The Ever-Expanding Definition of “Extremism”

I am going to quote an article below that, when you read the second to last paragraph, you might believe was prompted by the recent killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki, but as you can see from the date in the title, it was written a little over a year ago. Because of that, I thought it better to start a new post, rather than take the Awlaki thread too far afield, but it is tangentially related in the context of the issues raised, even if not because of any specific relation to Awlaki.

Not surprisingly to me, my concerns/objections to the Awlaki killing were greeted with mixed reviews. I understand the reactions that were/are supportive of the drone attack in Yemen, as it wasn’t all that long ago that I would’ve shared them. A lot has transpired in America since 9/11/01 that has caused me to reevaluate my relationship to my government though. Mostly having to do with an “official” hostility towards conservatism, the government has set about an effective propaganda program intended to create the illusion that words such as, “conservative, rightwing, racist, hate, violent, militia, Tea Party” etc. are synonymous in the minds of easily-led, unthinking drones. This is evidenced by the DHS report entitled, “Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”  which began with the words, with my emphasis added:

The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) has no specific information that domestic rightwing* terrorists are currently planning acts of violence, but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.

They start out by saying there is no basis for this report, while using nothing but bureaucrat-arrived-at conjecture that racism is among “unique drivers” for rightwing terrorism. The asterisk doesn’t ameliorate the conjectural nature of the first paragraph either, as it refers the reader to the following note:

Rightwing extremism in the United States can be broadly divided into those groups, movements, and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religious, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely. It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration.

So, according to this brainless conjecture, a person who believes that the 10th Amendment means what it says, and who supports its verbiage in a vocal, legal manner, may well be a rightwingernutjobracisthatemongerwannabeterrorist. It reads more like a Jeff Foxworthy rendition of “You Might Be A Rightwing Terrorist If….” than any kind of intelligence-gathering effort by a law-abiding law enforcement entity, as does the rest of the “report.”

The “report” cited above was troubling enough on its own, but many conservatives matched their outrage at being so vilified by their own government, with employing their investigative abilities in trying to figure out where the data underlying the “report” came from. Americans For Limited Government was among the most successful in uncovering the sources that DHS used for the “report,” and this is where it gets personal for me.

I have been active on many forums over the years. I have a wide variety of interests, from politics to music to motorcycles to survivalism to guns and knives. One look at my Bookmarks file would immediately verify this fact, as I frequent multiple forums related to all of those interests. On a forum devoted to the shooting sports, collecting knives or learning useful survival techniques, the issues of politics will always overlap to a degree, but it never occurred to me that participating at various sites where 95% or better of my participation had zero to do with politics, would put me on the radar of my government as a potential “extremist.” But it did. Twice. From two different sources who contributed “data” to the above-referenced DHS *conjecture* on rightwing extremism and “recruiting.” Americans For Limited Government gives most of the sources that DHS used, and late last year I was notified by “friends” from a couple of my regular internet haunts that quotes by me, quoted by two different far-left organizations, were included in the “data” that were part of the “basis” for the DHS “report.” Oh, did I forget to mention that the “basis” for tagging pro-gun, pro-life, returning vets and anti-illegal-immigration folk as *potential* terrorists was nothing more than a bunch of DHS hacks and the leftist organizations they enlisted to help them surf the web for extremism? That’s right. Popping off in disgust or anger or even just pining for the good ol’ days in opposition to Obama landed many an otherwise thoughtful, law-abiding Patriot in the underlying “data” of that DHS “report,” myself and several of my internet “friends” included.

So my bumper sticker that I had on my car when I went to Washington D.C. to protest the passage of ObamaCare was not nearly as tongue in cheek as I thought it was, as just one month later the DHS report was leaked to the public. The bumper sticker said simply, “Proud Member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy.” I went alone and carried a small, hand-made sign that said, “I Am The Mob.” I guess the sarcasm would’ve been lost on any DHS “protector” of the republic who might’ve seen that too.

So OK, with that anecdotal example in mind of how one goes about becoming an *official* potential rightwing terrorist without ever having engaged in a single illegal anti-government act or conspired to foment same, and keeping in mind my view of the Awlaki killing and legal questions it raises, here comes the point of this post, an article from a year or so ago that I ran across while surfing one of those websites from which a quote of mine was culled and considered “evidence” of a burgeoning rightwing terrorist threat. It hit home for me.

April 22, 2010
What About the Government?

The Slippery Definition of Extremism


Americans are once again hearing of the perils of extremism. But the definition of this offense is slippier than a politician’s campaign promise. The definition of extremism has continually been amended to permit government policies that few sober people previously advocated.

Prior to 2000, anyone who asserted that the Census Bureau was deeply involved with the roundup of Japanese-Americans for internment camps in 1942 was considered an extremist. The Census Bureau spent 60 years denying its role but finally admitted its culpability ten years ago after academics uncovered undeniable proof. Regardless of the Census Bureau’s past abuses or perennial deceit, only extremists believe that their answers to this year’s census could ever be used against them.

Prior to September 2001, anyone who suggested that the U.S. government lead a crusade to “rid the world of evil”would have been labeled both an extremist and a loon. But when George W. Bush promised exactly that three days after 9/11, the media cheered and his approval ratings soared.

Prior to November 2001, anyone who suggested that the president had the power to suspend the right of habeas corpus and perpetually detain anyone he accused of serious wrongdoing would have been considered an extremist. But Bush’s executive decree on enemy combatants made this the law — or at least the policy — of the land.

Prior to 2002, anyone who suggested that the U.S. government create a Total Information Awareness database of personal information on tens of millions of Americans would have been considered an extremist. But federal spy agencies rushed forward with exactly such plans, and the feds have stockpiled far more data on citizens.

Prior to April 2004, anyone who asserted that the U.S. military was torturing detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan was seen as an anti-American extremist. The leaking of the Abu Ghraib photos and official reports on abuses at Guantanamo and elsewhere proved that the extremists’ worst fear had become national policy. And when Congress effectively ratified Bush’s torture policies in the 2006 Military Commissions Act, “extremists”came to connote people who believed that American democracy had utterly disgraced itself.

Prior to the war on terror, anyone who advocated using tortured confessions in judicial proceedings would have been considered an extremist and perhaps also a medievalist. But the Justice Department and Pentagon effectively claimed a right to use confessions regardless of how they were acquired.

Prior to late 2005, anyone who asserted that the National Security Agency was routinely and massively illegally wiretapping Americans’ phone calls and email without a warrant was considered paranoid — as well as an extremist. Within weeks of the New York Times’ exposing the government’s warrantless surveillance apparatus, Republican congressmen stood and cheered during Bush’s State of the Union address when he boasted of his intrusions.

Prior to recent years, anyone who suggested that Uncle Sam should be able to take naked snapshots of all airline passengers would have been considered a lunatic, as well as an extremist. But the Transportation Security Agency, with its Whole Body X-ray systems, is doing exactly that in many airports around the nation. And the TSA’s promises that such photos will not be stored or abused are as credible as TSA’s earlier promises that no one would be delayed more than 10 minutes waiting in airport checkpoint lines.

Prior to the post-9/11 era, if someone suggested that the federal government should bloat its Terrorist Watch List with more than a million names, the person would have been considered a fool and an extremist. But this is exactly what the feds have done — and that is part of the reason why the watch lists have become almost useless as well as a peril to scores of thousands of innocent Americans.

Prior to this decade, only extremists believed that the president should be permitted to order the assassination of American citizens — with no attempt to arrest or try the suspected wrongdoer. Yet, President Obama recently officially made this the national policy.

Time and again, the U.S. government has adopted policies that only extremists advocated a few years earlier. And yet, no one is supposed to think that the government has become the biggest extremist of them all.

JAMES BOVARD serves as a policy advisor for The Future of Freedom Foundation and is the author of Attention Deficit Democracy, The Bush Betrayal, Terrorism and Tyranny, and other books.

So who here either is now, or has ever been, an extremist? Because no matter what, you either were at some time in the past, or are now, as the shifting and ever-expanding definition of the word purposely gets us all in its clutches just because it is shifting and ever-expanding. If you don’t understand my “slippery slope” arguments in light of this indisputable fact, well, I don’t know what to say. You might when you realize that your name, your family, maybe even your freedom, are all at risk due to nothing more than expressing opposition to the government whose duty and responsibility it is to protect your right to do so.


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