Napolitano Comments on 'Right Wing Extremist' Report
Updated 4:51 p.m. ET
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded today to widespread criticism of a leaked domestic intelligence report that warns local law enforcement agencies to be on guard for right-wing extremist groups seeking new recruits amid the nation's economic troubles.
“Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States,” Napolitano said in a written statement issued by DHS. "We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.”
The department's Office of Intelligence and Analysis distributed the report to state and local law enforcement on April 7. It regularly publishes intelligence analyses on domestic and international threats to the nation’s borders and infrastructure.
The report earned the furor of Republican lawmakers, conservatives and veterans groups because while it does not cite any specific threats, it states among other things that: “The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks.”
“To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable,” House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. “The Department of Homeland Security owes our veterans an apology.”
American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein sent a letter to Napolitano, calling the report incomplete and politically biased. The secretary plans to meet with Rehbein next week when she returns from a series of trips, according to her statement.
Aides said privately that the secretary regrets that critics have construed the report's language to suggest that the department perceives a threat from veterans, noting that the department's various agencies employ thousands of military veterans and that some of Napolitano’s deputies once served in uniform.
“We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not -- nor will we ever -- monitor ideology or political beliefs,” Napolitano said. “We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.”
The intelligence report had been in the works for more than a year, according to DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban.
"It has an unfortunate title to it and that's why it's catching attention," she said.
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
The primary mission of this department is to prevent terrorist attacks on our nation. The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States. I was briefed on the general topic, which is one that struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution.
Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence.
We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not – nor will we ever – monitor ideology or political beliefs. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.
I am aware of the letter from American Legion National Commander Rehbein, and my staff has already contacted him to set up a meeting next week once I return from travel. I will tell him face-to-face that we honor veterans at DHS and employ thousands across the department, up to and including the Deputy Secretary.
As the department responsible for protecting the homeland, DHS will continue to work with its state and local partners to prevent and protect against the potential threat to the United States associated with any rise in violent extremist activity.
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