Political Correctness: Special White Conservative Edition

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
June 8 2011 8:12 AM

Political Correctness: Special White Conservative Edition

R. Jeffrey Smith reports that the long-term impact of the 2009 DHS report on "Rightwing Extremism" has been a DHS that slow-walks or neuters research on the topic. Staff's not working on it; reports aren't coming out; no one wants to touch the subject.

Daryl Johnson, formerly the senior domestic terrorism analyst at DHS and a principal author of the disputed report, confirmed in an interview that he left in frustration last year after his office was "gutted" in response to complaints.

"Other reports written by DHS about Muslim extremists … got through without any major problems," Johnson said. "Ours went through endless reviews and edits, and nothing came out."

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We can still read that original report. It wasn't comprehensive. It was, sure, a grab-bag of incidents and possibilities based on the idea that "the economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment."

But do go back and read it. Its biggest sin, in retrospect, was not that it signaled a radical Obama administration shift away from monitoring terror and toward monitoring returning veterans. (Ask Osama bin Laden if we ended up dropping the ball on radical Islamic terrorism in order to chase Birchers.) No, the sin was that it wasn't politically correct . Republicans, the American legion, and basically every conservative with access to blogging software was offended by it. And that was amplified more than it might have otherwise been because Eli Lake broke the news of the report the day on April 14, the day before the first robust round of Tea Party protests. I remember covering the D.C. leg of the protests and seeing plenty of signs, drawn up overnight, mocking "Big Sis" Janet Napolitano or jokingly pronouncing the protesters "right-wing extremists." The report was mostly relevant as an artifact in Tea Party history -- proof that Democrats wanted to take conservatives' rights away, like Nancy Pelosi's later claim that the town hall protests were un-American.

What's the proper amount of political correctness to consider when assessing terror threats. I'm going to go with "none," and conservatives typically agree with that. They're right: it makes no sense for a report on Nidal Hassan's rampage at Fort Hood to whistle past the issue of Islamic terrorism. It's cheap to pillory Peter King whenever he talks about radical Islam. If you're going to oppose hypersensitivity about this stuff, though, better oppose it everywhere.

(Hat tip: Duss.)

David Weigel, a former Slate politics reporter, is a reporter for Bloomberg Politics

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