Editor's note: This article was written before the Boston Marathon bombings, and is not intended to be a response to that incident. All commentary in this article is on pre-Boston incidents alone and is not intended to indicate anything concerning the ongoing Boston Marathon investigation.
How much longer is America willing to suffer at the hands of violent fools?
The mind wanders back to 2009. It was roughly four years ago that the Obama administration was blasted by many conservatives for issuing a report that identified right-wing extremism as a potential national security threat.
Pointing out that extreme rightists were already working to attract new recruits “by playing on their fears about several emergent issues” like immigration, gun control and economic policy, the Department of Homeland Security found that post-2008 “the economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing [sic] radicalization and recruitment.” Its final conclusion was that “lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing [sic] extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”
At the time, conservatives were tripping over each other in their eagerness to denounce the new findings. Blogger Michelle Malkin decried the report as “a hit job on conservatives,” despite the fact that it specifically focused on organizations associated solely with the outermost fringe of the right. Newt Gingrich accused it of “smearing veterans,” even though it pointedly specified that its reason for mentioning former military personnel was that extremist groups had successfully lured a “small percentage of military personnel” during the 1990s “to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.” Meanwhile U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra, then the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an investigation of the report's “unsubstantiated conclusions and political bias.”
Forty-eight months later, the so-called “unsubstantiated conclusions and political bias” in that document seem disturbingly prophetic. There was the white supremacist whose rants against an imaginary conspiracy between President Obama and the Jews caused him to open fire in the U.S. Holocaust Museum in June 2009, fatally wounding a security guard in the process. By 2011 a white supremacist who had been planning to bomb a Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade in Washington state was foiled. Around the same time a plan by Georgia militiamen to release biological toxins on government employees in federal buildings was similarly thwarted by the FBI. Then last year a white supremacist managed to murder seven people before killing himself during a mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin. And that's just a short list.
Now — fresh on the heels of a recent Southern Poverty Law Center report that discovered the number of right-wing extremist groups has risen by 813 percent since Obama took office, from 149 in 2008 to 1,360 in 2012 — authorities are examing the connection between members of a white supremacist group and the shooting of a Colorado prisons chief.
Any honest attempt to address this problem must begin by unequivocally acknowledging one of its primary sources — namely, the trend among far too many mainstream conservatives to place their antipathy against this president specifically, and liberalism in general, over larger ethical considerations.
Instead of trying to quell the shrill hysteria that led some right-wingers to make preposterous claims about Obama (ranging from death panels in his health care reform bill to a slippery slope toward authoritarianism in his new gun control measures), these conservatives have tolerated and sometimes directly participated in such rhetorical excesses.
Even worse, instead of preserving the intellectual integrity of their movement's ideas by outspokenly debunking and marginalizing reactionary hatemongering (from the coded racism used by birthers to the McCarthyesque red-baiting of those insisting that Obama is a secret socialist), these conservatives have often remained silent on or humored their ideas.
Hence why Malkin, Gingrich, Hoekstra and other right-wing pundits had no second thoughts about distorting the findings of the Homeland Security report. One could debate whether they were motivated by a hyperpartisan desire to attack Obama at every opportunity, an inability to distinguish between the extreme right-wingers in that report and the bulk of American conservatives, or some combination of those two factors, but in the end it doesn't really matter.
The final result of their polemical bloviating was that our nation failed to take adequate account of what was, and is, a growing domestic terrorism threat. While the repercussions of acquiescence to fringe right-wing demagoguery are usually limited to the quality of our national political debate, on this occasion it has had much graver consequences.
I close with an observation from my personal political hero, two-time Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson: “Those who corrupt the public mind are just as evil as those who steal from the public purse.”