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Is King Downplaying Threat of Racist Extremists?

Frederick Cosby, Special to – March 14, 2011

Responding to an avalanche of criticism, Rep. Peter King justified holding a controversial hearing on the radicalization of Muslim-Americans last week by saying the issue was the preeminent threat facing the nation’s security.

“There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaida and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen,” King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said at the start of Thursday’s hearing. “Only al Qaida and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation. Indeed, by the Justice Department’s own record, not one terror-related case in the last two years involved neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups.”

Several civil rights, civil liberties, law enforcement, and anti-terrorism experts strongly disagree with King’s assertion. They say he’s overstating the threat of American Muslims being co-opted to commit terrorist acts against the U.S. and severely downplaying the danger posed by mostly white homegrown extremist organizations and individuals to conduct terrorist acts against the country, the federal government or the president of the United States.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in its Spring 2011 Intelligence Report, said that the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. has exceeded 1,000 for the first time since it began tracking them in the 1980s.

Combined, the number of hate, anti-immigrant nativist, and anti-government groups grew from 1,753 in 2009 to 2,145 last year, a 22 percent increase that followed a 40 percent rise in 2008-09, according to the SPLC.

“Anti-immigrant vigilante groups – despite having some of the political wind taken out of their sails by the addition of hard-line anti-immigration laws around the country – continued to rise slowly,” the report said. “But by far the most dramatic growth came in the anti-government ‘Patriot’ movement – conspiracy-minded organization that sees the federal government as their enemy – which gained more than 300 new groups, a jump of over 60 percent.”

“What seems certain is that President Obama will continue to serve as a lightning rod for many on the political right, a man who represents both the federal government and the fact that the racial makeup of the United States is changing, something that upsets a significant number of white Americans,” the report said. “And that suggests that the polarized politics in this country could get worse before it gets better.”

And, contrary to King’s claim of there not being “one terror related case in the last two years” involving neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, militias or anti-war groups, state and federal law enforcement have been busy since January investigating that appear to have overtones of white homegrown terrorism.

Just last Wednesday the FBI arrested a man and charged him in connection of an attempted bombing of a Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington. Kevin Harpham, 36, an ex-Army soldier from Colville, Washington, was charged with one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction and one count of possessing an unregistered explosives.

The SPLC alleges that Harpham has ties to the National Alliance, a neo-Nazi group based in West Virginia, and claims that he made more than 1,000 posts on Vanguard News Network – a racist Web site – under the pseudonym “Joe Snuffy.” National Alliance officials told the Associated Press the Harpham isn’t a member of their group. However, Harpham’s public defender said he wouldn’t be surprised if the charges against his client were changed to include hate-crime charges because of Vanguard News postings.

In a separate case in January, an Arizona federal grand jury indicted Jeffrey Harbin, 28, for possessing 12 grenade-like improvised devices. The devices were built with PVC pipe filled with black powder, ball-bearings and an improvised fusing system, law enforcement officials said.

“Jeffrey Harbin built these IEDs in such a away as to maximize human carnage,” Dennis Burke, U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona, said in January. “Thanks to the hard work and diligence of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Phoenix Joint Terrorism Task Force, the defendant was intercepted, and the devices he created were disabled before they could be used to potentially inflict grave human harm.”

The SPLC alleges that Harbin has ties to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement. The indictment didn’t mention neo-Nazism, but a former member of the National Socialist Movement told Arizona’s ABC15 that Harbin was a member of the group.

“I personally recruited Jeff into the National Socialist Movement. I am no longer a unit leader or with the Nationalist Socialist Movement,” J.T. Ready told the station in January.

When asked what Harbin planned to do with the weapons, Ready referred the station to federal authorities. But Ready added: “I will say domestic terrorism is real.”

A 2008 survey of state law enforcement agencies by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism found that “far-right groups are present in most states, and far-right and extreme animal and environmental rights groups are present in more states than Islamic Jihadists.”

In the study, state law enforcement ranked Islamic Jihadist groups 11th in the number of reports they’ve received behind extreme anti-tax groups, the Ku Klux Klan, extreme animal rights groups and freemen/sovereign citizens. Neo-Nazis, Militia/Patriot groups and racist skinheads topped the list.

“According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, utilizing information provided by respected organizations such as the Congressional Research Service, the (conservative) Heritage Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 77 total terror plots by domestic, non-Muslim perpetrators since 9-11,” Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca testified Thursday. “In comparison, there have been 41 plots by al Qaida by both international and domestic Muslim perpetrators during the same period.”

Black lawmakers and other congressional Democrats pressed King and other Republican lawmakers on the Homeland Security Committee to not solely concentrate on American Muslims and the Islamic faith as a U.S. threat.

“It may be right, but it doesn’t look right when we take on Islam and allow this to take place, and we don’t tell the truth about the abuses associated with the KKK and Christianity,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). “Why not include the KKK in this discussion today? Why not have a broader topic that doesn’t focus on one religion?”

Maybe because doing so can be tricky politics. In 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning law enforcement officials about an increase in “rightwing extremist activity,” saying the nation’s ailing economy, the election of the first black president and the return of some disgruntled war veterans could bolster the memberships of white-power militias.

“Most statements by rightwing extremists have been rhetorical, expressing concerns about the election of the first African-American president, but stopping short of calls for violent action,” the report said. “In two instances in the run-up to the election, extremists appeared to be in the early planning stages of some threatening activity targeting the Democratic nominee, but law enforcement interceded.”

Veteran’s groups, Republicans lawmakers and conservative talk radio went ballistic.

“To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable,” then-House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said.

In a letter to Napolitano, David Rehbein, then-commander of the American Legion, ironically wrote: “To continue to use (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy) McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical disgruntled veteran is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam.”

The firestorm put the White House, with an occupant who reportedly receives more death threats than his two predecessors, in a full retreat. Napolitano apologized for the report.

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