April 16th, 2009
09:45 AM ET
5 years ago

Napolitano sorry after some veterans take offense to report

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized Thursday after some veterans groups said they were offended by a department report about right-wing extremism.

The report angered some veterans by saying that extremists groups may try to reach out to veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also said extremists also may use the recession and the election of the nation's first African-American president to recruit members.

The American Legion was among those who raised concerns by the report's mention of veterans.

"I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are," the organization's national commander, David K. Rehbein, said in a letter to Napolitano.

Napolitano apologized on CNN on Thursday morning.

"I know that some veterans groups were offended by the fact that veterans were mentioned in this assessment so I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended," she told CNN's "American Morning."

She said the report was an assessment - not an accusation - and said she would meet with leaders of veterans' groups next week.

She noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which bills itself as the nation's largest combat veterans' group, defended the report.

Glen M. Gardner Jr., the national commander of the 2.2 million-member VFW, said the assessment "should have been worded differently" but served a vital purpose.

"A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility," he said in a statement.

The report mentioned numerous factors that could strengthen right-wing extremists, including anger over illegal immigration and the poor economy.

Yet it was the section on veterans that caused controversy among conservative politicians and some veterans. It said "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." It cited Timothy McVeigh, who returned from military service and went on to bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1995.

"Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation's uniform during wartime," wrote Rehbein, the American Legion commander. "To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical 'disgruntled military veteran' is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam."

The report, which was prepared in coordination with the FBI, was published last week. It was distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement officials. Mainstream media outlets picked up the story after it was reported by conservative bloggers.

Though the nine-page report said it had "no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," it said real-estate foreclosures, unemployment and tight credit "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past."

The report compared the current climate with that of the 1990s, saying a recession, criticism over outsourcing of jobs and a perceived threat to U.S. power at that time fueled a "resurgence" of right-wing extremism.

However, it said, "Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years."

It warned that the groups may use proposed restrictions on firearms and the debate on immigration as recruiting tools, and said the groups may try to reach out to veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh decried the report on Tuesday, saying, "There is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything," according to a transcript of his remarks on his Web site.

"You have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than al Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong Il," he said, referring to the leader of North Korea.

Michael Savage, another conservative commentator, also criticized the report.

"What does Big Sis say these right-wingers are concerned about?" he wrote on his Web site, referring to Napolitano.

"Illegal aliens, the increasing power of the federal government, gun grabs, abortion and the loss of U.S. national sovereignty. In other words, anyone who is worried about preserving our borders, language, and culture is on Big Sis' watch list."

In a written statement Wednesday, Napolitano said the agency is on "the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not- – nor will we ever - monitor ideology or political beliefs."

She said she was "briefed" on the general topic, which "struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution."

Napolitano said in her statement that she will tell Rehbein face-to-face that the Department of Homeland Security honors veterans and employs thousands, including Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute.

The Obama administration in January issued a warning about left-wing extremists. Both reports were initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush.


Filed under: Janet Napolitano
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. TERI

    What a day!!! And we will remain BARACK OBAMA. We are here!! On the blogs!! Gaining strength. Just like your mindless minions! Your homeland security Janet Napolitano called us terrorist! THIS IS WHY WE WANT YOU TO FAIL! You will not call the people who killed over 3000 people on 9/11 terrorist, but you will call us terrorist? Whats wrong with this picture? Anyway!!! WE SHALL OVERCOME!!!

    April 16, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  2. Mobius

    Soon you too shall be considered an extremist.

    When do the internment camps open? I want to get a good seat.

    April 16, 2009 10:03 am at 10:03 am |
  3. Pepou

    Right wing extremism is fed by clowns like Perry in Texas. And his friends, Limbaugh, Hannity. All terrorists who should be prosecuted.

    April 16, 2009 10:05 am at 10:05 am |
  4. CPO RICKER

    What security credentials does Sec. Napalitano have to be the DHS Secretary?

    April 16, 2009 10:06 am at 10:06 am |
  5. TomJay

    Napolitano is extremely dangerous. She does not believe in diversity of opinion, and will use her power to attack any person or group that does not share her political correctness. This is just an example of her gross bias against middle America.

    April 16, 2009 10:09 am at 10:09 am |
  6. Alison

    Pepou is a great example of the tolerance and class of the left. Prosecuted for what, Pepou? Utilizing their First Amendment rights?
    Napolitano and DHS should be sued for libel by our Armed Forces.

    April 16, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  7. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA

    I don't think she should have to apologize. Right wing extremist breed the Tim McVeigh's of this country. The facts are the facts.

    April 16, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  8. ct

    Truth hurts limbaugh and savage. If you pander to racists don't be offended when you're associated with them.

    April 16, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  9. Tim

    Odd, yesterday she said something to the effect of "let me make it perfectly clear, we have nothing to apologize for".

    I wonder who talked to her?

    Isn't it also odd that Obama sees potential terrorists in these returning vets but doesn't see an actual terrorist in Ayers, who said he wished he had done more?

    April 16, 2009 10:11 am at 10:11 am |
  10. Andrea

    Yeah and if the report failed to mention anything and it happens then then everyone will say why were we not warned? You can't have it both ways. It is just a warning get over it.

    April 16, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |
  11. CJ/PA

    Please, Madam Secretary - get a grip. It appears you are giving terrorists and extremists ideas on whom to recruit, and it is unfair to speculate that an entire group of people may be vulnerable to their overtures. Plus, to assume that because we are in a recession and we have the first African American president as an excuse for recruitment only fuels the fire more for these people who are already unstable. Some things are better left unsaid.

    April 16, 2009 10:13 am at 10:13 am |
  12. Matthew, Houston, TX

    Just so that the facts get out there early . . .

    This investigation for this report was done under the Bush administration, NOT the Obama administration. The guy has been in office LESS THAN 3 MONTHS so don't even try to say this was an attack on our veterans by the Obama administration.

    Note this:
    "She said the report was an assessment — not an accusation — and said she would meet with leaders of veterans' groups next week.

    She noted that the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which bills itself as the nation's largest combat veterans' group, defended the report.

    Glen M. Gardner Jr., the national commander of the 2.2 million-member VFW, said the assessment "should have been worded differently" but served a vital purpose."

    And:
    "The Obama administration in January issued a warning about left-wing extremists. Both reports were initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush."

    Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh are idiots that are just trying to stir up trouble. Unfortunately the idiots who listen to them and believe them are too stupid to realize Rush and Michael are totally misrepresenting what the report is actually saying.

    April 16, 2009 10:14 am at 10:14 am |
  13. President Obama could walk on water and the Party of NO would still complain that he left footprints!

    Since no veterans or group of veterans was singled out there is NO reason for an apology as reinforced by the Veterans for Foreign Affairs.

    After seeing the great work of the 3 Navy Seals in the piracy conclusion it is not a stretch to believe that these same skills could be used back at home IF the veteran was disgruntled enough over some slight whether intentional or not.

    All the report does is POINT out the FACT that these skills learned in the service are very portable. This report was also commissioned under the bush error, by a department established during the bush error. Plus Chertoff publicly stated that the right wing element could be the source of a "lone wolf" attack and was more dangerous than foreign attacks.

    Facts, do not deserve an apology.

    April 16, 2009 10:15 am at 10:15 am |
  14. Bradd

    INCOMPITANO isright. These kids are dangerous.
    Remember Timothy McVeigh?
    Most of these war criminals have been deployed at least twice and if you include the weekend warriors, they number what?, about 1.5 million? Sheesh!

    April 25, 2011 12:26 pm at 12:26 pm |

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