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04.30.09

New DHS Memo Revealed

First, the Department of Homeland Security came under fire for a memo that warned of “right-wing extremists” that that pose a danger to the United States. Now, The Daily Beast publishes a new DHS memo that throws dozens more groups—Mexican separatists, black nationalists, Nordic mystics—under the bus.

The Department of Homeland Security set off a firestorm earlier this month when a memo surfaced that warned of right-wing extremists. The memo, which was issued to law-enforcement officials, suggested that extremists driven to dire straits by the Obama administration could recruit returning veterans to help produce Timothy McVeigh-like terrorism. Now, The Daily Beast has obtained another DHS memo, and this one identifies an even more far-ranging group of “extremists.”

Partisans leapt to decry the first DHS memo as part of a Democratic conspiracy to marginalize right wingers. But it became clear that DHS's broad descriptions of extremists (“mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority”; “may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration”) were symptomatic of an ongoing agency problem that crossed ideological lines. Indeed, earlier memos surfaced that targeted left-wing extremists with the same uncomfortably vague descriptions. For example, one memo warned that anarchist extremists “embrace a number of radical philosophical components of anticapitalist, antiglobalization, communist, socialist, and other movements.”

The Daily Beast obtained an internal memo from the DHS offering definitions for dozens of groups, movements, and terms. If nothing else, the document certainly crosses ideological lines: entries range from Mexican separatists to antiabortion extremists to racial Nordic mysticism.

The new memo obtained by The Daily Beast locates an even wider-ranging group of extremists among us. You could safely say it crosses liberal and conservative lines: Entries range from Mexican separatists to antiabortion extremists to racial Nordic mysticism. (Islamic groups are specifically excluded from this document.)

“Domestic Extremism Lexicon” is dated March 26—shortly before the flap over the right-wing extremism memo broke out. According to a spokesperson for DHS, the memo was recalled “within minutes” of being issued, though the spokesperson declined to offer any details on the reasons for its withdrawal.

Some sample entries:

(U) anti-immigration extremism (U//FOUO)
A movement of groups or individuals who are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration, particularly along the U.S. Southwest border with Mexico, and who have been known to advocate or engage in criminal activity and plot acts of violence and terrorism to advance their extremist goals. They are highly critical of the U.S. government’s response to illegal immigration and oppose government programs that are designed to extend “rights” to illegal aliens, such as issuing driver’s licenses or national identification cards and providing in-state tuition, medical benefits, or public education.

(U) Mexican separatism (U//FOUO)
A movement of groups or individuals of Mexican descent who advocate the secession of southwestern U.S. states (all or part of Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas) to join with Mexico through armed struggle. Members do not recognize the legitimacy of these U.S. states, including the U.S. government’s original acquisition of these territories.

(U) black nationalism (U//FOUO)
A term used by black separatists to promote the unification and separate identity of persons of black or African-American descent and who advocate the establishment of a separate nation within the United States.

(U) black power (U//FOUO)
A term used by black separatists to describe their pride in and the perceived superiority of the black race.

(U) racial Nordic mysticism (U//FOUO)
An ideology adopted by many white supremacist prison gangs who embrace a Norse mythological religion, such as Odinism or Asatru.

(U) skinheads (U//FOUO)
A subculture composed primarily of working-class, white youth who embrace shaved heads for males, substance abuse, and violence. Skinheads can be categorized as racist, antiracist, or “traditional,” which emphasizes group unity based on fashion, music, and lifestyle rather than political ideology. Dress often includes a shaved head or very short hair, jeans, thin suspenders, combat boots or Doc Martens, and a bomber jacket. (also: skins)

The full memo can be viewed here.

While the DHS offered no reason as to why the memo was recalled, the date of the decision coincides with a flap that broke out only days earlier, on March 23. Fox News found that a DHS fusion center, a satellite office used by the department to gather local intelligence on possible terrorist threats, was citing support for third-party candidates like Ron Paul or Bob Barr as a possible criteria for identifying “militia members.” It was the latest skirmish in an ongoing dispute over fusion centers, another of which had warned that Muslim advocacy groups deserved monitoring in order to block a possible conspiracy to implement Sharia law in America.

“This is just one of a series of these reports that have been leaking recently,” Mike German, policy counsel at the ACLU's Washington DC legislative office, told The Daily Beast. “I guess I can understand the interest in making sure there is some common understanding of the terms they're using. The problem with it obviously is the terms and descriptions are so overly broad that many people who are simply advocating for issues they believe in, or don't even advocate but just hold opinions that are described here, would be greatly offended at being called an extremist and having their views being monitored by the government.”

While DHS officials' motives in drafting and recalling the memo are unknown, German seems comfortable taking credit for the memo's recall.

“I would say that they are certainly becoming sensitive to our concerns, which is a good thing,” German said.

Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.