Revenge of the 'Waco Gene'

The Regime has made it official that “right-wing extremism” is a threat to Homeland Security.

That political genus is divided into two species — “white supremacist and anti-government groups” — with the latter further differentiated into various sub-species, including immigration reform activists, “disgruntled military veterans,” gun rights advocates, members of citizen militia groups, anti-globalists, constitutionalists, “hate groups,” and others deemed politically unsuitable by the Regime.

Less than two years ago, Congress enacted — by a vote of 404—6 — the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. Its first offspring was an official commission to examine potential content-based Internet restrictions. At some point, it also begat a specialized section within the Homeland Security Department called the Extremism and Radicalization Branch (which we’ll call the ERB).

This means that for the first time in American history, the federal government has a full-time intelligence organ devoted exclusively to scrutinizing the political opinions and affiliations of U.S. citizens. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this development as a milestone in our nation’s apostasy from its founding as a constitutional republic.

Earlier this month, the ERB’s “Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division” issued a nine-page “Intelligence and Analysis Assessment” of “right-wing extremism” for the supposed benefit of state and local law enforcement agencies. That document consists of reheated leftovers from several previous “intelligence analyses” of the “radical right,” including the FBI’s notorious 1999 Project Megiddo broadside.

The ERB report concludes with the observation that the Department of Homeland Security “will be working with its state and local partners over the next several months to ascertain with greater regional specificity the rise in rightwing extremist activity in the United States, with a particular emphasis on the political, economic, and social factors that drive rightwing extremist radicalization.”

This is significant chiefly because it acknowledges that every “local” police agency in the United States is now a sensory organ, and enforcement appendage, of the Homeland Security State.

Echoes of a decade ago: A “terrorist threat” assessment issued in 1999 by the Phoenix FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force identified “constitutionalists” as a potential threat — but didn’t mention the possibility of a backlash from Muslim radicals riled up by Washington’s foreign policy.

As partners with the Department of Homeland Security, your thoughtful and friendly “local” police and state police will be expected to gather intelligence on “extremists” within their jurisdictions and provide it to the Feds. And in the event that they’re required to do so by their “partners” in Washington, those same state and “local” police will be expected to question, arrest, or detain those designated to be severe risks to “homeland security.”

In this connection it’s useful to remember that the Obama administration has taken care to preserve all of the necessary Bush-era precedents regarding the summary imprisonment of those designated “unlawful enemy combatants” by presidential decree, the suspension of habeas corpus, and even the practice of torture as a means of “enhanced interrogation.”

The prospect of the exercise of those powers by the incumbent is causing a loss of bladder control among many of the same GOP-aligned polemicists who insisted that they were perfectly safe when placed at the disposal of his predecessor. This development was as predictable as the “plot” of a porno film. And as Salon’s admirable civil libertarian columnist Glen Greenwald emphasizes, the report on the “radical right” was actually begun under the Bush administration.

In the institutional memory of the American Right, the early Clinton years were characterized by two entirely unnecessary atrocities involving culturally isolated “extremists”: The attack on the Randy Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho — which led to the murder of Sammy and Vicki Weaver — and the 51-day standoff at Mt. Carmel, Texas, which culminated in the holocaust of April 19, 1993.

Putting a meme into play: This magazine cover, which appeared roughly a year ago, anticipated one of the themes of the recent Homeland Security Department assessment of the “right-wing threat” — namely, that there may be a violent, racially motivated “backlash” against the Obama administration.

The unbearable memory of those episodes, exacerbated by the “assault weapons” ban, did much to catalyze resistance to the Clinton administration. Prior to the Oklahoma City bombing, there was a widespread, and growing, appreciation for the lethal potential of what we could call the federal government’s “Waco gene” — its latent tendency to isolate, dehumanize, criminalize, and even annihilate those considered to be incorrigible internal enemies.

But although this early Clinton-era anti-government backlash was rooted in worthy and entirely justified sentiments, it was poorly focused in one fairly significant respect: Clinton and his properly maligned Attorney General Janet Reno had relatively little to do with the planning and execution of the ATF’s assault on the Branch Davidians, and nothing at all to do with the criminal assault on the Weaver family. Those were anti-“extremist” initiatives planned and/or carried out by the administration of George Bush the Elder.

(It’s not my intention to demolish a straw man by mentioning Ruby Ridge in this connection; on many occasions I’ve heard that incident paired with Waco when people have recited the litany of the Clinton administration’s crimes.)

During the reign of Bush the Dumber, the GOP-aligned punditocracy insisted that only “peace creeps” and people who perversely sympathize with suicide bombers were outraged over the executive branch’s assault on the Bill of Rights.

When Bush put the chainsaw to due process guarantees running back to Runnymede and mowed them down like so much overgrowth on his postage-stamp “ranch,” some principled voices — with Ron Paul, as always, leading that tiny chorus — took up a refrain similar to that put in the mouth of Sir Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons" after his son-in-law William Roper urged a similar clear-cutting approach to the law.

More, suspected of disloyalty by King Henry VIII, is approached in his home by Richard Rich,* a contemptible opportunist known to be a royal spy. Rich fishes for a bribe, baiting More with the implied threat of blackmail, only to be rebuked and sent away. As Rich leaves, More is urged by his family to place him under arrest.

When More points out that Rich hadn’t committed a crime, and that even “the Devil himself” is entitled to the protection of the law, Roper angrily exclaims that he would “cut down every law in England” to get to the Devil.

“And when the last law was down and the devil turned round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?” More inquired. “This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, and not God’s — and if you cut them down — and you are just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes — I’d give the Devil benefit of the law for my own safety’s sake.”