Friday, June 12, 2009

Okay, Let's Revisit the DHS Report

Private security guard Steven Johns saw an 88 year old man approaching the entrance of the Holocaust Museum and went to hold the door open for him. As you probably know, the man turned out to be a deranged neo-Nazi killer.

In the wake of Mr. Johns' murder many on the left are saying, "Hmmm, that Department of Homeland Security report doesn't sound so silly now, does it?" Maybe we should revisit its prescient wisdom.

The only things I can say about this have been said before (in some cases by me) but they bear repeating:

The problem with the report was not that it predicted a resurgence of right wing violence. I have been making the same prediction since last October and saying that we should be ready for it if we can. There are people on the far right who feel like they have been strapped to a table and had nasty things done to them. They will do anything to feel important and powerful again. If for some reason they have lost the normal fear of death, this is all too easy to do.

The problem with the report was that it cast its net too widely, targeting all sorts of groups as possible sources of terrorists, including "anti-government" groups, groups that target single issues such as immigration, and returning Afghanistan and Iraq vets. The Holocaust Museum killer was not a member of any of these groups and accordingly the report and the policy it represents would presumably have done absolutely nothing to prevent this horror.

The underlying problem behind that report, it seems to me, is the DHS itself and the sorts of paranoid narratives it tends to enable. The Republican narrative was that the threat to America is Islamofascism. That of the Democrats is that the threat is gun-toting Christian white people. They are both insane and trying to make the rest of us as crazy as they are.

There is no "the" threat. There are threats all around us, and they get much worse in economic hard times. They will get worse before they get better.

These paranoid narratives always seem to misdirect our attention, as the Clinton administration was misdirected on the day of the first World Trade Center bombing. (Remember the serious threat to America posed by David Koresh?) As some have pointed out, there is also something more sinister about these narratives: they can also be used as a club with which you can pound your opponents. If you can brand your opponents and their organizations as possible sources of terrorism, you can thereby disconnect their microphone: that is, make it impossible for others to hear what they are saying as if it were rational speech requiring a thoughtful response.

(Added later: A day after I wrote this, the struggle for control of the Holocaust Museum narrative has begun to look like the O K Corral shootout. A brief consultation with my research assistant, Ms. Google, will reveal Rush Limbaugh arguing that the killer, James von Brunn, was a leftist, and various neocon and pro-central-banking sources arguing, just as absurdly, that he was a Ron Paul supporter with darkly significant libertarian "connections." The explanation for this bizarre behavior is fairly obvious: these people are all either trying to use this narrative to beat up on opponents, or trying to defend against being bashed with it themselves.)

The ultimate source of these narratives I believe is the human Will to Power. The senseless violence around us makes us feel powerless. We would feel a lot better if it were all the work of one section of society, preferably an organization that can be infiltrated, neutralized, and wiped out. Indeed, the very act of telling these stories enhances the feeling of power. It provides dominant imagery that ties things together and makes sense of the senseless. But, like so much that makes us feel powerful, it is mainly a concoction of ignorance, stupidity, and discreditable motives.

Here is a beautiful tribute to Mr. Johns from his son. What a great kid. His dad would have been proud.


kellie said...

I doubt that just because the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on Rightwing Extremism, it meant they now regarded it as "the" threat to the exclusion of Islamist extremism, or animal rights extremism, or whatever.

In saying there's no "the" threat you seem to knock the report for being too narrow, but earlier you write that it casts the net too widely. You're a hard man to please! Should government agencies abandon any attempt at intelligence analysis? On the wide ranging point, I notice that as well as immigration, another category of single issue they point to as a focus for violent extremism is abortion. On that example at least the writers of the report have been provided with grim confirmation.

Lester Hunt said...

The notion that anti-abortion people could commit terrorist acts was hardly prescient, as they have done it before and certainly will do so again. What makes it hard to take it seriously as analysis is that the report lumps these people with those other groups, including people who are just "anti-government."

When I said that the report casts its net too widely, I meant that they were identifying "the" threat here as the entire libertarian/conservative sector of society. That is precisely what people on the left are doing, as we speak, with the Holocaust Museum murder. Take a look at an amazing column -- which hit the internet since I wrote this post -- by Paul Krugman titled "The Big Hate." Or try this: Google the words "Ron Paul James von Brunn." You will get over 20,000 hits, including some seriously creepy stuff.

Craig D said...

"A brief consultation with my research assistant, Ms. Google, will reveal Rush Limbaugh arguing that the killer, James von Brunn, was a leftist..."

Help me out here, Lester. Doesn't the classical Political Spectrum model define Extreme Left = Commies and Extreme Right = Nazis?

I was taken aback when a dear friend of mine started in with the whole "von Brunn is a lefty" spiel.

I mean, there ARE extremes to BOTH sides of the Political Spectrum, no?


AAS Degree in Electrical Technology not Poli-Sci

Lester Hunt said...


You have a point there -- "Nazis are right wing" is indeed true by definition, mainly because the terms "left" and "right" don't really mean anything in terms of ideas, and have to be defined in terms of concrete examples like Communism and Nazism. IMO, that's why what Limbaugh is saying doesn't really make sense.

If you look at Hitler's actual policies, they are an interesting mixture of things that seem left-wing (eg., lavish welfare state and public works) and things that seem right wing (eg., castrating the labor unions and not raising taxes -- except of course on Jews and foreigners).