No, the Sikh Temple Massacre Does Not Rehabilitate the Homeland Security Report on Right-Wing Extremism

Last weekend's massacre at the Oak Creek Sikh temple has sparked a lot of speculation about the connections between the killer's politics and the killer's crime. There are sensible ways to think about this subject, and there are not-so-sensible ways.

A sensible way: You note that the man who targeted an institution filled with immigrants also played in a white-power band, had racially tinged tattoos, and posed for a photo in a white-pride T-shirt in front of a Nazi flag. And so, even if you're open to the idea that some other motive might present itself, you infer that his worldview likely had something to do with his murders. You are also open to the possibility that he shared his plans with others in his neo-Nazi milieu.

A not-so-sensible way: You note that the shooter hailed from the right. And so you write a story for Salon that starts like this:

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.

I've had plenty of disagreements with both Malkin and Goldberg over the years, but I doubt that either of them would ever claim that terrorists don't exist on the right side of the political spectrum. They certainly said no such thing in the passages that the Salon writer, Jordan Michael Smith, just quoted. Here's another line from the same Jonah Goldberg post: "I have no doubt that there are plenty of groups that are right-wing that deserve scrutiny from law enforcement." It's kind of hard to misunderstand that, but apparently it can be done.

It seems like any time a person from the far right commits an act of terror, someone tries to rehabilitate that DHS report. Sometimes someone brings it up even if the perp really isn't from the far right. So here, one more time, is what was wrong with the DHS document:

Depending on whose interpretation you prefer, the paper either defined extremism far too broadly or failed to define it at all. "Rightwing extremism in the United States," the department said, "can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration."

The charitable reading of this passage is that it's a sloppily phrased attempt to list the ideas that drive different right-wing extremists, not a declaration that anyone opposed to abortion or prone to "rejecting federal authority" is a threat. But even under that interpretation, the report is inexcusably vague. It focuses on extremism itself, not on violence, and there's no reason to believe its definition of extremist is limited to people with violent inclinations. (The department's report on left-wing extremism cites such nonviolent groups as Crimethinc and the Ruckus Society.) As Michael German, a policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote after the document surfaced, the bulletin focuses "on ideas rather than crime." One practical effect, German noted, is that the paper "cites an increase in 'rhetoric' yet doesn't even mention reports that there was a dirty bomb found in an alleged white supremacist's house in Maine last December. Learning what to look for in that situation might actually be useful to a cop. Threat reports that focus on ideology instead of criminal activity are threatening to civil liberties and a wholly ineffective use of federal security resources."

The rest of Smith's Salon piece reviews some of the worries FBI officials have had about far-right violence over the last decade. If you're interested in the subject, you should read the bureau documents that he links to. I wouldn't dismiss what they have to say, though I wouldn't uncritically accept them either -- this, after all, is the agency that warned us last year that the Juggalos are conspiratorial threat.

I'll wrap up with a historical note. COINTELPRO was an infamous and unconstitutional FBI effort to disrupt and neutralize movements that the agency deemed subversive. In 1964, bureau director J. Edgar Hoover expanded its reach with a program called COINTELPRO-White Hate Groups. This proved to be a watershed.

Previous COINTELPRO efforts had been designed with national security in mind: Even when the target had nothing to do with the Soviet Union, the bureau still had to convince itself that there was a link to Soviet subversion before it acted. Bad as COINTELPRO was, it at least had this brake on what it could do. But even Hoover found it difficult to argue that the Communists controlled the Klan. Nonetheless, because the bureau was aiming its fire at the radical right, powerful liberals were happy to sign off on the program. And with that precedent established, the FBI had an easier time targeting the antiwar movement and the Black Panthers. Thanks to the White Hate Groups program, the Brandeis sociologist David Cunningham writes in his excellent study There's Something Happening Here, many more groups could "be thought of as 'subversive' and therefore suitable targets for counterintelligence programs. No longer did a subversive group have to be controlled by or intimately tied to a hostile foreign power."

Anyone on the left who's tempted to cheer on the DHS report should remember their predecessors who cheered on COINTELPRO. When today's officials survey the country for alleged terror threats, they show no signs of limiting their paranoid vigilance to the right.

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  • Drake||

    I have purposely avoided all news regarding this story, but I have one question.

    Did this dimwit fuckup know he was attacking Sikhs (who most Americans like) and not Muslims? Or was he too stupid to know the difference?

  • Matrix||

    He has said a lot of nasty things about a lot of different racial and ethnic groups. I don't think he really gave a shit.

  • Sudden||

    Although that may be true, he still doesn't strike me as one who would know the difference.

    Although it is worth noting that the considerable anti-semitism in Islamic societies might have made him somewhat more amenable to them than say tolerant Sikhs.

  • Drake||

    Sounds like he was too dumb to realize that the Sikhs are actually Aryan.

  • Zeb||

    Real Aryan, not the made up white supremacist kind of Aryan. It's an important distinction.

  • Sudden||

    Yeah, before the details of the shooter came out I remember thinking the perp was one of two people a) a dumbshit who confused Sikhs for Muslim or b) a Muslim extremist who was carrying the Kashmiri dispute over here.

  • John||

    He knew he was shooting Sikhs. It appears he hated anyone who wasn't white.

  • Hyperion||

    I have a co-worker who goes to one of these temples. All of the Indians that I know are the most pleasant and peaceful people that you could imagine.

    Conspiracy theory, but sometimes one can imagine that DHS kidnaps people and brainwashes them into doing totally unexplainably stupid shit like this so they can expand their already too expansive power.

  • Sudden||

    There is a script in that idea.

  • Tamfang||

    The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996) is not exactly but similar.

  • Pro Libertate||

    His crazy is likely no different than the theater-shooter's crazy, except in the details.

  • T o n y||

    What's disturbing is when news commentators ask this question. Would it be somehow better if they were Muslims?

  • Brandybuck||

    With Muslims at least you would a frayed thread to hang the right-wing-extremist accusation from. Without it all you have is racism.

  • Loki||

    Did this dimwit fuckup know he was attacking Sikhs (who most Americans like) and not Muslims? Or was he too stupid to know the difference?

    It's most likely he was targeting brown skinned immigrants and didn't give a shit what their religion actually was. I suppose it's possible, though, that he saw a bunch of brown people with turbans on and thought "OMG MOOOSLIMZ!!!11!!!!1!!!"

  • Abdul||

    Why does White Power music only have to be about the hate? Can't you just like it for the melody and the blonde bitches?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I bet there's some sect of hipsters somewhere that pretends to do just that.

  • Sudden||

    At least it's one music that they can be confident will never go mainstream.

  • Chloe||

    He could go to a coffee shop with his "retro" tape player and rock out to Skrewdriver.

  • Loki||

    Nah, like hippies, hipsters hate metal (of all kinds). Unlike hippes, they're more into Emo./ pussy rock as opposed to "jam bands" (aka Grateful Dead wannabes).

  • Proprietist||

    Do you know many hipsters? Many of my hipster friends from college would have ironic 80s hair metal parties, and most of them listened to Iron Maiden.

  • Loki||

    They were just being "ironic". Also, I doubt many modern day noodle armed thick rimmed glasses wearing beard faced hipsters actually listen to metal anymore, but who knows.

  • Proprietist||

    I was referring to the modern day, as I've only been out of college a few years...hipsters have the music they actually like, and then the music they listen to ironically. The overbearing irony-as-lifestyle is central what makes them hipsters vs. simply being indie music fans. That irony can manifest itself in a variety of ways, including joke metal fetishes and mullets, or twentysomething dudes with Hello Kitty collections, or trying to look like 1950s nerds.

  • Brandybuck||

    Sometimes I feel like ironically punching one in the face.

  • Killazontherun||

    Pirate metal pretty much serves that purpose without the guttersnippery.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    No one wants accordians in their music. No one.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I'm a huge fan of Weird Al Yankovic, and I, for one, DO want accordions in my music.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Too late, I already decreed.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I shall respectfully decline to comply, Guard.

  • Chloe||

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    The Clash was playing cheese graters and bottle openers 10 years before that hipster chick was born.

  • Loki||

    "It needs more cowbell cheese grater."

  • ||

    Why does White Power music only have to be about the hate? Can't you just like it for the melody and the blonde bitches?

    The genre needs a good power ballad to reform its image. Maybe a love song about how some skin head's girlfriend reminds him of Eva Braun.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    But they super pinky swear that they'll only target really bad guys with their new powers this time, Jesse!

  • #||

    I'm also really frustrated at how the term "right" is conflated in these instances. When that report came out and the liberal press was hoping for violence to come out of the Tea Party, "right" was referring to an anti-tax, anti-spending sentiment.

    "Right" in this sense is only so in protecting traditional racial/ national purity which is a whole another ballgame. This is right in more of the old school classical sense of the word.

    It's like the press conflating "right" parties in Europe with the US understanding. In Europe all that means in socialism for just your own countrymen and not foreigners.

  • Sudden||

    Yeah, the European conception of right vs. the American conception of right are two wholly unrelated concepts.

    It's ironic that when a "center-right" govt gets elected in a European country, American progressives are quick to note that such a govt would be considered left in the U.S. They never seem to mention that the Euro "far-right" parties have far more in common on economic policy with the American left than they ever will with the American right.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    What are you talking about, the political 'right' in the US is completely socialist.

  • Sudden||

    The American right also includes the RP movement, ninth and tenthers, and ancaps. Beyond that, the mainstream American right, while they govern in a more socialist manner, at the very least claim affinity for market principles.

  • ||

    What's not to understand? It's simple: libertarians are exactly the same as Nazis.

  • Drake||

    Exactly. Remember when Hitler deregulated everything and made the Germans stop discriminating against people for religion and race?

  • Whiterun Guard||

    And also stopped his country from getting involved in foreign wars.

  • CE||

    If you conquer a neighboring nation it's not foreign anymore.

  • John||

    After the Obama election, I heard an NPR report where I kid you not the reporter was speculating on the problem conservatives and libertarians would have leaving the country since the only countries in the world that are "conservative" were theocracies like Saudi Arabia or failed states like Somalia.

  • Killazontherun||

    In other words, the Obama election marked the moment that the United States finally joined the human race and rejected the laissez-faire principles of the Bush administration.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Can some explain to me how "National Socialism" is considered "right-wing"?

  • John||

    The fascists attacked the Soviet Union. That is how.

  • Doctor Whom||

    All right-thinking people understand that if you don't agree with the American left on everything, you're in an undifferentiated mass called the "right."

  • Drake||

    Because it to took some wonderful ideas and made them look bad.

  • Randian||

    Because nationalist movements have been considered as such for a long time. Ethnic nationalism was a hallmark of the right-wing in France around the time of the Dreyfus affair.

    It's not unprecedented, really.

  • Brett L||

    International Socialists had already staked out the left, National Socialists (in Europe, in the 30s) were their opponents and therefore the "right". It wasn't like they had a bunch of free market libertarians in representative bodies at the time.

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I hereby denounce White Power Music, National Socialism and those who confuse Sikhs with Muslims. You takin' all this down, Tibbs?

  • Lord Humungus||

    I renounce little puppies with big eyes, because someday they could bite you!

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I already denounced Chihuahuas in another thread, Lord H. What else you got?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I denounce Tibbs. It just feels like the right thing to do.

  • Lord Humungus||

    yeah, if you ever read the BNP website, there isn't much conservative there at all. Except for the anti-immigrant stance, much of it isn't different than standard lefty/righty boilerplate.
    http://www.bnp.org.uk/policies/economics

    Globalisation has caused the export of jobs and industries to the Far East, and has brought ruin and unemployment to British industries and the communities who depend on them.

    Accordingly, the BNP calls for the selective exclusion of foreign-made goods from British markets and the reduction of foreign imports. We will ensure that our manufactured goods are, wherever possible, produced in British factories, employing British workers.

    When this is done, unemployment in this country will be brought to an end and secure, well-paid employment will flourish.
  • Lord Humungus||

    * remove conservative, replace with libertarian

  • John||

    There isn't much conservative there. At least not modern conservative. The paleo's economic policies were totally anti free trade and leftist. The bottom line is this. If you put Pat Buchanan, Murry Rothbard, a typical Occutard, and a BNP spokesman in a room, they would agree more than they disagreed.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Rothbard was a man of his time, but your statement is a bit of stretch.

  • John||

    Only for Rothbard and only by a little. He would disagree with everyone on economic issues. But would get right along with the BNP when talking about the inferior races and would do really well with the Occutards when talking about the evil United States.

  • Zeb||

    The thing about conservative is that it really can't have a fixed meaning. Conservative is in relation to something that existed (or is imagined to have existed) in the past. So it will necessarily mean different things in different contexts. In Europe, where the traditional order is monarchy, rigid class structure and ethnic homogeneity, that's what conservatives will want. In the US, it is something different.

  • ||

    Conservative in Britain and the British Commonwealth has historically meant conserving the privileges of the aristocracy while Liberal was associated with promoting the interests of business owners and the middle class (which in Britain means business owners and professionals).

    That's one of the reasons Australia has never had a Conservative Party. And probably why the Canadians called theirs the Progressive Conservative Party. Until Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau steered it to the left the Liberal Party in Canada was the party of small government and business interests*.

    *although C D Howe did steer it in a more activist direction with subsidies and so on, but then he was born in the US. It is my thesis that most of Canada's problems with socialism were introduced by American and British expats. I'm pretty sure that Tommy Douglas learned about socialzed medicine when he was at the University of Chicago. /kidding :) partly

  • ||

    "conserving the privileges of the [hereditary] aristocracy [and the landed gentry]"

  • Hyperion||

    No, the Sikh Temple Massacre Does Not Rehabilitate the Homeland Security Report on Right-Wing Extremism

    Tsk, tsk Jesse, of course it does. Any excuse for big sis butchy to turn a lot of Amercians into potential extremists to be put on some watch list, is a forgone conclusion. You are thinking logically here, and that does not apply to the mentality of an ever expanding centralized government. I can almost guarantee you that everyone who has ever blogged or posted on H and R is already on such a list.

  • Mr. FIFY||

  • Hyperion||

    No way I can stomach reading comments on this at the FluffPo this early in the morning...

  • Mr. FIFY||

    I read it for you. Most of the comments consisted of "right-wingers, it's ALL their fault, ALL violence comes from the right-wing, there's NO violence on the left, ever ever ever"-style bullshit.

  • Hyperion||

    They are right, except when, you know, some leftists killed tens of millions in the former USSR, China, Cambodia, etc., etc.. But besides those little slip ups, nope, no violence on the left ever.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Has to fit the narrative, Hyperion. There isn't one example of left-wing violence, anywhere, on the entire planet.

    Even if there IS some, it's caused by right-wingers.

    Also, fried chicken.

  • Doctor Whom||

    Those weren't true Scotsmen Christians leftists.

  • Sudden||

    Oh but the LULZ are so worth it:

    this man represents the republican's of today and it is very scary.

    I, for one, think the completely misplaced apostrophe adds a certain gravitas to the statement.

    Yes, and even more apt would be "White Right Wing Terrorist"

    This leads me to one of my other observations, wouldn't Islamic terrorism be fairly considered right wing as well? FFS, the primary motivation behind the hardcore Islamists is the establishment of a caliphate and the elimination of infidels on Muslim lands? Doesn't that seem to fit this highly-suspect definition of right wing as being anything that has a primarily nationalist/religious/us-vs-them element?

  • John||

    Here is my theory. They desperately want to be violent themselves. But they know they can't justify such violence unless they can show the other side started it and they had no choice. Thus, they project and fantasize that everyone on the right is violent to justify their own violent feelings.

  • Loki||

    "That just baffles my mind," said Johnson, whose book “Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terror Threat Is Being Ignored” will be published in September.

    So he's a totally neutral observer...

  • Ted S.||

    Perhaps we could lock Johnson and Brian Doherty in a room together and have them spend their days plugging their books to each other?

  • ||

    ...this, after all, is the agency that warned us last year that the Juggalos are conspiratorial threat.

    Juggalos are a threat. Some of that grease paint they wear on their faces stains clothing and upholstery something fierce.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    My son was one'a those Juggalos. I never worried even for a moment, that he or his friends could ever be a threat to the Republic.

    Yeah, it was a stupid phase he went through, but it's even more fucking stupid to believe they're a "threat".

  • Hyperion||

    Everyone is a threat now. It's a jobs creator.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    That Juggalo merchandise? You didn't sell that. Someone sold it FOR you.

  • Hyperion||

    I have never heard of the juggalos, but fer some reason, when I first heard the term here, instead of teenage boys, I envisioned wimins folk with large breasts...

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Insane Clown Posse fans, Hyperion.

    You're not missing a thing.

  • Hyperion||

    Wasn't our current veep a member of that Posse?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Joe isn't cool enough to hang with Juggalos.

  • Proprietist||

    I was just imagining Joe Biden showing up at a Gathering of the Juggaloes on a desperate campaign stop.

  • Loki||

    Nah, he's just an insane clown. He doesn't have a posse though because he's too insane and too big of a clown for them.

  • Mr. Soul||

    to quote Austin Powers: "Machine gun jubblies? How did I miss those, baby?"

  • Pip||

    This is in regard to the flag burning / silent monk questions in the AM Links:

    Regarding the Monk question ( http://reason.com/blog/2012/08.....nt_3187666 ). The monks are free not to speak at their Monastery. Do people have a right to go up to the perimeter of the monk's property and blast Ted Nugent 24/7? And if so, are laws that say no blasting Ted after 10:00 pm (until say 6:00 am) a violation of the Ted blasters freedom of speech? Also consider that when airports expand, they are often required to cover the cost of noise abatement to the newly affected homes. Is that a reasonable imposition on the expanding airport?

  • Citizen Nothing||

    I'll take "Stupid First Amendment Questions" for $200, Pip.

  • Pip||

    No really this is going somewhere. Humor me. Thanks.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    How much traction did this get in the AM Links, Pip? Maybe you should just tell us what you are getting at. Cause right now it just seems you are highlighting conflicting rights. It's a barrel of monkeys for sure, but it is a boring discussion.

  • Pip||

    Yesterday, there were several people asserting that everyone has the right to say anything to anyone at anytime, no exceptions and that the funerals of fallen soldiers are fair game for the WBC.

    My point is that there are many examples of the government restricting speech and many ways of looking at them.

    If we can place time restrictions on unwanted noise (curfews, airport noise abatement, etc., then why not put a restriction on unwanted noise during funerals?

    Also, a funeral can be a religious event and as such the WBC protesters are infringing religious freedom of the funeral attendees, if their religion says that people are not supposed to be yelling hateful speech at funeral attendees during a funeral.

    It all comes down to the question - does a person have the right to silence? Silence is communication. It's used in both poetry and music, so it clearly is a form of expression.

  • Pip||

    And to your question "How much traction did this get in the AM Links, Pip?" it actually got a lot until I had to go to a two-hour meeting.

  • Rich||

    Did you say anything at the meeting?

  • Pip||

    Just that the commentariat at HampersandR are an odd lot.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    Okay. Now we got something.

    Yes, people can say anything to anyone at anytime.

    Private cemeteries can restrict who can enter the grounds, thus excluding WBC. Public cemeteries could adopt a friends/family rule for attending funeral services. Although that might infringe the speech rights of the WBC, I don't see it being a big problem. They are still free to protest, just not at a funeral.

    If the WBC wants to stand outside a cemetery and protest, that is their right. If it makes you sad to hear or see the WBC people outside of the cemetery, then that is a you problem. Toughen up.

  • Zeb||

    Well, I suppose most military funerals take place on public property and are paid for on the public dime. In that case, I think that people have the right to make whatever noise they want to in the vicinity. If it were held at a private cemetery, then things might be different. But I think that noisy, obnoxious protesting on public property is pretty clearly protected. Noise problems between two private property owners would be a more difficult question.

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