06.10.09

Right-Wing Terror Returns

Wednesday's shooting at the Holocaust Museum in D.C.—the second attack by a domestic terrorist in two weeks—killed one and left others injured. As details on the suspect, a white supremacist leader, come to light, a controversial government memo on right-wing terror earlier this year deserves another look.

To the nation's horror, a much-maligned Department of Homeland Security memo on right-wing extremism is looking more accurate by the day. With news of a horrific incident of domestic terrorism Wednesday at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the second major attack by a far-right gunman in less than two weeks, the government's warnings may have been dismissed too easily by critics who decried them as a smear against conservatives.

The shooter at the Holocaust Memorial Museum was James W. Von Brunn, an 88-year old neo-Nazi with a passionate hatred for all things Jewish. One security guard killed; another was wounded in the attack, in addition to Von Brunn, who was shot by security guards. Von Brunn's Web site includes a long list of anti-Semitic and xenophobic statements and notes that he served several time in jail after he "was tried in a Washington, D.C. Superior Court; convicted by a Negro jury, Jew/Negro attorneys, and sentenced to prison for 11 years by a Jew judge."

With high-profile attacks allegedly by far-right lunatics occurring within a week of each other, it seems the government's warnings deserve a second look and its critics may owe Homeland Security officials an apology.

The museum attack comes ten days after the assassination of George Tiller, the Kansas physician whose abortion procedures made him a national focus of the pro-life movement. In that case, a longtime antiabortion extremist, Scott Roeder, targeted Tiller in a church, according to officials who charged him with first-degree murder.

The two cases closely mirror hypothetical examples provided by a recent Department of Homeland Security memo, which many right-wing commentators attacked as a deliberate indictment of mainstream conservatives. The memo warned that the election of a black president, combined with hardening economic times, could lead to a repeat of the 1990s, when “white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes, and same-sex marriage" successfully led to new recruits and a surge in violence that culminated in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. The report cited as evidence a deadly attack on three police officers in April by a man claiming to be concerned that the president would take away his weapons and herd people into concentration camps under a Jewish-controlled government, all of which were longtime tropes of right-wing militia groups. That attack is looking disturbingly more like a sign of things to come than an aberration.

At the time of the memo's release, conservative commentator Michelle Malkin (whose Web site's latest post, in a tragic coincidence, features a mashup of Obama's name with a Nazi eagle) described the piece as a "hit job on conservatives" and Newt Gingrich described the memo as "smearing" conservatives and veterans. Although the Homeland Security study was originally begun by the Bush administration, some went so far as to accuse the White House of deliberately concocting the memo in order to delegitimize “Tea Party” protests, which here held to oppose Obama's economic policies.

With high-profile attacks allegedly by far-right lunatics occurring within a week of each other, it seems the government's warnings deserve a second look and its critics may owe Homeland Security officials an apology.

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.