Obama’s Security Chief Ignites Firestorm by Warning of ‘Right-Wing’ Extremism in U.S.
By TEDDY DAVIS and FERDOUS AL-FARUQUE
April 23, 2009
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is facing calls for her ouster from a handful of House Republicans in the wake of a department memo that warned of right-wing political extremism in the United States.
“To me, it looks like the extremists are those running the DHS,” said Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn. “An official document of the DHS lists right-wing extremists as ‘groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,’ and includes those ‘rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority.’ So, apparently, according to Homeland Security Department, the American ideal of federalism is a threat to American ideals.”
Bachmann and Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., joined Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, the No. 6 Republican in the House leadership, on the House floor Wednesday evening to demand that Napolitano either resign or be fired by President Obama.
House Republican leadership aides expect Napolitano to survive calls for her ouster. But at the same time, they are happy to see criticism of Napolitano continue as Obama approaches the 100-day mark of his presidency.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters Thursday morning that he is sure the subject of the former Arizona governor will come up at the White House Thursday afternoon when Obama meets with congressional leaders of both parties.
“I think Secretary Napolitano has an awful lot of explaining to do,” said Boehner. “When you look at this report on right-wing extremism, it includes … about two- thirds of Americans, who, you know, who might go to church, who may have served in the military, who may be involved in community activities.
“It’s bizarre,” he added.
“I and my colleagues are trying to understand who wrote this report, why wasn’t it edited or– I just don’t understand how our government can look at the American people and say, “You’re all potential terrorist threats,'” said Boehner.
UPDATE: Despite Boehner’s initial confidence that Napolitano would come up during Thursday’s meeting with the president, Boehner spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier told ABC News after it concluded that the topic of the “right-wing” extremism report was not broached during a conversation which was “consumed” by other topics
Democrats are privately responding to criticism of Napolitano by pointing out that Republicans overlook that the Department of Homeland Security issued a report earlier this year warning that left-wing extremists are likely to increase the use of cyber attacks over the coming decade.
Napolitano’s defenders also note that the examination of domestic terror threats is a task that the Department of Homeland Security was given by Congress when President Bush was still in office.
The warning about right-wing extremism was contained in an April 7 intelligence assessment warning that the U.S. recession and the election of the nation’s first African-American president could be a powder keg for right-wing extremist groups. The memo also warned that proposed restrictions on firearms could lead some extremist organizations to begin stockpiling weapons and ammunition.
According to Matt Lloyd, a spokesman for Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., the chairman of the House Republican Conference, the portion of the report that fueled the most concern among congressional Republicans referred to military veterans.
The memo cautioned that returning veterans who had trouble readjusting could “lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
While meeting with reporters on Thursday, Napolitano brushed off calls from some House Republicans for her to resign.
“I’ve already acknowledged that the extremist report that came out, well-intentioned as it was, was not well written. It did not pass our own internal processes. It should not have gone out in the form it did,” said Napolitano. “And I’ve already apologized to veterans who were offended by that.”
Napolitano said she will meet with the leadership of the American Legion, the national veterans group, on Friday.
Told that some Republicans think an apology is insufficient, Napolitano said, “I just would say to that: That’s what they’re going to get.”
Grover Norquist, the president of the conservative Americans for Tax Reform group and author of “Leave Us Alone,” responded to the DHS report by saying that Democrats should be worried about a political threat, not a security threat.
“It’s a little bit frightening, and I think the politicians are right to be a little bit scared at how much they’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest,” said Norquist.
ABC News’ Jason Ryan contributed to this report.