Friday, June 12, 2009

Homegrown terrorism a greater threat to Americans

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano now seems utterly prescient in issuing the April 7 intelligence report warning of new domestic terrorism by right-wing hate groups.

Now, within the space of two weeks, extremists have committed hate murders on U.S. streets—the killing of an abortion physician, the shooting of Army recruiters by an extremist convert to Islam, and the slaying of a guard at the Holocaust Museum in the nation's capital by an acknowledged anti-Semite.

With the passage of time, the Homeland Security warning now seems reasonable. It read, "The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

As for alluding to troops returning from overseas being involved in hate crimes, it's not that far off base. Military investigators have uncovered members of hate groups among troops at U.S. bases, where attacks on minorities have led to several killings.

Hard as it may seem, homegrown terrorists undoubtedly are far more dangerous than overseas varieties.

With easy access to firearms and inflamed into action by protected speech of hate groups, terrorists who otherwise seem like ordinary citizens have little chance of being prevented from committing violence until after the fact. With hundreds of Web sites devoted to inflammatory racist themes and down-on-their-luck white supremacists looking to blame others for their misfortune, terrorist experts see a growing threat to Hispanics, blacks and Jews.

Long before Homeland Security began weighing domestic terrorist threats, the Southern Poverty Law Center, of Montgomery, Ala., had been tracking racist organizations. In the past 17 years, the center's "Intelligence Report" has pinpointed hundreds of such groups state by state. It's present count is more than 900 such cells. A locator map can be found at

The center has used a unique tactic in fighting these groups. It has sued them out of business, collecting millions of dollars for victims of hate crimes.

In due course, Americans will need more effective preventive protections against extremists. Hate speech protected by the First Amendment may need some modification, just as speech that slanders or libels is not immune from civil penalty. Inciting to riot is another speech crime. Plotting a crime constitutes a punishable conspiracy, even if the act wasn't carried out.

The same rigorous attention paid to foreign terrorists now needs to be turned inward on groups and individuals that advocate lethal action against their hate targets.

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