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Rightwing Extremism

On April 7, 2009, the Obama administration did something very good. It released the Department of Homeland Security's Report on Rightwing Extremism. The report is a fine piece of analysis -- intelligent, clearly presented, fact-based, and, unfortunately, right on target.

Among its Key Findings, the report states that the possibility of firearms restrictions might cause lone wolf extremists to be moved to acts of violence. Three days before the release of the report, Richard Poplawski was arrested for shooting three policemen in Pittsburgh, PA. According to The Pittsbugh Post-Gazette, Mr. Poplawski was a poster on a white supremacist web site, and his best friend stated that Mr. Poplawski "feared the gun ban."

For the record, there is no gun ban in the works. That idea was stirred up before the November 2008 election by the NRA on a web site called GunBaNObama, which can still be accessed. But, as anyone can see on FactCheck.org, a mass email claiming that Americans will soon need a federal license to own a gun is not true. Neither is a mass email claiming that President Obama is going to ban all semi-automatic guns. Yet, people are dead, perhaps in part because of these emails and the web sites that post the same baseless claims.

The report data, including the fact that domestic extremists find information and like-minded believers on the Internet, has continued to be proven true by other disturbing, violent events. On May 31, 2009, Scott Roeder, another lone wolf extremist, was arrested for the murder of Dr. George Tiller, a man who performed late-term abortions. Mr. Roeder was a poster on the web site of Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group, and it can be argued that the group's relentless demonization and stalking of abortion doctors contributed to his determination to kill Dr. Tiller.

The report got it right again on June 10, 2009, when James von Brunn was arrested for shooting and killing a security guard at The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Mr. von Brunn was a poster on a white supremacist web site. He is a "birther" -- one of the newest groups of rightwing extremists, who believe that President Obama is not an American citizen. He is, once again, exactly the type of person the report described as a possible threat.

So, congratulations to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and her crew for their prescient reporting. They have a tough job ahead of them since, as the report states, white supremacist lone wolves often act without warning.

It is sad that the biggest reaction to this report was a rightwing attack claiming it insulted veterans. The report does no such thing; it does not state that veterans will seek out rightwing extremist groups. It states that those groups will seek to recruit veterans. And it does not say that veterans will succumb to the groups' overtures. Janet Napolitano, however, succumbed to pressure and apologized for the report. Instead, she should have taken a bow for a job well done.

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