At Salon this morning, Jordan Michael Smith takes a walk down memory lane, reminding folks about one of the first Republican freak-outs of the Obama era.
When Homeland Security director Janet Napolitano released a report in April 2009 identifying right-wing extremists as a threat to the country, conservatives howled. The general sentiment was expressed by Michelle Malkin, who declared the report a "piece of crap ... propaganda ... an Obama hit job." Jonah Goldberg complained that the DHS report failed to stick "to the practice of describing these groups with more specificity and without the catchall, ideologically loaded descriptors."
Well, now that we have learned the murderer of six people at a Wisconsin Sikh temple was a well-known white supremacist, conservatives might want to consider reexamining their claims that terrorists don't exist on the right side of the political spectrum.
To be absolutely clear, no one has any idea whether Wade Michael Page, the alleged gunman in Oak Creek, could have been stopped with better monitoring of extremists from law enforcement. There's just no way to know, and it'd be irresponsible to start looking for someone other than the gunman to blame.
A look back to the spring of 2009, however, is nevertheless worthwhile. At the time, the Department of Homeland Security released reports about ideological extremists, alerting officials to potentially violent groups and organizations. Of particular interest, the DHS said some extremist groups may specifically target American military veterans for recruitment.
At first blush, the warnings seemed routine and uncontroversial -- the reports were even commissioned by the Bush administration, not Obama -- but the right was nevertheless outraged. Just three months into the president's term, there were even calls for Napolitano's ouster.
Three years later, with the benefit of hindsight, the apoplexy about the DHS warnings look quite foolish. We've seen far too many incidents involving violent radicals to deny the merit of the reports.
But here's the rub: a year ago, the Washington Post reported that Republican outrage from April 2009 was so intense, the Department of Homeland Security "stepped back ... from conducting its own intelligence and analysis of home-grown extremism." Agency officials didn't want to be attacked by Congress or the media for warnings about the violent fringe of American society, so they simply scaled back their own efforts, "cutting the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism."
Indeed, the Post reported at the time that the DHS unit responsible for the 2009 report was "effectively eviscerated," and much of its work related to white supremacists was "blocked," for no other reason than pushback from the right.
Given recent events, including the tragic violence in Oak Creek on Sunday, perhaps now would be a good time to revisit the DHS analysis and reconsider whether Republicans should exercise a heckler's veto over potential security threats.