Several years back, when Trump began calling out his support of white supremacist groups, trying to tell anyone who’d listen that there were very fine people among the neo-Nazis, and the Republican Party began moving towards enabling violence and xenophobia and fascism, I kept remembering a news story from many years back that I want to bring back, but I couldn’t track it down for the specifics.
I know that some people remember the story, although like me at this point, only the most-surface details. And some will have likely forgotten it -- until being reminded in an "Oh, yeahhh..." moment. And many (probably most) have no recollection of it. And it's a story that very much bears remembers, because it carries great substance with it today.
The problem with finding the story online was that the words to search for had all become far too common and generic. “White supremacist.” “Terrorist groups.” "Extremist." “Right-wing.” “Government report.” “Republicans outraged.” And since I didn't recall exactly when it was written, I couldn't search for who was head of the department that released it. Any search brought up a tsunami of results, all on a vast range of topics.
The story I was trying to find was of a government study made about 10 years ago which said that the biggest threat to the United States in terrorism was from far-right, white supremacist groups here in the United States. And when the report got released, Republicans began squealing like stuck pigs, howling in whiney angst that this was so unfair and wrong and mean and political and nasty and blah blah fill-in-the-blank horrified that they demanded (demanded!!!) the report be retracted. Never mind that it was based on detailed research. But the howls were so loud and…well, faux-outraged that, in fact, the scholarly report was ultimately retracted.
And since then…yes, white supremacist terrorist groups like the Proud Boys, Boogaloo Bois, neo-Nazis and more began growing with Republican support, leading to the point of having Trump in a presidential debate actually telling them to infamously “Stand back and stand by,” which brought us to the January 6 insurrection and then last week having 11 members of the Oath Keepers (including their leader) arrested on charges of seditious conspiracy.
So, I've wanted to write about it for many years, but those search terms just led me nowhere. And any article without the details would have been empty.
And then, a few months back, the skies opened, and – on yet another of my attempted searches, not only did I come across information that filled in the blanks, but…even better, found a scathing op-ed in the Washington Post written by the actual author of that government report, Darryl Johnson, about his experience with that event and the whining cries from Republicans.
And to be clear, Darryl Johnson wasn’t some ivory tower academic sitting behind ivory-covered walls of an elite university, musing random thoughts in his tweed jacket while smoking a briarwood pipe. (Not that any of that would have invalidated his research, mind you.). Rather, at the time, he was the senior analyst for domestic terrorism at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Ever since finding the op-ed, I've been trying to find the place to write about this piece, but the election -- and oddly, the insurrection and its aftermath -- kept getting in the way. But finally, enough is enough. It's not only as timely as when I found the op-ed, but as much when he wrote his report 13 years ago.
The title of his op-ed explained everything succinctly. “I warned of right-wing violence in 2009. Republicans objected. I was right.” And the sub-title put the cherry on top – “White nationalists have only gotten more dangerous since then.”
And here’s the thing. Putting aside that the report was written in 2009, Mr. Johnson’s op-ed noting that the threat had gotten even worse than when he wrote his original government advisory was not written after the insurrection, or in the last months of the Trump administration as the red flags grew more pronounced in the divisive anger of the election, Or during the pandemic when the edges of the nation’s psyche were frayed. Or after the crazy anonymous conspiracy theories of QAnon began to proliferate and drive wedges. No – it was written in 2017! During Trump’s second year in office.
What’s fascinating about Mr. Johnson’s op-ed is not just his recounting of the surface facts that I remembered, but the details underneath. Like that his paper was not even meant for public consumption, but was an intelligence report only for law enforcement. However, conservative media got a hold of it and leaked the material. Which allowed Republicans in Congress to squeal about it.
And worse, that conservative Republican reaction didn’t just get the report retracted, but it had long term effects we are feeling today – since work in the Department of Homeland Security investigating extremist groups was stopped. And the division was shut down. And more.
Johnson begins his article –
“Eight years ago, I warned of a singular threat — the resurgence of right-wing extremist activity and associated violence in the United States as a result of the 2008 presidential election, the financial crisis and the stock market crash. My intelligence report, meant only for law enforcement, was leaked by conservative media.
“A political backlash ensued because of an objection to the label ‘right-wing extremism.’ The report also rightly pointed out that returning military veterans may be targeted for recruitment by extremists. Republican lawmakers demanded then-Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano rescind my report. The American Legion formally requested an apology to veterans. Some in Congress called for me to be fired. Amid the turmoil, my warning went unheeded by Republicans and Democrats. Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security caved to the political pressure: Work related to violent right-wing extremism was halted. Law enforcement training also stopped. My unit was disbanded. And, one-by-one, my team of analysts left for other employment. By 2010, there were no intelligence analysts at DHS working domestic terrorism threats.”
And the op-ed goes on even more from there. It’s pointed, detailed, authoritative and very angry. And – as he notes in sub-title – right. Right in the most minute specifics. Just for starters there’s that “returning military veterans may be targeted for recruitment by extremists.” Written in 2009.
This isn’t just the report I’d been trying to find for many years, this is the full story laid out exquisitely by its creator.
And it makes clear that, no, this isn’t about Trump – he only walked through the open door that was there and took advantage of it – it’s about the officials of the Republican Party who enabled it all and supported it, in ways even more explicit that most people presume.
You can read the full op-ed here. It’s well-worth it.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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