Friday, April 17, 2009

Fox News: Defenders of Right Wing Extremism

Apparently conservatives are steaming mad at Janet Napolitano. The Homeland Security Secretary has not withdrawn the report on rightwing extremism released April 9th, nor did she disagree with its findings. The part of the report that most angers Fox News and talk radio personalities is the following footnote:

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.

Fox News has sounded the horns of umbrage based primarily on this statement, and they have encouraged conservatives to talk it up like it accuses all veterans of terrorism. Republican senators and representatives around the country have issued many statements chastising Napolitano and the DHS for a failure to apologize and withdraw the report. And on the heels of a successful series of tax day tea party rallies (even though, as Paul Krugman notes, they did start unconventionally from the top down, their attendance by throngs of people makes them a success), Fox News has learned that it can bolster its role as red America's megaphone, a role that necessarily takes it even farther away from the realm of objective journalism.

But there are several layers of obvious hypocrisy on this issue. First of all, at no point does the DHS report state that veterans should be or will be monitored like terrorism cells. Many conservative talking heads are insinuating that this is a likely possibility in order to drive the perception that the Obama administration is anti-soldier. This is a complete lie, and it is vile to continue misleading people in this way. Secondly, it's hard to argue that the findings of the entire DHS report are not valid. The report cites evidence that veterans have been recruited in the past to rightwing extremist groups. Much of the report notes the similarity of our current economic and political climate to the last time rightwing extremism was on the rise, which was in the early 1990s. It would be foolish to ignore rightwing extremism's affinity for veterans, just as it would be foolish to ignore Al-Shabaab's affinity for Somali-American men from Minnesota.

Thirdly, the report was not written by or even commissioned by Janet Napolitano or the Obama administration. The Bush administration got the ball rolling on the report, and like so many economic summaries or CIA summaries, this Homeland Security summary took time to develop. Conservatives are suggesting that the Obama administration only started this report as a kind of grudge against conservatives and the military, when in fact the Obama administration didn't even commission it.

Fourthly, it wasn't even the only report to be developed and released by DHS. There is a similar report that looks at the threats from leftwing extremism, which is mostly concerned with cyber-terrorism and protesters of the type found at economic summits. Conservatives rarely mention this report, which claims that leftwing extremists may "encourage recruitment of individuals with sophisticated cyber skills into their trusted circles." I don't see code monkeys (or even Iphone owners)erupting en masse with umbrage at the Department of Homeland Security.

Expect to see more mischaracterizations of minor reports in the coming years as Fox News and others start to regain their swagger by relearning how to manipulate large groups of people who don't know any better.

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