies dealing with issues ranging from unregulated property ownership to taxation to abortion that cannot be legitimately modified, even via mechanisms contained in the Constitution itself. When harnessed, as such views often are, to the belief that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to facilitate armed popular resistance to one’s own government, then it really is a small psychological jump to the militia camps.

If people like Poole really want to stay off any DHS radar screen, all they have to do is to disclaim any interest in violently overthrowing the U.S. government. You can certainly argue that the federal goverment is entirely too interested in surveillance against internal threats, or that “terrorism” itself is an overblown concern. But I suspect most wingnuts allegedly worried about terrorist monitoring by DHS are really just angry that it’s not confined to Muslims.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.