The administration of US President Barack Obama has issued a chilling warning to US police forces about the threat of a rise in violent right-wing extremist groups fueled by recession, the return of disgruntled army veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and hostility over the election of the first black president.
The internal report, which was not meant for publication, was drawn up by the Department of Homeland Security, which was set up after the Sept. 11 attacks to coordinate internal security.
A leaked copy says: “The economic downturn and the election of the first African-American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.”
It adds that the threat posed by “lone wolves” and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.
The report generated criticism from Republicans and military veterans’ groups, who resented the implication that returning troops presented a danger. The American Legion called it “unfair,” “incomplete” and “politically motivated.”
Marked “for official use only,” the nine-page report was drawn up by the extremism and radicalization branch of homeland security. A leaked copy initially appeared on conservative Web sites and was then picked up by the US media.
The assessment contends: “Right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat. These skills ... have the potential to boost the capabilities of extremists, including ‘lone wolves or small terrorist cells,’ to carry out violence. The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.”
The early 1990s saw a rise in militias and cults that were anti-government and opposed to former US president Bill Clinton, against a background of economic recession. Some looked to survivalism; others were motivated by racism or religion. There was a series of incidents and shoot-outs with federal agents, including the Waco siege in 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
David Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion, which has 2.6 million members, yesterday protested in a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano at the implication that troops presented a danger, saying: “I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are. The American Legion is well aware and horrified at the pain inflicted during the Oklahoma City bombing, but Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation’s uniform during wartime. To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical ‘disgruntled military veteran’ is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam.”
The report says that threats from white supremacist and violent anti-government groups have been largely rhetorical so far, but a prolonged economic downturn “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”