The DHS Report: Torturing the Truth

Conservatives fuss over a Bush report on the potential for domestic terrorism while remaining unperturbed by reports of real torture, write Eric Alterman and Danielle Ivory.

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Conservatives, including <i>Fox News</i> commentator Sean Hannity, above, are up in arms over a recently released Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremists. (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)
Conservatives, including Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, above, are up in arms over a recently released Department of Homeland Security report on right-wing extremists. (AP/Douglas C. Pizac)

Fox News filed a Freedom of Information Request this week, demanding the Department of Homeland Security release their full report and documents pertaining to right-wing extremists identified as a threat to U.S. national security.

The DHS report, ordered by the Bush administration but only just completed, was one in a pair of studies on right- and left-wing extremist groups. Both concluded that extremist groups on either end of the political spectrum could be gearing up for physical or cyber violence. The reports were released two weeks ago, and were part of a routine analysis of intelligence information meant to lend guidance to law enforcement agencies about possible threats.

The Huffington Post, which obtained a letter from Fox News to DHS, reported that Fox requested “any and all documents that contain factual material or compiled factual material that the [Extremism and Radicalization Branch of the Office of Intelligence and Analysis] relied upon” to draw a connection between right-wing extremists and an increase in radical violence. It continued:

“Given the vast amount of discussion and concern for domestic terrorism and the equal quantity of discourse over the possible compromise of America’s constitutional rights, Fox News has a particular urgency to inform the public about the facts behind this much-discussed Assessment.”

Fox News certainly felt a particular urgency to report something. Since the DHS report emerged, Fox has done its best to ignore the role of the Bush administration (and FBI) in creating the assessment, and has been busy stirring up hysteria about the Obama administration. On Fox’s “Your World” on April 14, Pete Hegesth and David Asman had a lively discussion to this effect:

David Asman: Well, Pete, without being too conspiratorial, I’m wondering if all this isn’t just a desire on part of the administration to shut up its critics, wherever they are.

Pete Hegseth: Well, I mean, it’s interesting the timing with which this report comes out. Apparently, also if you have an immigra— anti-immigration sticker, if you’re pro-life, and if you believe in the—

Asman: Or if you like guns.

Hegseth: If you like guns, they should pull you over because you’re apt to right-wing extremism. Well, you know, I hope my parents don’t get pulled over tonight.

No, David Asman, that wasn’t conspiratorial at all. Clearly we live in a police state and Pete Hegseth’s parents are in real danger of being arrested because they apparently like guns.

The same day, Fox News’ very own Sean Hannity arrived at a similar conclusion:

“Now if you disagree with that liberal path that President Obama’s taken the country down, you may soon catch the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. Now the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis has issued an intel assessment that warns of a rise of what they’re calling right-wing extremism. But critics of the report say their definition of a right-wing extremist sounds awfully close to somebody who might simply just disagree with the Obama administration.”

Hmm, critics such as … Sean Hannity? Or David Asman? Or Jonah Goldberg, who called the report “nakedly ideological” (which brings to mind an idiom about a pot and a kettle)? Or perhaps blogger Michelle Malkin? In a post called “Confirmed: The Obama DHS hit job on conservatives is real,” she explains: “The piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives. And the intent is clear.” She concluded, “Obama’s DHS is watching.” Mark Steyn at National Review managed to improve on this: “When the Feds surround my place for the big shootout, I hope my home gets described as a ‘compound’ just before it goes up in smoke. Cool.”

Amid all the teabagging on April 15, the “Obama is watching you” mantra built into a frenzy. A headline at innocently asked, “Is Homeland Security Targeting Tea Parties?” Andrea Tantaros told viewers, “The Obama administration is trying to shut it [free speech] down.” Sean Hannity went back to his roots with a subtle William Ayers allusion: “What do you think of that interpretation, especially coming from a guy that started his political career in the home of an unrepentant terrorist who bombed the Pentagon and capital and sat in Reverend Wright’s church for 20 years?” From an Atlanta teabagging orgy, he added: “The Homeland Security Department is probably checking the license plates of everybody here.”

Sipping tea in San Antonio, Texas, noted crybaby Glenn Beck informed his fellow teabaggers, “I read something from the Department of Homeland Security that said you’re an extremist… Moms that worry about massive debt, they are extremists. If you happen to believe that a state has a right to tell the federal government, ‘No, we don’t want your money,’ you’re a possible threat or an extremist. And the government—the government may need to watch you.”

Former Bush Press Secretary Dana Perino appeared on Fox and said, “If Bush had done that we would be having a very different conversation. It wouldn’t have taken a week to find it out. There would have been a special prosecutor. We would have had to come out and apologize.” (Recall Perino will go down in history as the White House Press Secretary who admitted to not knowing what the heck happened in the Cuban missile crisis. Now we can add to that list the fact that she was apparently unaware that it was her boss who requested the report in the first place.)

And to top it all off—at least one hopes—Politico reports this morning that House Republicans are calling on Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to step down or be fired in the wake of a controversial department memo that has sparked indignant battle cries from conservatives and some veterans. “Singling out political opponents for working against the ruling party is precisely the tactic of every tyrannical government from Red China to Venezuela,” said Texas Rep. John Carter, a member of the party’s elected leadership who organized an hour of floor speeches Wednesday night to call for Napolitano’s ouster. “The first step in the process is creating unfounded public suspicion of political opponents, followed by arresting and jailing any who continue speaking against the regime.” We swear we are not making this up.

Where were these devoted civil libertarians for the past eight years? Blogger Glenn Greenwald recalls a 2005 administration report documenting FBI spying on “liberal activists,” that hardly merited much more than a “You go, guys” response from the right-wing punditocracy:

“When you cheer on a Surveillance State, you have no grounds to complain when it turns its eyes on you. If you create a massive and wildly empowered domestic surveillance apparatus, it’s going to monitor and investigate domestic political activity. That’s its nature. I’d love to know how many of the participants in today’s right-wing self-victim orgy uttered a peep of protest about any of this, from 2005.”

The collective conservative conniption fit over the impending Obama Police State managed to showcase the most racist and homophobic tendencies on the right, and it just happened to coincide with the Obama administration’s release of some of the Bush administration’s harrowing memos on torture.

The conservative pundits kept their cool about the real torture, however. On Fox & Friends, Mike Huckabee said he’d “been in some hotels where there were more bugs than these guys [the detainees] faced.” Joe Scarborough lamented, “God, I go through torture every day,” adding, “If putting a caterpillar in a box will save your child, that’s OK.” On CNN, convicted criminal of Watergate fame, G. Gordon Liddy, told Campbell Brown, “I went through worse on ‘Fear Factor.’” (Granted, Liddy did spend some time on the show in an isolation pod filled with maggots. Although, just to play devil’s advocate, the prize for withstanding this was a $65,000 motorcycle and not, for instance, more torture.)

After all, there’s torture, and then there’s torture…

Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is also a Nation columnist and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America’s Most Important Ideals was recently published in paperback. He occasionally blogs at

Danielle Ivory is a reporter and producer for the American News Project. She lives in Washington, D.C.

This column was recently named as a finalist in the category of “Best Commentary—Digital” for the Mirror Awards. The series of columns judged can be found here.



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Eric Alterman

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