It’s 9 a.m. Do you know where your government is?
An April 7 report issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security caused a stir among veterans and pro-life activists. It was published to alert state and local law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials that the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis Assessment has suggested that right-wing extremists may be gaining new recruits. Right-wing extremism, defined in a footnote, may include “individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.” The alert cites downturns in the economy and “proposed imposition of firearms restrictions” before noting that “Returning veterans possess combat skills and experience that are attractive to rightwing extremists. DHS/I&A is concerned that rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” The report also claims that white supremacists “have capitalized on the election of the first African American president.”
Veterans groups received apologies from Janet Napolitano, secretary of Homeland Security, throughout the weeks following the publication of the report. On April 16 Napolitano wished aloud on FOX News that the footnote would have undergone a “rewrite.”
Those who know Napolitano as the former Democratic governor of Arizona who resigned in January to join the Obama administration are familiar with her “shoot first and apologize later” tactic. In 2005 Arizona Speaker of the House Jim Weiers (R) thought he and his colleagues had brokered a deal to satisfy Napolitano’s opposition to a school-choice measure and was assured the bill would not be vetoed. After it was vetoed, Weiers and a number of legislators distributed “she lied” bumper stickers and T-shirts around the state capitol. In 2006 the bill was passed again, and Napolitano allowed it to become law without her signature.
Bills restricting abortion did not receive such ambiguous treatment, but not because of a broken trust between the state’s legislative and executive branches. Abortion opponents saw the governor veto, quite unapologetically, every piece of abortion-related legislation that hit her desk. Republicans, unable to override the vetoes, were relieved when her resignation elevated Secretary of State Jan Brewer, an antiabortion Republican, to the governor’s office. Unfortunately, Napolitano’s relocation to Washington, D.C., may have an even more negative impact than six years’ worth of vetoes in Arizona.
In her new role, Napolitano should be demonstrating that her old political tactics have no place in preventing terrorism. A “rewrite” or an apology is not a sufficient response to very serious and dangerous assumptions about civil liberties and national security for Americans. Backpedaling notwithstanding, it still raises the question: Are veterans, gun owners, abortion opponents, or illegal-immigration activists being monitored, with prejudice, by the federal government?