As its ineffable summit meeting on Countering Violent Extremism drew to a close, the Obama administration shopped around its latest version of a Homeland Security intelligence assessment that identifies “right-wing extremism” as a terrorism threat equal to, or perhaps greater than, the threat from Islamic extremism.
The intelligence assessment has not been made available to the public, but CNN was able to review it. If the CNN story is anything to go by, there’s not much to it. The assessment fingers adherents of a “sovereign citizen” ideology as the extremists to watch. But it is by no means clear that the perpetrators of the 24 incidents of “sovereign citizen terrorism” since 2010 had much in common, ideologically or in other ways.
The assessment apparently lists the 2013 shooting at LAX, for example, in which a TSA employee was killed, as an instance of sovereign citizen terrorism, along with the shooters at CiCi’s Pizza and Wal-Mart in Las Vegas in 2014. The connection of these attacks to the sovereign citizen ideology is tenuous to non-existent, something one need not espouse sovereign-citizen beliefs to recognize.
(The Miller couple who conducted the Las Vegas attacks were “Occupy” protesters, in fact. Neither they nor Paul Ciancia, the LAX shooter, were linked to a “right-wing” group or movement; indeed, the evidence about Ciancia is so thin that no matter how far you dig, you come up with nothing more than the letter he left in a duffel bag, and a handful of emails to his family, expressing suicidal thoughts and anger at TSA and “government,” in the days just before he launched his attack at the airport.)
The unconvincing CNN story about the new DHS assessment is a good indication that DHS has to link circumstances that aren’t legitimately connected in order to manufacture the theory of a systematic, “right-wing extremist” terror threat. If there is better evidence, then put it out there. What CNN gives us is far less than compelling.
Blue lives matter
We are invited, however, to take the threat seriously because it is manifested mainly in danger to law enforcement. This is interesting, of course; suddenly, blue lives matter. CNN quotes the report:
Among the findings from the Homeland Security intelligence assessment: “(Sovereign citizen) violence during 2015 will occur most frequently during routine law enforcement encounters at a suspect’s home, during enforcement stops and at government offices.”
The report adds that “law enforcement officers will remain the primary target of (sovereign citizen) violence over the next year due to their role in physically enforcing laws and regulations.”
This aspect of the matter does two things. One, it shows that this is a really unusual form of terrorism (not to mention that it’s one more reason the LAX shooting and the Las Vegas attacks are not good examples).
The other is that it puts this “right-wing extremist terrorism” in a larger context that completely swamps it as “terrorism.” It’s not terrorism we’re talking about here; it’s a generic hazard of law enforcement.
The DHS intel assessment cites 24 “sovereign citizen” incidents from 2010 to 2014, almost all of which go unidentified in the CNN story. Let’s say that 22 of them – all of them except the LAX and Las Vegas shooting attacks – fit the profile outlined in the DHS report: attacks on law enforcement during traffic stops, or encounters at suspects’ homes or work places.
Statistically, “right-wing terrorism” is all but meaningless
Any idea how many assaults there were on law enforcement officers on just such occasions, in 2013 alone? That number, according to the FBI, would be 49,851. Of those, 29% resulted in injuries.
Indeed, 27 law enforcement officers were killed in felonious acts in 2013. That figure is probably pretty close to the death toll from the 24 “terror” incidents, over five years, claimed by the DHS assessment. (In fact, it probably exceeds the “terror” death toll.) And it turns out that the 27 officers killed in felonious acts in 2013 represented a big decrease from 2012, when 49 were killed in felonious acts.
Virtually all of the assaults on law enforcement officers in 2013 were presumably linked to one or more of: narcotics trafficking, gang activity, other felonious activity (e.g., burglary, home invasion, assault, etc.), substance abuse, or domestic violence. None of these has any correlation with sovereign-citizen ideology.
CNN cites a study that asked American law enforcement officials (LEOs) how likely it was that they would face terrorism from Islamic extremists, versus terrorism from sovereign-citizen groups or domestic militias.
According to a recent study conducted by the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism (START), which surveyed 364 officials from 175 law enforcement agencies, America’s top perceived terrorist threat is an ideological subculture of extreme opposition to the government known as the sovereign citizens movement. The START survey found that 86 percent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that sovereign citizens present a serious terrorist threat, compared to 67 percent that said so of Islamic extremists.
It’s worth noting that the LEO respondents weren’t actually asked to rank the threats. But now ask yourself what they’d say if they were asked to rank “sovereign citizens,” as a threat to law enforcement personnel, against the general criminal, violent, or addicted public. Which threat are LEOs more likely to encounter? From which are they far, far more likely to suffer injury or death?
The answer is absurdly obvious. The sovereign-citizen threat is like the threat to cops from ordinary criminals, except that it’s much less prevalent. The Islamic terror threat is sui generis, not to mention far more reliably identifiable, and is much more likely to affect everyone.
I suppose the Obama administration will keep trying anyway.