As Rachel Maddow, Charlie Pierce, and others have noted, the federal government lessened its scrutiny of extreme racist and anti-Semitic groups after a Department of Homeland Security report on such groups was leaked in 2009, the consequence of which was widespread outrage on the right. I just want to remind you of the timing of that: the report went out to law enforcement officials on April 7, 2009, and -- as Daryl Johnson, the report's author, noted in a Salon article published in 2012 -- it was leaked to the public a few days later:
The DHS report, released on April 7, 2009, served as a warning to law enforcement concerning the resurgence of right-wing extremism in the U.S. The report was immediately leaked by an unknown individual who obviously took offense with its findings.Remember what else was about to occur at that time? The first nationally hyped series of tea party demonstrations -- the Fox-branded "Tax Day Tea Parties," on April 15, 2009.
Roger Hedgecock, an ultra-conservative "shock jock" based in Southern California, admitted to receiving the official intelligence report from an anonymous individual. By April 12, 2009, Hedgecock had pushed the report into the public domain using his radio program as well as an article he published in World Net Daily.... Hedgecock wrongfully claimed the DHS report demonized veterans and classified all conservatives as potential terrorists....
Hedgecock's story was soon aired by Fox News and touted by prominent conservative media figures like Lou Dobbs, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin....
Now, as people like David Niewert repeatedly pointed out, the DHS report wasn't about the teabaggers.
It carefully delineates that the subject of its report is "rightwing extremists," "domestic rightwing terrorist and extremist groups," "terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks," "white supremacists," and similar very real threats described in similar language.Tea party types painted Hitler mustaches on pictures of President Obama. They didn't mean this as a compliment. The DHS report was about people who admired Hitler. Big difference.
Nothing about conservatives. The word never appears in the report.
But this didn't stop mainstream rage junkies such as Michelle Malkin from insisting that the report was all about their crowd -- in particular, the tea party movement that was about to have its big coming-out party on national television:
... the piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives. And the intent is clear. As the two spokespeople I talked with on the phone today made clear: They both pinpointed the recent "economic downturn" and the "general state of the economy" for stoking "rightwing extremism." ...That meme spread like wildfire -- and so here was Dave Weigel on April 15, 2009, reporting on that day's D.C. tea party rally:
In Obama land, there are no coincidences. It is no coincidence that this report echoes Tea Party-bashing left-wing blogs ... and demonizes the very Americans who will be protesting in the thousands on Wednesday for the nationwide Tax Day Tea Party.
Yesterday's news that the Department of Homeland Security had warned local police departments about a rise in far-right extremism spread like chain mail among everyone involved with the Tea Parties. It was the reason many people cited for keeping their names out of reporters' notebooks. It also manifested in the jokes of multiple speakers, who mocked the idea that this event was a meet-up of "right-wing extremists," and in signs that read "Napolitano: Obama's Gestapo Queen" and "Fight Federal Fascism" and "Kulacs tomorrow? Then what? Gulags. History repeats."Weigel led his report with this photo:
"Now anybody who doesn't believe in Obama's policies is a terrorist," said Bob Hughes, who said the DHS report was his motivation for coming to the protest. "This is just like what the Nazis did. Stormtroopers. Secret police. It's been done before and it looks like we’re going in that direction again."
Now, it should be noted that the Obama administration was already backing away from the report even before all those April 15 rallies:
The White House has distanced itself from the analysis. When asked for comment on its contents, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said, “The President is focused not on politics but rather taking the steps necessary to protect all Americans from the threat of violence and terrorism regardless of its origins...."But the tea party movement was already on the nation's radar, thanks to lavish funding and the right's noise machine, led by Fox. So the timing can't have helped.
In his 2012 Salon article, Daryl Johnson explained what happened next:
In the face of enormous media and congressional criticism, DHS made the decision to cancel all of its domestic terrorism-related reporting and training for law enforcement. It also instituted a new grueling vetting process, which essentially stopped all work at DHS on this now "politically charged" topic. Within three months after the leak, DHS officials deliberately eviscerated the team of analysts responsible for monitoring domestic terrorist threats and assigned them to different office responsibilities. Subject matter experts left the agency as a result -- leaving a single analyst to perform the massive amount of work needed during a period of heightened domestic terrorist activity throughout the country.Johnson added:
The Tea Party should know that DHS had never targeted its membership or its activities. In fact, I first learned of the Tea Party during the ensuing media backlash against the DHS right-wing extremism report.But nursing a grievance in public was excellent publicity for the tea party, as its funders and publicists knew. So that was that.