Daryl Johnson’s team faced an official backlash 10 years ago when it issued a briefing on rightwing extremism
Lois Beckett in San Francisco
Thu 8 Aug 2019
Ten years ago, the Department of Homeland Security sent American law enforcement agencies an intelligence briefing warning of a rising threat of domestic rightwing extremism, including white supremacist terrorism.
The economic recession and the election of America’s first black president would create fertile ground for rightwing radicalization, the 2009 report concluded. Military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, in particular, would be attractive targets for recruitment.
Republican politicians and conservative pundits reacted with outrage and demanded a retraction. The report was politically motivated and unfairly demonized conservative views, they argued. “Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are,” the head of the American Legion, a veterans group, wrote.
The head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) publicly apologized. The small team of domestic terrorism analysts who had produced the report was disbanded, and analysts were reassigned to study Muslim extremism, according to Daryl Johnson, the career federal intelligence analyst who had led the team. By the next year, Johnson says, he had been forced out of the DHS altogether.
Since then, Johnson has watched a rising tide of white nationalist terror attacks around the world. On Tuesday, as federal officials announced that two deadly mass shootings within a single week were being investigated as domestic terrorism cases, he spoke to the Guardian about why the DHS’s own warning about rightwing terror was ignored, and what should be done to confront the threat of white nationalist violence.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Should the communities targeted by white nationalist violence – African Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans – feel confident that their government is doing enough to protect them?
I don’t think these communities have much confidence right now. And they shouldn’t have confidence, because for the past 10 years, our government has basically failed us on this issue.