Why Domestic Extremists Matter

If you haven’t noticed, a lot of internet users with nothing better to do have their undies in a twist over a couple of recently-leaked government documents which have the audacity to suggest that far-right extremist hate groups are a potential security threat, and/or that the membership in these hate groups by military veterans might be cause for concern. Some people are getting really quite hysterical about the whole deal, claiming some kind of illegal, unconstitutional conspiracy by the administration of that socialist Kenyan usurper guy in Washington. “Veterans are a security threat, now?” they cry, incredulous.

Yes, no, maybe so. The problem here is that few of these bleating sheep really understand what domestic extremism is, or why it’s important, or how it works. A lot of the time, this is because they are unwilling to admit that they really are an extremist, and this is true for people on both sides of the political spectrum. Either way, it works like this…

Ultra-conservatives aren’t a security threat. Neither are far-left radicals. Politics plays almost no role where threat assessment of domestic extremists is concerned. Nobody really cares all that much about, say, anarchists, or white supremacists in and of themselves, okay? I know that seems counter-intuitive, but it’s basically true.

Domestic extremists of concern to law enforcement come in basically two flavours – “lone wolves”, and fairly small, close-knit groups. It is for all practical purposes almost impossible to detect or identify dangerous lone-wolf individuals with any degree of success. It’s not that nobody’s trying, but the nature of the threat makes it very, very difficult to do anything about. That means that law enforcement, just by the nature of things, has the best odds of successfully detecting threats from groups, so that’s where they devote most of their efforts. With me so far?

Now, dangerous extremist groups – and we’re not talking “Food Not Bombs” or “College Republicans” here, but the Earth Liberation Front, or violent Neo-Nazi groups, or even groups like outlaw motorcycle gangs – do not exist in a vacuum, but rely on – require – what is basically a “support structure” of less-radical groups and individuals. I know it’s glaringly obvious, but a lot of people don’t seem to get this. This is why law enforcement cares about fringe groups – because they are a necessary precursor for criminal groups. The same is true of certain other environmental factors – you can’t have hate crimes where there’s nobody “different” to hate. (This is why, for example, the Virginia threat assessment that’s circulating on the web mentions things like “growing multiculturalism” – the Klan can’t burn crosses on black folks’ lawns if there aren’t any black folk to be found, any more than anti-Semites can deface synagogues if there aren’t any synagogues around.)

It’s easy to overreact and think that there’s a cause-and-effect relationship – that liberal activists automagically lead to eco-terrorists, or that ultraconservatives automagically lead to violent anti-government terrorism – but it’s not true. A prerequisite is not the same as a cause.

Where you do have extremist groups, you have to assess their ability to carry out criminal acts. For simplicity’s sake, let’s think of this in terms of four factors – means, opportunity, willingness, and motive. For most extremist groups, motive is fairly simple – hatred for n, where n is anything from the government to black people to Christianity to biomedical firms to multinational corporations to… you get the idea. Motive is rarely an issue. Nor – generally – is opportunity – unless you’re looking at a group plotting a very, very specific threat, opportunity probably isn’t a doubt.

That leaves “means” and “willingness”, and this is where a lot of law-enforcement attention is directed. So, you want to blow up something, or assassinate someone, or construct a dirty bomb, or poison a city’s water supply? Do you have access to explosives, a scoped rifle, radiological material, poisons or toxins? Do you have experience working with explosives, or training as a sniper? Do you have a background in chemistry? Do you have the money and connections to find people who do? Do you, in fact, know what the hell you’re trying to do? And, just as importantly, are you really willing, when push comes to shove, to put your money where your mouth is?

A lot of times, the answer to all of these questions is “no”. A bunch of stoned college kids with no money and no useful skills bitching about how great the world would be if someone built a truck bomb and wiped, say, Monsanto, off the face of the earth probably aren’t a really big threat – motive, maybe, but questionable opportunity, doubtful willingness, and no real means. A bunch of far-right militia types who want to kill all the blacks and Jews probably have the means, opportunity, and motive to conduct the odd mass murder or two – but are they all talk? Probably, but if they’re not, they’ll probably work their way up to a full-scale massacre by testing the waters – and their resolve – with some less violent hate crimes.

As a general rule, the radical left aren’t really big on guns, or even – let’s be honest – well-organized and -orchestrated group actions. The radical right, on the other hand, love guns like they’re going out of style, and are absolutely enamored of military and paramilitary tactics. This is where the concern about extremist veterans comes in – every veteran of Iraq or Afghanistan who joins a militia or a hate group is giving them the benefit of his or her state-of-the-art training, by Uncle Sam, in modern, urban, asymmetric, small-unit dismounted infantry tactics. The things we train our soldiers to do, we train them to do very, very well – and it’s absurd to suppose they immediately forget that training when they out-process. If you can’t see why the presence of highly-trained snipers, or people with explosives and demolition experience, or people “merely” skilled at close-quarters urban combat in domestic extremist groups is a very real cause of concern for law enforcement, you are without doubt or exception an absolute and complete idiot.

Oh, and newsflash, kids – it’s not just ex-military folks who are a concern to law enforcement – ex-law enforcement personnel are an issue, as well. Potentially violent hatemongers, with intimate first-hand knowledge of law enforcement tactics and standard operating procedures, trained in fun things like tactical entry, combat marksmanship, and pursuit or evasive driving… sure can’t imagine how that could go wrong, can you?

On September 10th, 2001, domestic extremists as a whole, regardless of political leaning, were considered the most serious threat to national security in this country. For the next roughly six years, these largely white extremists flourished while the country went on an obsessive witch-hunt for scary (i.e. any and all) brown people. In the last couple of years, we’ve – belatedly – remembered that there are, in fact, white and even a few black people who still pose one hell of a potential threat to safety and security. None of this is – or should be – news to anyone, but the scary-brown-dudes obsession of recent years means that apparently it is. If that makes you uncomfortable, or doesn’t fit in with your delicate little ignorant prejudices, tough. Learn to live with it, because it’s like that, and that’s the way it is.

Published in: General, History, Security | on April 16th, 2009| 2 Comments »

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

2 Comments

  1. On 4/17/2009 at 6:37 am Calculator Ftvb Said:

    I very much agree that thinking that only “scary-brown-dudes” are extremists. Extremists can come in all shapes and sizes (even women! imagine that…). This is something which the world needs to realize. The United States of America is essentially becoming that which it claims to be fighting, by being prejudiced towards all Islamic citizens and tourists.

  2. On 12/17/2009 at 2:03 pm Calculator Ftvb Said:

    Correction — unfinished sentence:

    I very much agree that thinking that only “scary-brown-dudes? are extremists is a misguided concept.