On April 15, 2009, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded to criticism from lawmakers, conservatives and veterans groups about a leaked unclassified intelligence assessment warning national law enforcement agencies about ongoing political and social conditions that could trigger “rightwing” extremism. In a released statement, she denied the DHS targets anyone based on political ideology. The report said returning veterans joining militias “could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups.”
Napolitano said in her released statement, “We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.”
Authored by DHS’ Office of Intelligence and Analysis (OIA), the report, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment, was part of a series of publications to “facilitate a greater understanding of the phenomenon of violent radicalization in the United States.” (A similar report about leftist groups was issued in January 2009 and a ACLU press release calling for an investigation by DHS on fusion centers.) Despite the report’s acknowledgment that there is a lack of evidence for a specific terrorist threat from these groups, it does say that “rightwing extremists” could use “several emergent issues,” such as the election of President Obama, rumors of potential gun control legislation and the economic downturn as recruiting tools.
The report drew widespread criticism from Democrats and Republicans and from many veterans’ groups. On April 15, House Minority Leader John Boehner(R-OH) said, “To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable.”
U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the chairman of the House committee with oversight of DHS, wrote a letter on April 14 to Napolitano. In that letter, he said, This report appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans — including war veterans… As I am certain you agree, freedom of association and freedom of speech are guaranteed to all Americans — whether a person’s beliefs, whatever their political orientation, are ‘extremist’ or not…”
The Secretary’s statement did not satisfy all of her critics. According to The Bulletin, the Thomas More Law Center (TMLC), an Ann Arbor, Michigan based public interest law firm, has filed a federal lawsuit against her. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of conservative radio talk show host Michael Savage, the president of a pro-life organization called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Gregg Cunningham, and an Iraqi War Marine veteran Kevin Murray, claims that DHS policies violate their First and Fifth Amendment rights. The DHS has not yet commented on the lawsuit.
Update: On April 23 Napolitano announced plans to replace the current head of OIA, Roger Mackin, with Philip Mudd. Mudd is a 24-year career FBI official, who currently serves as the associate executive assistant director of the bureau’s national security branch. Ms. Napolitano also says she will appoint Bart R. Johnson as the principal deputy undersecretary. Mr. Johnson currently serves as director of homeland security and law enforcement in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the personnel moves were categorically not related to the leak of the “right-wing” intelligence analysis.