What Right-Wing Extremism?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 11 2011 2:43 PM

What Right-Wing Extremism?

Two years before the Tucson massacre, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report that right-wing extremism was on the rise and could prompt "lone wolves" to launch attacks. But the agency backed away from the report amid intense criticism from Republicans, including future House Speaker John Boehner.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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Indeed! So, it was Boehner's fault, or House Republicans' fault, because they ignored these warning signs which... didn't at all apply to Jared Lee Loughner?

The report, which warned that the crippled economy and the election of the first black president were "unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment," described the rise of "lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology [as] the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States," according to a copy reviewed by The Center for Public Integrity.

That's a lot more stuff that doesn't apply to Jared Lee Loughner. He applied to enter the military but failed a drug test. Four days into this story we have no evidence of connections between him and right-wing groups.

The report’s primary focus was the fear that if the economy continued its downturn, it could mix with racial and political opposition to the election of Barack Obama and the ongoing debate about immigration. The report was especially concerned that these factors paralleled those that led to several incidents of domestic terrorism during the Clinton era.

I thought the outrage over the report was overblown at the time. Are tough economic conditions going to put more people out of work for a long time? Do hate groups want to recruit those people? Yes. But these are not factors that applied to Loughner, a 22-year-old community college student. And Behta admits this:

While discussion has swirled around possible ties between accused gunman Jared Loughner and right-wing extremists, DHS on Monday said department officials "have not established any such possible link." [Brian] Levin [of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University] doesn’t believe extremism was the sole driving factor. "This guy is a mentally deranged person first," he said, and noted that the mentally ill often latch on to conspiracy theories to layer over their already "obsessive and aggressive template."

Here, I'll rewrite this entire story in ten seconds.

If followed to the letter by investigators, a controversial 2009 report about the possible threat of new right-wing extremism would not have prevented the Tucson tragedy.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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