ON APRIL 7th 2009 a unit of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charged with monitoring domestic, non-Islamic terrorism released a paper warning that the economic downturn and the election of the first black president “present unique drivers for right-wing radicalisation and recruitment.” Other causes included fears over illegal immigration and the possibility of more restrictive gun laws, and the challenges faced by returning military veterans. It compared the economic and political climate of 2009 to that of the early 1990s, “when right-wing extremism experienced a resurgence fuelled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs and the perceived threat to U.S. power”; that period culminated in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, a disgruntled veteran who found a home in America’s right-wing fringe movements.
The report, released just as the “tea-party” movement was heating up, came under withering criticism from the right. Commentators complained that it unfairly placed conservatives under suspicion. John Boehner, the House Speaker, said it cast veterans as “potential terrorists”. Daryl Johnson, who headed the unit responsible for that report, said that DHS promptly caved in to the pressure. Within months his unit, which had six-full time analysts and two supplemental staff—fewer by far than the team that monitored Islamic threats—was gutted, “out of malice and risk aversion”, Mr Johnson maintains, and out of fear of politically motivated budget cuts. Training and publications were cut too.