Can “Patriots” Be Terrorists?

A new study has been published by the U.S. Military Academy’s Combatting Terrorism Center analyzing the potential threat of far-right groups espousing violence to achieve their goals.

Like a DHS-authorized study in 2009 on the same topic, this paper is drawing predictable outrage in right-wing circles (though it’s not clear yet whether the pressure will produce denials and apologies from the administration, as happened in 2009).

Here’s the lurid description of the West Point study by Rowan Scaraborough of the Washington Times:

The West Point center typically focuses reports on al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists attempting to gain power in Asia, the Middle East and Africa through violence. But its latest study turns inward and paints a broad brush of people it considers “far right.”

It says anti-federalists “espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government. Extremists in the anti-federalist movement direct most their violence against the federal government and its proxies in law enforcement.”

The report also draws a link between the mainstream conservative movement and the violent “far right,” and describes liberals as “future oriented” and conservatives as living in the past.

And here’s the pivot from carping to freaking-out, courtesy of some anonymous GOP congressional staffer:

A Republican congressional staffer who served in the military told The Washington Times: “If [the Defense Department] is looking for places to cut spending, this junk study is ground zero.

“Shouldn’t the Combating Terrorism Center be combating radical Islam around the globe instead of perpetuating the left’s myth that right-wingers are terrorists?” the staffer said. “The $64,000 dollar question is when will the Combating Terrorism Center publish their study on real left-wing terrorists like the Animal Liberation Front, Earth Liberation Front, and the Weather Underground?”

As a matter of fact, most government-backed analyses of domestic terrorism threats cover left-wing and right-wing extremists together, and the FBI did a particular study on “eco-terrorism” quite recently. This is aside from classified materials, and the rather robust interest of federal law enforcement authorities in left-oriented anarchist groups.

But putting aside the question of “balance” in studying different kinds of terrorism threats, is there a reason experts should be particularly concerned about right-wing activity right now? Gee, think it could have something to do with the constant assertions, even in respectable conservative periodicals, that “patriots” need to stockpile military weapons in order to undertake (if so dictated by their perceptions of endangered essential “liberties,” which may include freedom from Obamacare or from progressive taxes) the violent overthrow of the United States government?

The conservative movement really does need to distance itself from “right to revolution” talk, particularly when connected to absolutist notions of “legitimate” or “American” governing models for the nation. If that’s too much to ask, then conservatives need to stop carping every time the rest of us get a little worried about armed-to-the-teeth wingnuts shrieking hatred at the duly elected U.S. government.

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.