They doth protest too much

THEY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH…. After some devastating violence on U.S. soil over the last couple of decades, it stands to reason that federal officials would take note of radical groups who operate and organize inside the United States. Extremists have become violent, so law-enforcement agencies, particularly those focused on preventing acts of domestic terrorism, have a reasonable rationale for keeping tabs on organizations that might have violent intentions.

Apparently, right now, that means taking note of the activities on the far-right American fringe.

The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement officials about a rise in “rightwing extremist activity,” saying the economic recession, the election of America’s first black president and the return of a few disgruntled war veterans could swell the ranks of white-power militias. […]

The nine-page document was sent to police and sheriff’s departments across the United States on April 7 under the headline, “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.”

It says the federal government “will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months” to gather information on “rightwing extremist activity in the United States.”

DHS is not talking about those who enjoy the Wall Street Journal editorial page. Rather, officials are concerned about extremists — some of whom planned “threatening activities” against Barack Obama last year — who might want to commit acts of violence. Homeland Security spokeswoman Sara Kuban said, “The purpose of the report is to identify risk. This is nothing unusual.” She added that the goal is “to prevent another Tim McVeigh from ever happening again,” and that similar reports have also been published on left-wing radicalization.

Now, I’m sympathetic to concerns about “big government” monitoring law-abiding Americans, and was offended when some law-enforcement agencies started monitoring peace groups who protested the Bush administration’s policies in Iraq. There is, in other words, room for abuse here.

But let’s recognize this for what it is. If the available evidence is accurate, the law-enforcement efforts aren’t about tapping Bill O’Reilly’s phone; it’s about monitoring the organizing efforts of right-wing militias who are bragging about stockpiling weapons and ammunition.

Obviously, criminalizing conservative beliefs would be insane, as would considering a conservative suspect based on nothing but his or her ideology. But there’s nothing to suggest that’s happening, and the DHS document (pdf) hardly points to excessive government intrusion. David Weigel concluded, “I struggle to find anything wrong in a close — not a willfully obtuse — reading of the report.”

And speaking of willfully obtuse, what’s especially interesting today is the response from conservative bloggers — the ones who used to argue the government should have practically unlimited surveillance powers to prevent possible terrorism on U.S. soil — who are outraged by DHS’s efforts.

Apparently, some Republican bloggers believe their rhetoric about “revolution” against the U.S. government might be considered controversial by law-enforcement officials. As Andrew Sullivan asks, “Why, one wonders, would Michelle Malkin read a DHS report on fringe, far-right extremism that could lead to violence or Oklahoma-style domestic terrorism and think … they’re talking about her?”

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