Authorities this year have arrested neo-Nazis who allegedly planted a bomb along the route of a Martin Luther King parade in Spokane, Wash.; arrested six members of an Alaska militia who allegedly plotted to kill state troopers; arrested a Wisconsin man for planning to kill Planned Parenthood workers; and on May 29 arrested a Florida man who claimed to be part of the burgeoning “sovereign citizen movement” after he sprayed a market with AK-47 fire.
A spokesman for DHS, Adam Fetcher, declined to say if the department agrees that the threat of domestically inspired terrorism is increasing or how many analysts are presently assigned to the issue, calling that a sensitive intelligence matter. But he said the evolving risk of group or individual violence is “reflected in our briefings and products over the past year.”
A senior department official provided by Fetcher, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence practices, confirmed that “the number of analysts on a daily basis has decreased somewhat, compared to what it was two years ago.” But the official disputed claims by several current and former DHS officials that only two analysts — including one who is a contract employee — now study the issue full-time.
DHS’s caution or avoidance, as its critics claim, may partly stem from worries that aggressive intelligence operations could be seen as civil liberties violations. A DHS official explained that “unlike international terrorism, there are no designated domestic terrorist groups. Subsequently, all the legal actions of an identified extremist group leading up to an act of violence are constitutionally protected and not reported on by DHS.”
The official added that the FBI — not DHS — is “the primary lead for the federal government” on domestic terrorism. But Johnson, the former DHS analyst, said that if the FBI is the only agency to disseminate detailed reports on domestic extremist groups, “you’ve lost a separate set of eyes that could be looking at this before it develops into a criminal matter.”
When the DHS report on “rightwing extremism” was leaked, Napolitano — who Johnson and other officials say had requested the report and heard a briefing in advance on its conclusions — initially defended it, saying “we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown.”
But after 20 conservative groups sponsored ads calling for Napolitano’s ouster, she said it was disseminated without regular review, and apologized to the American Legion for its warning that veterans could be targeted by militias for recruitment.
The DHS civil rights office subsequently was granted veto rights over all DHS reports on domestic terrorists, Johnson said.
Johnson and others said intelligence reports on the resurgence of militia groups in Michigan and Kentucky are among those being withheld by the agency, which he said was “screening for politically sensitive phrases or topics that might be objectionable to certain groups.”
Multiple briefings for state and local officials on extremist groups such as the sovereign citizens movement — composed of those who reject American legal supremacy — were also blocked, according to internal DHS messages.
David Hawtin, who retired last month as a domestic terrorism analyst at the Tennessee Fusion Center, said “the pendulum has swung to a point where we are missing nodes of connection because there is no obvious crime on the front end.”