Thursday, April 16, 2009

DHS Worries About Right-Wing Groups

The Department of Homeland Security recently released a report called "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." This report was sent to law enforcement agencies across the entire United States April 17, 2009.
According to the Washington Times, "A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines 'rightwing extremism in the United States' as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority."

Now, I have no doubt that there are people holding these ideas who would go to an extreme, but let's not forget that our Constitution was drafted with a 10th Amendment included at its ratification. That Amendment says, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In other words, the Constitution limits Federal authority to a very limited scope of defined areas and defers all other authority to the states. Would DHS be carefully monitoring John Adams and James Madison if they were still alive because they reject overreaching federal authority? Should DHS start monitoring the check-out records at libraries to see who is reading the Constitution or the Federalist Papers?

The DHS report goes on to say about this threat: "...It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration." The words "single-issue" are important in the literal meaning of that sentence. Most conservatives and some liberals are pro-life and are for enforcing existing immigration laws (i.e. OK with immigration but against illegal immigration).

The blog you are now reading is primarily dedicated to restoring perspective on the First Amendment's religion clauses. The actual wording and intent of the religion clauses have been replaced with "separation of church and state" and whatever interpretation a court can put on that metaphor. So, upon reading this report, will every law enforcement agency keep in mind the words "single-issue"? Or will some conservative groups or individuals be under suspicion because they are pro-life (but not singly so)? Will agencies keep in mind the distinction many of us draw between legal and illegal immigration?

Some of my language above is intended to be tongue-in-cheek or even sarcastic. This report probably does not impose a practical threat to individual freedom of honest, law-abiding citizens. But when no emphasis is placed on some key phrases, such as "single minded," there is room for misuse by enthusiastic officials. To end a warning phrase with "...reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority" sort of leaves those particular words in your memory as a problem.

This is a messy situation, which I believe is caused by careless (I assume it is not deliberate) use of language. The document has now been made public - a large national newspaper released the document, despite the fact that is specifically says it is not to be released to the media or the general public. This did not have to become such an issue. Of course DHS will be watching groups that plan violence; we expect that. But many worry that the loose language in this document, spread to thousands of different law enforcement personnel, may be subject to loose interpretation by some of those individuals. Note that the report says no statistical evidence is present and there are no known threats at this time.

I have read the entire document. There is a great deal of vague language, including words like "may," "could," "might," etc. Some such wording is totally unavoidable, which makes the rest of the wording even more important.

Supposedly, the DHS published a report on left-wing groups earlier this year. Shouldn't that be found on the Washington Times as well? One would think so, but I had no luck finding it there. Upon reading that report I saw less labeling of political ideology. For example, it did not mention some corresponding concepts that are generally considered more "left-wing:"

  • Pro-abortion
  • Pro-amnesty for illegals
  • In favor of large federal government.
Why the difference? I'm not sure it is significant, but it is interesting. Are pro-abortion groups not subject to being single-minded?

Some of the story can be found on the Washington Times

NEW: even some liberal Democrats are objecting to parts of this report and to its handling. Read more

1 comment:

Agha H Amin said...

great blog sir