Election 2016

Republicans Have Waded Into the Fever Swamps

There's never been a greater need to keep America safe from current and aspiring Americans.


On Friday retired Gen. Wesley Clark suggested people who are "disloyal to the United States" should be put in WWII-style internment camps. He meant Islamist radicals, not Confederate flag-wavers. Either way, locking people up because they "have an ideology," as Clark put it, is disloyal to the Bill of Rights — so the first person to go in any Disloyalty Camp should be Clark himself.

Clark once ran briefly for President as a Democrat, but his comments suggest he might be more comfortable in today's GOP, which lately has been having a love/hate relationship with Donald Trump. Despite mouthing off about Sen. John McCain's war record, Trump is doing very well among the Republican rank and file, thanks to his tough-guy bluster. A lot of the base sees him as a teller of hard truths: Mexican immigrants are drug pushers and rapists, we still need to find out whether President Obama's birth certificate is real, and so on.

Democrats have been having a whale of a time with the Republicans' "Trump problem." Many of them like to say Trump is not a problem for the GOP, he is the GOP — and that's the real problem: Republicans have waded so far into the fever swamps that somebody like Trump can spout the most lunatic nonsense and still fit right in. 

This is inaccurate. It would be more accurate to say Republicans have waded so far into the fever swamps that all of the candidates can spout the most lunatic nonsense and still fit right in.

For instance: The other day Rand Paul, who has twice filibustered the Senate to protest the danger national-security measures pose to civil liberties, said he might like to revive NSEERS, the National Security Entry Exit Registration System.

The heck is that? As Shikha Dalmia explained recently, it was a program created after 9/11 that, among other things, "not only singled out Muslims entering the country for extra interrogation at the airport," but also required large numbers of Muslim males over 16 who already were living in the U.S. to register in person at federal immigration offices. Registration including being photographed and fingerprinted.

You can easily see why this was a horrible idea (NSEERS finally was cancelled in 2011). There are several million Muslims in the U.S., and the percentage of them who are apt to carry out a terrorist attack like the recent Chattanooga shooting by Muhammad Abdulazeez is ridiculously small. Percentage-wise, it's probably even smaller than the share of gun-owners in the U.S. who commit gun crimes, which is a very small share indeed. (There are about 66 million gun owners in the U.S. and about 400,000 gun-related crimes per year). What's more, any Muslim males thinking about committing a terrorist act probably would not be inclined to comply with NSEERS requirements. Still, forcing people with suspicious backgrounds to register with the government probably sounds good to a lot of folks, at least so long as you don't make anyone wear a gold star.

Yet as far as fellow GOP presidential hopefuls Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, and Rick Perry are concerned, Rand Paul is a lily-livered sob sister. Graham says a Paul presidency would be "devastating" in many ways, but especially "for national security." Christie says Paul is a "misguided ideologue" who has done so much harm to national security that if another terrorist attack occurs, Paul should be hauled before "congressional hearings." Perry has written that in the face of the terrorist threat Paul wants to do "next to nothing."

And let's not forget Ted Cruz, who is not one to let a competitor get to his right on national security, or anything else. Trump's swipe at prisoners of war went too far for other Republican candidates, but not for Cruz, who said he would not indulge the media by getting into a spat with another Republican. (We'll see how long that lasts.) In fact, Cruz says he is one of Trump's biggest fans: While conceding Trump is "not always artful," Cruz says "he is focusing on the enormous problem of illegal immigration and the need to secure the border,. This is something I have been fighting for for years, leading the fight to secure the border and he is absolutely right." 

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker thinks Americans need protection not only from illegal immigrants but from the legal kind as well: ""In terms of legal immigration, how we need to approach that going forward is saying … the next president and the next Congress need to make decisions about a legal immigration system that's based on, first and foremost, protecting American workers and American wages." Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, is manning the barricades against the homosexual agenda that threatens not just the traditional American family but civilization itself. Rick Santorum is right there with him, because America is at a "tipping point."

This is all well and good, but if Republicans really want to keep America safe, they will have to widen the net. As the massacre at a black church in Charleston shows, white supremacists can pose quite a threat to security. In 2002 the FBI's section chief for domestic terrorism testified before Congress about the threat of eco-terrorism from environmental and animal-rights activists. Seven years later, the Department of Homeland Security warned about the potential terrorist threat posed by veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This past February, DHS and the FBI warned about the threat posed by right-wing militias, "sovereign citizens," and other anti-government forces. 

Clearly, the U.S. faces peril from an unprecedented number of threats: Latino and other immigrants, Muslims, disloyal citizens, gays and lesbians, environmentalists, veterans, right-wingers, left-wingers.… Add up all the warnings and it's hard to avoid the conclusion that there has never been a greater need to keep America safe from current and aspiring Americans.

This article originally appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.