While many were shocked by the massacre at the Sikh temple, our guest, Daryl Johnson, had warned years ago that such an attack was imminent. While working as a senior analyst in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2009, Johnson authored a report warning about the increasing dangers of violent right-wing extremism in the United States, sparking a political firestorm in the process. Under pressure from Republican lawmakers and popular talk show hosts, DHS ultimately repudiated Johnson’s paper. Johnson drew his conclusion on his 15 years of experience studying domestic terrorist groups — particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis. "Leading up to this report ... we received numerous accolades from law enforcement, intelligence officials, talking about the great work we were doing in the fight against domestic terrorism," Johnson says. "And then, in lieu of the political backlash, the department decided to not only stop all of our work, stop all of the training and briefings that we were scheduled to give, but they also disbanded the unit, reassigned us to other areas within the office, and then made life increasingly difficult for us." Johnson, now the owner of a private consultancy firm, has authored a new book, "Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is Being Ignored." [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: While many people were shocked by Sunday’s massacre at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, our next guest warned years ago about the resurgence of right-wing violence. Daryl Johnson, former analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, called attention to the threat of far-right extremist groups back in 2009 and sparked a political firestorm in the process. He was the principal author of a report called "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment."
The report noted the election of the first African-American president, combined with the recession-era economic anxieties, could fuel a rise in far-right violence. It went on to say, "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities." Johnson drew his conclusion on his 15 years of experience studying domestic terrorist groups—particularly white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
The report set off a maelstrom of discontent among conservatives. The media watch group, Media Matters, produced a video featuring the numerous TV personalities who slammed the report, including CNN’s Lou Dobbs, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Fox News national political commentator Andrea Tantaros and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin. This is a clip.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: A new report from Homeland Security suggests the bad economy may drive people to right-wing extremist groups.
PETE WILLIAMS: Right-wing extremist groups, neo-Nazis, skinheads, the National Alliance, racist groups, anti-Semitic groups.
DAVID ASMAN: Gathering information on right-wing extremist activity in the United States. Does that mean they’re going to be spending—sending spies to these tea parties?
JAMES DOBSON: There are no Timothy McVeighs out there right now.
ANDREA TANTAROS: If they’re going to issue these reports for this made-up threat.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: Portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than al-Qaeda terrorists.
BRIAN SULLIVAN: Naming veterans’ groups as possible extremist groups.
AMY GOODMAN: Under intense pressure from the talk show hosts and from Republican lawmakers, the Department of Homeland Security ultimately repudiated Daryl Johnson’s paper, and in June 2009 the Washington Post reported the DHS cut the number of personnel studying domestic terrorism unrelated to Islam and canceled numerous state and local law enforcement briefings. The DHS reportedly also held up dissemination of nearly a dozen reports on extremist groups.
For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Daryl Johnson, the former Department of Homeland Security senior analyst, who has written the book, Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is Being Ignored — it will be published next month—now owns and founded DT Analytics, a privacy consultancy firm.
Daryl Johnson, welcome to Democracy Now! So, tell us what happened, what you were finding, what this report was, and what happened to it.
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, thank you, Amy, for having me on your show.
Basically, the genesis of the report started as early as January of 2007, when I received a phone call from the U.S. Capitol Police saying that a young senator from Illinois, who’s African American, was considering running for president. And they basically wanted to know if we had seen any extremist chatter that was threatening in nature towards Barack Obama. So we did a quick search of the internet sites. We did not find any threats. And so, we pretty much closed that request out. But in the ensuing months, I sat down with my analysts, and we postulated: what if an African-American senator got elected to be president? What would that do to extremism here in the United States? And so, we basically put this question out, we brainstormed it and came to the conclusion that it would be a recruitment boom for these groups. And coupled with the ailing economy that we were experiencing, a lot of people on unemployment would basically be ripe for recruitment by these types of groups.
AMY GOODMAN: And you were working in the Department of Homeland Security at the time under President Bush, is that right?
DARYL JOHNSON: Yes, I arrived there in August of 2004.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you write up this report. And talk about what—what your key findings were and then the response to it.
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, basically, we put together, over a period of over a year, collected a massive amount of data that actually filled an entire box of open source information we had gathered off the internet, law enforcement information, FBI information that had come in, and we started drafting a report. And right around the time Janet Napolitano was sworn as the new secretary of Homeland Security, we started receiving questions from Secretary Napolitano, and she wanted to know what was an extremist, what are they doing, what groups were out there that we were concerned about. And we answered those questions, and then she came back with more questions. She wanted to know if we were seeing a rise in right-wing extremism and whether it was a result of the election of an African-American president and what we’re going to do about it. And so, basically, through this questioning period we decided that not only was the paper that was originally designed to be sent to law enforcement, could also serve as an answer to the secretary’s questions.
AMY GOODMAN: And what were the critical findings?
DARYL JOHNSON: Basically that we were seeing a resurgence. We had experienced, very early on—right after the election, we saw arson activity at black churches. We had a bombing out in the Pacific Northwest, where some police officers were killed that were carried out by anti-government extremists. We had a neo-Nazi up in Massachusetts that went on a shooting spree. And we saw a lot of extremist chatter talking about how they were fearful of an African-American president and possible gun confiscations and gun bans, and the immigration issue was still being unresolved. So all these things kind of came together into the perfect storm, which we saw very clearly and put out in the report what our findings were.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did you find about white supremacy in the military?
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, it’s interesting that you ask that question. I actually was a counterterrorism analyst in the U.S. Army from 1991 to 1999, so I was in working for the Army as a counterterrorism analyst at the time that this gentleman up in Wisconsin was enlisted. I actually have an entire chapter devoted in my book on my observations on extremism activity in the military. But just basically, briefly, the one thing that I found, that this is a very small percentage, but since we have such a large military, that small percentage could actually equal hundreds, if not a few thousand, people. And it only takes one person like Timothy McVeigh, with the skills that he learned in the military and the mindset and training he received, to carry out a massive bombing or to kill people.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain, for people who don’t remember—I mean, I’m sure everyone knows the reference to April 19, 1995, and the bombing of the Oklahoma City building that killed more than 168 people and critically wounded and wounded hundreds of others—what McVeigh’s ties were to white supremacy, having also just come out of the military.
DARYL JOHNSON: I don’t know if Timothy McVeigh necessarily had white supremacist beliefs, but he definitely had anti-government beliefs. And what I think the FBI’s investigation determined was that he affiliated with the militia extremists up in Michigan and other places. He went around the country talking to these individuals. But he was never a full-fledged member, never joined a militia extremist group and never really participated in their paramilitary training activities. But he subscribed to their belief system.
AMY GOODMAN: Back in 2009, a handful of Republicans in the House called for Janet Napolitano to step down as head of the Department of Homeland Security in the wake of your memo that warned of right-wing political extremism in the United States. House Minority Leader John Boehner said the report focuses on, quote, "about two-thirds of Americans who might go to church, who may have served in the military, who may be involved in community activities... I just don’t understand how our government can look at the American people and say, ’You’re all potential terrorist threats.’" Those were Boehner’s comments. Daryl Johnson, your response?
DARYL JOHNSON: That is a gross misrepresentation of what was said in the report. Basically, I think what Boehner is alluding to is a very broad, vague definition that was in the footnote of one of the pages. And basically, the definition was written very broadly so it could encompass the wide range of extremist groups we were talking about, which were primarily the white supremacist movement, which has neo-Nazi groups, Ku Klux Klan groups, Christian Identity groups, which is a racist religion that thinks whites are the true Israelites. We have skinhead groups. We have other types of white supremacists. It also was alluding to sovereign citizens, those that reject federal and state authority in favor of local authority. It was also talking about the militia extremists. So, basically, some of the conservative radio talk show hosts took this definition out of context and without the scope of talking about violent extremism and terrorism, which was said—stated upfront in the footnote, or in the scope note, and took this definition out of context and applied it to a broad range of people. And I think it was just done deliberately as a political maneuver to, you know, use against the new administration.
AMY GOODMAN: How did your report get picked up? How did it get disseminated in the media? What was the trajectory it took?
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, basically, an anonymous person sent the report out—obviously they didn’t agree with its findings—and sent it out to Roger Hedgecock out in Southern California, who’s kind of a conservative radio shock jock who really banters the immigration issue a lot. And he is credited with disclosing publicly this report, which was not meant for public distribution.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, what happened to you, Daryl Johnson, and your unit within the Department of Homeland Security that was looking at domestic terror threats, and particularly at white supremacy and neo-Nazi groups?
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, what happened was quite shocking, actually. I never anticipated that, you know, the Department of Homeland Security, my employer, would actually clamp down on the unit and stop all of the valuable work we were doing. Leading up to this report—and I’ll talk about this at length in my book—my team was doing a lot of good things throughout the country. We received numerous accolades from law enforcement, intelligence officials, talking about the great work we were doing in the fight against domestic terrorism. And then, in lieu of the political backlash, the department decided to not only stop all of our work, stop all of the training and briefings that we were scheduled to give, but they also disbanded the unit, reassigned us to other areas within the office, and then made life increasingly difficult for us. Not only did they stop the work that we were doing, but they also tried to blame us for some of the attacks that were occurring.
AMY GOODMAN: And so, you lost your job.
DARYL JOHNSON: Well, I didn’t lose my job. They just made it a very difficult environment for me to continue working there, so I, on my own recognizance, sought employment elsewhere and started my own consulting company.
AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a quick piece from Wired, which says, "[S]ince Johnson released his ill-fated report, the Wichita, Kansas, abortion doctor George Tiller was assassinated; a security guard was killed when a gunman with neo-Nazi ties went on a shooting spree at the U.S. Holocaust Museum; the FBI arrested members of a Florida neo-Nazi outfit tied to drug dealing and motorcycle gangs; a man was charged with attempting to detonate a weapon of mass destruction at a Spokane, Washington march commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday; and several mosques around the country have been vandalized or attacked — including a Missouri mosque that burned to the ground on Monday, which had been attacked before." Were you surprised by the attack on the Sikh temple and all that has taken place since?
DARYL JOHNSON: Unfortunately, Amy, I was not shocked. In fact, I was sitting in my living room with my wife, and immediately, when I saw the news coverage, I turned to her and said that this was likely a hate-motivated crime against Sikhs perpetrated by a white supremacist who may have had military background.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s interesting also that President Obama spoke yesterday in Denver with Sandra Fluke, who introduced him, the Georgetown University law student who was speaking out for contraception and was targeted by Rush Limbaugh and others, and was talking about women’s health and women’s rights in this country. The neo-Nazi movement, along with the anti-choice movement, do you see links? I’m talking about the extremist wing.
DARYL JOHNSON: There’s definitely links between white supremacists and the anti-abortion issue. That is one of the causes that they rally around and use as a recruitment tool to bring people into the movement. I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s strictly neo-Nazi. It could be also the Christian Identity movement, it could be skinheads, it could the Ku Klux Klan.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Daryl Johnson, for your work and for joining us today, former Department of Homeland Security senior analyst. His book, Right Wing Resurgence: How a Domestic Terrorist Threat Is Being Ignored, will be published next month. He is owner and founder of DT Analytics, a private consultancy.