An unreleased Department of Homeland Security report says domestic far-right “sovereign citizen” extremists might pose a bigger threat of terrorist attacks within the U.S. than foreign self-styled Islamic groups like ISIS. The “intelligence assessment,” which the department says is “not publicly available,” was leaked to CNN earlier this month.
Done in collaboration with the FBI, it cited a University of Maryland survey last year in which state and local law-enforcement officials listed the sovereign-citizen movement ahead of Islamic extremists and other domestic far-right groups as a potential threat. The Homeland Security report, according to CNN, “counts 24 violent sovereign citizen-related attacks across the U.S. since 2010.”
Those included the 2012 killing of two sheriff’s deputies in Louisiana and the assassination of two Las Vegas cops last year by a couple fresh from joining the militia groups that held off federal efforts to impound the cattle of rancher Cliven Bundy, who had refused to pay fees for or accept restrictions against grazing them on public land. It said such violence “will occur most frequently during routine law enforcement encounters at a suspect’s home, during enforcement stops, and at government offices.”
People in the sovereign-citizen movement claim that they are citizens of themselves, not of the United States, and that the jurisdiction of U.S. law is a fraudulent legal fiction. They use convoluted legal theories to justify this, but the main practical effect is they believe they are not subject to U.S. laws and taxes. (A number of Web sites sell kits to assert such citizenship, often advertised as a way to get out of paying debts.) The idea grew out of the 1980s Posse Comitatus movement, which claimed that there was no valid legal authority above the county level.
The Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that the movement had about 100,000 “believers” as of 2011, with perhaps twice that number dabbling. The report was finished just before the White House’s recent summit on “countering violent extremism,” which was denounced by the far right because it did not explicitly name that violent extremism as “Islamic.” It was also criticized by leftist and Muslim groups because it might as well have said that violent extremism was “_sl_m_c… would anyone like to buy a vowel?” (CNN described the conference as “almost entirely focused on helping imams and community groups to counteract the lure of groups like ISIS.”)
The Committee on American-Islamic Relations, which feared that the White House summit would lead to continuing “practices that stigmatize American Muslims and Islam,” praised the report. “We welcome this new intelligence assessment on the threat posed by domestic right-wing violent extremists,” it said in a statement, adding that the government should “address all forms of violent extremism… in proportion to the criminal threat posed by those groups.” It also urged Homeland Security and the FBI to investigate “the spike in hate crimes targeting Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, Sikh, Hindu, and South Asian communities.”
The report “is sure to raise hackles among the President’s critics, who say he is too skittish about offending Muslims,” Fox News wrote. That relatively straightforward news story was among the calmer responses on the far right, whose main reaction was that the Obama administration was diverting attention away from the real enemies, Muslims and leftists. On Fox’s The Five, host Kimberly Guilfoyle mocked the Obama administration for concentrating on right-wingers—“They’re very scary people. They drink tea”—while “jihad is on the rise.”
“Obama is worried about hurting the feelings of Muslims by linking Islam to terror,” cohost Eric Bolling chimed in, calling the Department of Homeland Security a bloated bureaucracy chasing “armed Lutherans laying siege to a Hot Topic in a mall.” The Daily Caller Web site was apoplectic.
ISIS is marching across huge swaths of land in the Middle East, crucifying, beheading and burning alive untold numbers of human beings, and making direct threats against the United States. But the Department of Homeland Security is making sure the government doesn’t take its eye off the real enemy – right-wingers…. A White House official said President Obama is concerned with all “violent ideologies.” How this is squared with the president personally meeting with leaders of anti-police groups in the wake of the events in Ferguson, Missouri, was not addressed. Nor were violent attacks on police in the name of “social justice,” like the execution of two New York City police officers by a member of the anti-police groups.
CNS News, founded in 1996 as an alternative to media with “liberal bias,” focused on CAIR’s praise for the report. It attacked Muslim Advocates for claiming that the Obama administration was focusing on Muslims while ignoring “the roughly 95% of other threats of extremist violence.” It cited a 2005 FBI report that said 93% of the people killed in terror attacks in the U.S. in the previous 25 years were victims of Islamic extremists. That’s technically true, given that the 9/11 attacks killed more than 15 times as many people as the 1995 Oklahoma City truck-bombing of a federal office building, but the same FBI study said Muslims were responsible for only 6% of terror attacks in the U.S. during that period. (It defined “attack” broadly, counting vandalism by the Earth Liberation Front next to shootings and firebombings.)
The article was reposted by WorldNetDaily and conspiracy wingnut Alex Jones’ Infowars. Pamela Geller, who sparked the unsuccessful crusade to stop an Islamic community center from being opened in Lower Manhattan, frothed that Obama was waging a “pre-emptive strike,” “criminalizing patriotism” in an “offense against the American people.” “Obama and his appointed thugs have made the good guys the enemy,” she wrote on her Atlas Shrugs blog. “The jihad wars are roiling Africa, Middle East and now Europe. And the Obama administration has turned against… Americans. The Obama administration is anticipating some kind of civil war/civil action, and so they are drawing the line—declaring those who stand in defense of the Constitution enemies of the state. Obama refuses to call Islamic terror Islamic, but will designate Americanism a terror threat.”
“Yeah, sure. This is just more of the Obama Administration’s unstinting efforts to deflect attention away from Islamic jihad terror,” wrote Robert Spencer, Geller’s partner in efforts to block the “Ground Zero mosque.” Why are 24 attacks in five years such a big deal, wondered a blogger at the Michelle Malkin-founded Hot Air, when “there were 500 gang killings in Chicago alone” in 2012 (actually, that was the total number of homicides in the city that year) and “we have parades of people marching down the streets calling for the murder of cops…. it’s mayhem on a cultural scale which seeks to tear down the fabric of civilization.”
On the other hand, an obscure Christian-right site called Cowger Nation said conservatives were wrong to assume that the Department of Homeland Security was attacking them. Sovereign-citizen groups “are not conservatives,” it argued, because unlike “patriotic limited-government groups,” they do not respect the American nation or the rule of law. It criticized the Washington Times for using a photo of a Tea Party rally to illustrate its story on the report. According to “Homegrown Extremists,” a database maintained by the New America Foundation, since 9/11, more people in the U.S. have been killed by far-right terrorist attacks than by Islamic extremists. As of this month, it said, 39 people have been killed in 18 separate incidents, including the fatal shooting of six people by a neo-Nazi at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012 and the killing of three people by a Ku Klux Klan member at Jewish centers in the Kansas City suburbs last April.
Seven “jihadist” attacks, including the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, had claimed 26 lives, half of them in Maj. Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree at the Fort Hood military base in Texas in 2009. Why the Department of Homeland Security leaked the report is unknown. One possibility is that it wanted to deflect criticism of the Countering Violent Extremism summit, by showing that there are other terrorist threats besides those from Islamic extremists and demonstrating that it is not solely focused on Muslims. It may also want to avoid the fate of its 2009 report on far-right extremism, which then-Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized for after a barrage of criticism, mostly from the political right.
That report was more speculative warning—specifically, that extremist groups would recruit disgruntled war veterans skilled with weapons—than documentation of criminal conspiracies: It said the department “has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence” and “threats from white supremacist and violent antigovernment groups during 2009 have been largely rhetorical.”