The new president and CEO of NPR worked for nearly two decades in broadcast radio. But he says it’s his recent experience as a business executive and investor that will strengthen the 45-year-old media organization. A conversation with Jarl Mohn about the future of public radio.
The number of active hate groups in the U.S. has doubled in the last 10 years. New studies indicate there are now more than a thousand of these groups in America today. High unemployment, changing demographics and anger at a black president are among the factors attracting new members. The shooting rampage by a white supremacist at a Sikh temple in suburban Wisconsin has raised concerns about the danger posed by these groups, which are treated differently than foreign terrorists by law enforcement. Diane and guests discuss the rising threat of hate groups and what can be done to track their members.
- Michael Greenberger founder and director at the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security, and professor at the University of Maryland Carey School of Law.
- Arno Michaelis former Wisconsin white power leader and author of "My Life After Hate."
- David Gomez president and CEO of HLS Global Consulting Group, and a former FBI Special Agent.
- Mark Potok senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. There are more than 1,000 hate groups in America today, a figure that's doubled in the last decade. The shooting rampage at a Wisconsin Sikh temple was carried out by a member of a prominent white power group.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me in the studio to talk about what's behind the rise in hate groups and new efforts to track their members: Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, joining us by phone from Seattle, David Gomez of HLS Global Consulting, and, by phone from Montgomery, Ala., Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Please join us, 800-433-8850. Send your email to email@example.com. Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to all of you. Thank you for being here.
PROF. MICHAEL GREENBERGERGood morning.
MR. MARK POTOKGood morning, Diane.
MR. DAVID GOMEZAnd thanks for having us.
REHMMark Potok, talk about why hate groups like the one Wade Michael Page belonged to are on the rise.
POTOKTalk about how they're rising? I mean, we have seen an enormous growth not only in hate groups, but also in what we used to call militia groups. This growth, as you suggested in the intro, goes back 10 or 12 years, but we have seen just extraordinarily explosive growth since the first part of 2009. It's been tremendous.
REHMAnd what are some of the reasons as you see them?
POTOKWell, I think the primary reason is essentially the changing racial demographics of this country, the fact that, as the Census Bureau has predicted, whites will lose their majority by about the year 2050. You know, that change, I think, is very real and substantial. And the country is changing in pretty noticeable ways and, of course, that change is very much represented in the person of Barack Obama.
POTOKSo, you know, we saw in the militia groups and particularly the -- in particular, the so-called patriot organizations, an absolutely amazing rise in the last three or four years. And just to give a sense of what I'm talking about, we counted 149 of these patriot groups in 2008, and that had been about the level they were at for about the prior 10 years. In 2009, there were 512, in 2010, 824, in 2011, last year, of course, 1,274. So it's just enormous growth.
POTOKAnd at the same time, at least as an anecdotal matter, I think it's pretty clear that we've seen a quite dramatic uptick in domestic terrors, and that is non-Jihadist domestic right-wing terrorism or at least attempted terrorist acts in this country, the latest, which, of course, is the attack in Milwaukee on the Sikh temple.
REHMAnd, Michael Greenberger, you talked before we went on the air about a report that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to issue in 2009. What happened to that report? What did it say?
GREENBERGERWell, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report which said the greatest threat, in terms of domestic terrorism, was the growth of these white supremacist groups that is the greatest threat to stability within the United States. And it was an analytical framework of how the department and other law enforcement agencies should focus on these white supremacist groups, militia groups and hate groups. When it was issued, there was an uproar from the conservative community.
GREENBERGERAnd House Minority leader John Boehner, House minority leader at the time, now speaker, said the Department of Homeland Security owes the American people an explanation for why they have abandoned the term terrorist to describe those such as al-Qaida, who are plotting overseas to kill Americans, while our own department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking. In fact, faced with the siege of criticism, the secretary withdrew the report -- it actually had been published -- and she apologized. So...
GOMEZWait. I'm sorry.
GREENBERGERAnd so there is a debate right now about the analytical force of the Department of Homeland Security. There's a lot of information that they dropped from six analysts who were looking at this problem there to one analyst. Now, I saw yesterday at the department challenges that fact, but, nevertheless, it's in the year that this has not been a priority.
REHMDavid Gomez, just how serious is the threat posed by these hate groups?
GOMEZWell, I think the threat is out there, but you have to differentiate between the threats posed by a group and the threats posed by individuals acting on their own ideations and their own perceived, you know, violations. The act that happened in Wisconsin was an act by an individual who, for whatever reason, had some type of precipitating event, and it caused him to act on with his long-held beliefs and fantasies.
GOMEZAnd I'm not trying to defend any specific group, but I think that we have to understand that there's a difference between the actions of a group as a terrorist group or as a right-wing group versus the actions of an individual.
REHMSo, are you differentiating, as you see it, between the acts of an individual coming from a right-wing, an extreme right-wing group and those coming from, say, al-Qaida?
GOMEZIn a way, yes. When we talk about international terrorism in the United States, we refer to actions by foreigners that are either at the direction or directly influenced by foreign groups. If the action in the United States takes place by an American, that's usually referred to as domestic terrorism, but domestic terrorism -- both the term domestic and international terrorism are just means of classifying the crime for the FBI. It's really the underlying action that you're looking at, whether it's a bombing, an arson, of threats of violence and so on.
GOMEZAnd so I like to differentiate between those actions by, you know, what the mainstream media will talk about as lone wolves -- I refer to them as stray dogs -- but individuals who are acting without the sanction of whatever group that they belong to or believe in, and they're actually acting on their own fantasies.
REHMDavid Gomez is a former special agent at the FBI. He is currently president and CEO of HLS Global Consulting. If you'd like to join us, call us on 800-433-8850. Michael Greenberger, do you make that kind of distinction?
GREENBERGERWell, it's what we call in the law distinction without a difference. There is international terrorism. There is domestic terrorism.
GREENBERGERThe classic definition used by the FBI, which I have here, doesn't really distinguish between the two in terms of the impact on our civilized society. And let me -- I think that listeners need to be reminded that the second worst terrorist attack in the United States was the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh, who has all the characteristics of the so-called lone wolf, stray dogs, what we saw at the Sikh temple, what we saw at the Aurora, Colo. shooting.
GREENBERGERAnd I really think it's a mistake to say, what's causing this? We need to look at the result. The result is chaos and harm, and I think it's a mistake to worry too much about definitions. My view is, I can't say this can be stopped 100 percent, but I think measures can be taken if -- by whomever to prevent these kinds of attacks.
REHMAll right. And we'll get to those measures shortly. But, Mark Potok, I want to come back to you because I know you tracked -- your organization tracked Wade Michael Page for a number of years. Tell us what you've found and why you did not report that to law enforcement?
POTOKWell, what we found was starting around the year 2000, which is around the time we noticed him, that Page essentially entered the white supremacist music scene. This was a couple of years out after he gotten out of the military where he was at Fort Bragg. You know, he plunged into that scene. He left his native Colorado, as he said, on a motorcycle and started to play guitar and to sing vocals with some extremely well-known racist bands, well-known at least within that small world, bands like Intimidation One and Blue Eyed Devil -- Devils, sorry.
POTOKIn 2005, he started his own band, his most important band, called End Apathy, and I think that is probably the single best clue that we have as to his motivations in this attack on the Sikh temple. You know, he gave an interview a couple of years ago to a white supremacist website, and he didn't precisely spell out what he meant. But basically what he said was that the band's name reflected his attitude toward the white supremacist movement.
POTOKIn other words, these are bunch of people in organizations who sit around and talk a mean streak but don't act. And there's a lot of that feeling out there, especially among the very extreme fringes of the right-wing world, a lot of feeling that, you know, it's the meet, eat, and retreat crowd and so on. So, you know...
REHMWell, tell me why music is so critically important.
POTOKWell, music is terribly important for a couple of reasons. One, it is very important in terms of bringing money into the movement. There are organizations, labels that sell this music that are bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
POTOKAbout 10 years ago, the preeminent organization at the time, Resistance Records, was grossing about six or $700,000 a year. So, you know, we're talking about groups that have very, very little financing and very few means of obtaining financing, so that's very important. And also critically important is the music has turned out to be the number one recruiting tool for bringing in at least young people into the movement.
REHMAll right. So, Mark...
POTOKIt really has been important.
REHMMark Potok is senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. We'll take a short break and be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. As we talk about the growth of hate groups in America, we now have more than 1,000 in this country. A figure of that has doubled in just the last decade. We have three guests with us. Michael Greenberger, he is founder and director of the University of Maryland Center for Health and Homeland Security. He's also professor of law at University of Maryland. On the phone from Seattle is David Gomez, former FBI special agent.
REHMAnd, by phone from Montgomery, Ala., Mark Potok, he is senior fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center. The phones are open, and we hope you'll join us, 800-433-8850. Michael Greenberger, Wendy and several others have emailed us saying, "Please define hate groups."
GREENBERGERWell, hate groups are usually groups that are motivated by hatred toward various demographic groups -- African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs -- anybody who doesn't fall into a traditional white Caucasian, Christian kind of a background.
REHMMark Potok, would you agree with that definition?
POTOKWell, more or less. I mean, we have our own definition. But I would certainly say, you know, you can be a hate group and be non-white. I mean, you know, we list groups like the New Black Panther Party as hate groups because, you know, I mean, basically, they describe all white people as evil and, you know, as a matter of their status.
POTOKI mean, what we say about hate groups is these are groups that, in their ideology, describe an entire group of human beings based on their class characteristics as somehow less than others, that simple. So, you know, if you're a black group that says all white people are, you know, blue-eyed devils, you're a hate group. If you're the Klan, you say all black people are criminals or whatever it may be, you're a hate group. You know, you describe all gay people as child molesters and, you know, from there. So for us...
POTOK...the definition is unrelated to any kind of criminality or violence. It's about ideology.
REHMDavid Gomez, Mark Potok talked earlier about how the Southern Poverty Law Center had been following the suspect in the shooting of a Sikh temple out in Wisconsin. How does the FBI monitor these groups, and how does it differ from what Mark's group does?
GOMEZWell, it's very difficult for the FBI as a governmental organization to monitor these groups because a lot of what the groups are involved in is considered constitutionally protected free speech. And the current domestic investigation and operation guidelines that were promulgated by the Department of Justice for the FBI specifically includes an investigation being initiated based on First Amendment activity.
GOMEZSo their -- these groups are free to criticize, to complain, to demonize any other group or person or exhibit their biases in the United States. It is constitutionally protected activity, so...
REHMSure. Sure. But, at the same time, as you heard Mark Potok say, there is some connection apparently between these groups and the kind of music they put out, the kinds of activities they're engaged in. So is the Southern Poverty Law Center one of the few groups looking out, or is the FBI doing the same?
GOMEZWell, the Southern Poverty Law Institute, an organization that I very much admire, is a private organization and does not represent the executive branch of the government. So they're free to do, like any other organization, investigations and track people and their activities. You don't want the FBI tracking members of bands and other people who are associated with biased or hate groups on a routine basis. The FBI restricts their investigations to those people who are committing crimes or expected to commit crimes or have already committed a crime.
POTOKMight I add something else here, just very quickly?
REHMSure. Go ahead, Mark.
POTOKYou know, I think what David says is absolutely correct. And, you know, I think it's a good thing. It is a way of depoliticizing law enforcement, right? You know, you can't simply track groups or open files on groups if you are in law enforcement with the power to send people to prison because they have unpleasant views. You asked earlier, why didn't we, you know, sort of alert somebody to this man Wade Page and his band. Well, you know, we see -- there was no evidence of any kind of criminality.
POTOKThere's thousands and thousands of people who have the same views as him. There would've been nothing to say. So the -- another point, a really important point, I think, is that the FBI and the other law enforcement agencies have the power to put people in prison or at least to send them in that direction to be prosecuted. And so they -- we have adopted rules as a country that tries to make sure there is no political aspect to that. We're only talking about crime.
POTOKWe, on the other hand, are a private, obviously, having, you know, no power to prosecute anyone or send anyone to jail, so we're able to collect all kinds of information about people doing things that are perfectly legal but that may become very important one day. So, you know, we track a guy like Wade Page so that we understand the political history of this man, the part he played in the white power music scene and so on and so forth because that information may become terribly important one day as I think it has in this case.
REHMAll right. And Michael Greenberger.
GREENBERGERWell, I am certainly impressed with the concern about free speech. However, Oliver Wendell Holmes once famously said, there is free speech, but you can't shout fire in a crowded theater. When free speech moves over into violence, the American public has a right to be concerned. Violence is not protected by the First Amendment. So I fully appreciate and sympathize with the concern of not going overboard on this.
GREENBERGERBut when you look at the Patriot Act and you look at the various laws, we do have laws against lone wolves. We do protect against domestic terrorism. And when this conduct crosses the line, and the militia groups -- you can use various terms, militia groups, hate groups, white supremacist -- there is no doubt that there is a portion of those groups that cross the line. And I think the 2009 reported Department of Homeland Security recognized that this free speech, which should be fully protected and not be a source of investigation, at sometime becomes a threat to Americans and...
REHMBut what can you do before someone crosses a line?
GREENBERGERWell, being very sensitive to First Amendment rights, when we look at international terrorism, we have the full panoply of investigative powers. Some people think they're so strong that we have shredded the Fourth Amendment. We aren't using any of that for these kinds of concerns.
GREENBERGERAnd there can be no doubt the Sikh temple situation, the Fort Hood situation, the Oklahoma City bombing situation -- if the FBI had information about Timothy McVeigh and put -- headed off the Oklahoma City bombing, yes, he had the same characteristic philosophies that the white supremacists, the hate groups, the militia have, but he crossed the line. One hundred sixty-eight people lost their lives.
GREENBERGERFive hundred sixty people were wounded. So I think there is a role here. I think Janet Napolitano had it right that we do need analysts to look for those who are and have crossed the line using dangerous weapons and causing havoc among the American public.
REHMAll right. I want to...
POTOKYou know, it might be worth pointing out that, you know, DHS, in fact, and I'm sure the FBI as well, do monitor these groups in the sense that they look at the Web pages. You know, I personally know the author of the 2009 DHS report, you know. And those people absolutely look at Stormfront and the great big neo-Nazi forums and so on, you know, all public information.
POTOKAnd it is conceivable that once in a while, you'll actually pick up information that will lead you to be able to stop a criminal plot. That seems to me conceivable in the case of McVeigh and the Oklahoma City bombing. I think it's incredibly unlikely that anybody would've picked up Wade Michael Page. You know, him -- he's a classic lone wolf, and those are precisely the kinds of people who are almost impossible to stop in advance because if they're true lone wolf, it's just them. They're not talking to anyone.
POTOKThey're not telling people about their plans. There's very little in the way of group planned domestic terrorism in the United States today. And as an explicit response to law enforcement, in fact, a famous Klansman named Louis Beam wrote an essay on lone wolf resistance. You know, the idea being, or as he called it "Leaderless Resistance," the idea being that you can't destroy a movement if everyone acts independently as opposed to somehow working in concerted groups.
REHMAll right. I want to...
GOMEZDiane, this is David.
GOMEZIf I could interject here.
GOMEZI'd like to clarify something from my perspective that Prof. Greenberger said. The difference between international terrorism and the investigation of domestic terrorism by the FBI today is that there were post-9/11 specific laws passed that allow the FBI to look at the material support for international terrorism as an investigative action. We -- the laws allow the FBI to begin investigations for having support for international terrorism and international terrorist groups, specifically al-Qaida, but not for participation or support or advocacy of domestic groups.
REHMAll right. And joining us now is Arno Michaelis.
GREENBERGERAnd in the same way, you know, I mean, it's maybe worth saying that, you know, it is quite different to...
REHMHe is a former white power leader in Wisconsin, former singer in the hate metal band Centurion. Good morning to you.
MR. ARNO MICHAELISGood morning, Diane. Thanks for having me.
REHMArno, are you on a regular telephone? I'm having a little trouble clarifying.
MICHAELISActually, I'm on a cellphone, unfortunately. I did not have long distance on my landline.
REHMOK. Well, let's talk for a moment and see whether we can hear you clearly. Tell us briefly why you became involved in Wisconsin hate groups.
MICHAELISI was involved as a teenager really because I was an angry, pissed-off kid looking for ways to lash out.
REHMYou were angry. You were involved. And what kinds of crimes did you commit?
MICHAELISA lot of just arbitrary beatings, assaults, vandalism. It was really -- drunken street violence is probably the best way to describe it. But it was certainly motivated by the racist ideology that we adhered to.
REHMAnd what caused you in the first place to become involved?
MICHAELISWell, I grew up in an alcoholic household. There was a lot of emotional violence in my house. I did a very poor job of processing that and in turn, lashed out at the world around me. It was in elementary school, I was a bully on the school bus. In middle school, I was involved in the schoolyard fights and vandalism, breaking and entering. By the time I became a teenager, I started drinking myself. I found punk rock, and I was really enamored of the rebellion and aggressions inherent (unintelligible) distilled from punk music.
MICHAELISAnd that's where I was when I was exposed to the idea of white power skinheads. And I was initially attracted to it really for the shock value. And I also -- well, I tell you, I found sort of a romantic attraction with the idea of being a warrior. And the narrative of white power skinheads is that, you know, you are a warrior for your people, so it seemed that you were a part of some great cause. And it kind of gave meaning to the violence and...
REHMWhat kind of -- tell me what kind of violence you participated in.
MICHAELISWe would beat people up at random. If -- there was a wrong place at the wrong time, and we saw someone who we didn't like what they -- how they looked. And, you know, it didn't matter if they were white or black or whatever. They were fair game to be attacked physically.
REHMAnd why did you finally leave the group?
MICHAELISWell, I was involved for seven years. And throughout that time, it was hard as I was trying to practice hate and violence, which is really listening one part of music and associating -- surrounding yourself only with white power, you know, other white racist people. Despite all that in my day-to-day life, as I went to work and also as, you know, my family would reach out to me, they consistently -- people treated me with kindness and refused to give up on me.
MICHAELISAnd specifically there were people -- black people, Jewish people, Latino people all whom I claimed to hate, who still treated me with kindness despite my declared hatred for them. And while that didn't change me on the spot, it -- you know, I couldn't forget that either. And as time went on, it became more and more difficult. It took more and more energy to maintain that racist ideology and hurt people, and it was exhausting.
MICHAELISAnd after seven years, the kind of defining moment that got me to really start moving away is when I became a single parent. And a second friend of mine was murdered in a street fight. You know, it became clear to me that if I didn't change my path, death or prison was very likely to take me from my daughter. So that, combined with this ongoing exhaustion, was really the perfect storm that led to my leaving hate groups.
REHMAll right. And tell me what the group you left -- how did they react when you left?
MICHAELISWell, in my case, the skinhead crew that we had built had -- and it was a very common thing with these young white power groups. The group had become so violent and so dysfunctional internally that it had kind of self destructed, you know, and probably a year or so before I had even started making my way out.
REHMAll right. Arno Michaelis, he's a former white power leader in Wisconsin. I want to thank you for joining us. He's a former singer in the hate metal band Centurion.
REHMAnd we're talking about the growth of hate groups in the United States. In the last 10 years, their numbers have doubled. We're going to open the phones now, 800-433-8850, first to San Antonio, Texas. Good morning, Matt. You're on the air.
MATTHey. I just wanted to say that I heard one of the members of your panel this morning use the terms hate groups, patriot groups and militia groups totally interchangeably, and that -- I don't know if you're trying to be politically insensitive, but that is totally inappropriate to many of the people I know and many people that -- probably many of your other listeners. And so I don't know. It's just amusing to me that I heard one of your panel members cite the Patriot Act as one of the reasoning for which to watch these groups.
MATTIt's just -- it's amazing because the Patriot -- if you've been paying -- I don't know if you've been living under a rock, but the Patriot Act is known commonly as an infringement -- like, it's known as an infringement on our rights by many people out there which may not have mainstream voice, but the Patriot Act is not viewed as a respectable law out there by citizens -- by many citizens.
MATTSo to use that as a reason, I mean...
REHMAll right. Michael, do you want to respond?
GREENBERGERYes. I mean, this goes back to the point I've been trying to make, and that is I -- what we are looking at here is the result of certain kinds of activity. Some of those people who espouse that activity are within their constitutional rights, so they're not violent and do not cause problems.
GREENBERGERBut when you espouse an activity and want to get your message across through violent activity, that is what the FBI -- and I have the definition here. I can take time to read it. I won't -- that's what the FBI calls terrorism. If you want to achieve your political or social ends through violence, that is terrorism. It does not define international. It does not separate domestic.
REHMHow do you differentiate between militia groups and hate groups?
GREENBERGERI think that's a -- you know, militia groups cannot, well, not necessarily be biased stereotypically against other demographic groups. They have political objectives. So there may be -- there is and may be a difference there. But, believe me, in terms of the American people wanting to be protected against random violence, whether it's a hate group, whether it's a white supremacist group, whether it's a militia's group -- militia group, once they cross the boundary and want to achieve their objectives by violence, that is domestic terrorism.
GREENBERGERIf they act alone, we can criticize the Patriot Act, but the Patriot Act was amended. And it's the responsibility of those who were protecting us to look out for the lone wolves as well as those who are in an international conspiracy.
REHMAll right. Let's go to…
POTOKMight I say something here, Diane?
REHMSure. Go ahead.
POTOKI mean, I -- you know, I have a slight difference with what was just said. I mean, I don't think it's so that if you want to do violence, that's terrorism. If you do violence, that is terrorism. You know, the reality is that, you know, you can stand on a podium in front of 10,000 people and say we need to kill all the Jews in America to make things right, and that is 100 percent protected by the First Amendment. So, you know, the idea -- or it was also said if you want to achieve things by violence, that's terrorism.
POTOKThat is not crossing the line into terrorism. It is actually engaging in those kinds of activities. And that seems to me very important in the question of, you know, there are lots of people who talk a mean streak about we should kill these people or those people. You simply cannot put them in prison.
POTOKYou can't open FBI files on them, and I just think there's a real difference.
REHMMark Potok, do you want to weigh in?
POTOKYeah. Well, as I was just saying, the other point I wanted to make very briefly was there is a difference, absolutely, as the caller suggested, between patriot groups so-called and hate groups. And patriot groups -- rather the Patriot Act has nothing to do with the name of patriot groups. Hate groups are groups, as we discussed earlier, that target people on the basis of their class characteristics. The patriot groups or militia groups generally have a set of conspiracy theories about the federal government.
POTOKThey believe that the federal government is an evil entity, which is engaged in a plot to impose martial law in this country probably with the aid of foreign troops, perhaps U.N. troops, to then strip all weapons from Americans, to throw those who resist into concentration camps that have been or are now being secretly built by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and ultimately to force the United States into some kind of socialistic one-world government, the so-called New World Order. So it is different.
POTOKThey don't primarily target people for race or religion or sexual orientation, but it's probably worth saying they really are a part of the radical right. And the demographic changes, the black president, some of the things we've been talking about, are upsetting to them. That's not their primary target, but many people on the patriot world feel the country is changing. It's been, you know, this isn't the country our sort of white Christian forefathers built. So, you know, their primary thing is not racism, but there is a lot of feeling about race and the changing nature of the country.
REHMAll right. I...
POTOKAnd the government, of course, is seen as doing all of these to...
REHMOK. I want to take a caller in Worcester, Mass. Good morning, Bob.
BOBGood morning. I just want to point out -- and some of the work the Southern Poverty Law Center has done verifies this -- that what these hate groups do -- and I include militia and patriot groups in there because they think that they've got the right to begin to "defend themselves" from the federal government by their definition of what's an encroachment, which we just can't live with that kind of individual law definition and then threaten action.
BOBBut these groups nurture these haters and nurture these lone wolves and give them validity for their ideology. Other people say, oh, no, you can't go shoot people, but we agree with everything else you say. And this conjures up the kind of action that's taken by the Timothy McVeighs and this guy in Wisconsin and these other lunatics that go around shooting people. And for Boehner to defend these kinds of actions, I think, really is borderline treason.
REHMOh, well, let's not get into whether an action by a house speaker is treasonous or not. Michael Greenberger, you might want to comment. Do these groups incite the lone wolves to go out there and act?
GREENBERGERThey do incite the lone wolves, and the lone wolves, as been said, can be self-motivated. But whatever they are, they are a threat to the American people. And I'm completely sensitive to a lot that's been said here is that -- crossing the line between First Amendment speech and inciting serious violence. If somebody called in today and said they were going to put a bomb in this room because they didn't like Diane Rehm or Michael Greenberger as Michael Greenberger is Jewish, the police would open an investigation.
GREENBERGERThe FBI would open an investigation. Who is that person? That's all I'm saying here. These people have made it clear, some of them, that they are not just speaking and they're not on the fringes of speech, but they actually pose a threat. And when they pose a threat -- that's what Janet Napolitano and Darryl Johnson at DHS were saying. These people will cross over and pose a threat to the American people. They are domestic terrorists.
GREENBERGERSo we don't have to open files right away, but we have to investigate. It's sensitive. It's nuanced. That report was pulled back, really, in sort of reverse racial profiling. We're only going to look at Muslims and Muslim fundamentals. We're not going to look at white Americans wearing the Army.
REHMDavid Gomez, what's your reaction?
GOMEZWell, I agree 100 percent because there's a whole spectrum of bias-based groups in the United States, and it's not restricted to right wing. There are certainly left wing groups, environmental groups that espouse hatred, people who are like minded. So you can't restrict it to one group specifically in the United States or any place in the world. Every country has this problem of biased-based ideologically-motivated crimes in their countries.
REHMAll right. To…
GOMEZMight I add a comment here?
REHMVery briefly, please, because I’m going to take another caller.
GOMEZSure. I mean, briefly I just want to say it's not so that Janet Napolitano stood beside Darrell Johnson and behind his report. She acted terribly in this, in my opinion. The criticisms of his report were baloney. The report did not suggest that every conservative out there was a potential Timothy McVeigh. Remotely, it's hard to believe these people -- I don't mean on the panel -- I mean, the people who attacked the report, actually read it.
GOMEZNapolitano caved to political pressure from the extreme right, people like Michelle Malkin -- some of them are not all extreme right, but, you know, the American legion and so on. Also on free speech first incitement, you know, if someone made the call that Michael suggested, of course, that is a true threat, as they say in the law. That's a specific credible threat as opposed to the kind of general advocacy, we need to kill all these people or those people, that I was speaking about.
REHMAll right, to Hanover, Pa. Good morning, Tim.
TIMGood morning, Diane, and thank you for your speakers and yourself and your presentation here.
TIMAs a mental health specialist and a practitioner in the field, I want to commend people to advocate a continuation of free speech, but I legally am a mandated reporter. And I take what people say very seriously.
TIMAs a mandated reporter, I don't have to prove a credible threat but to report those things. And I just want to underscore that some people may think that's a violation of free speech, but I think there's a lot of loose language out here and a lot of people threatening either through the music they listen to, the things they're exposed to. And I think that forensically we owe it to ourselves as a society to take this stuff a whole lot more seriously because of its rebels.
GREENBERGERYeah, I mean, that's absolutely right. And as a matter of fact, it's now come out that the Aurora, Colo. shooter had been analyzed by a psychiatrist on the University -- in on –- within his university, and as part of a threat assessment. And she had notified university police and said, this guy is going to be a danger. This happens time and time again.
REHMAnd what happened?
GREENBERGERNothing. Nothing happened. So there's no two ways about it. When we talk about preventing this, the one way is to surveil and to watch out for threat and violence. The other way is to have an appropriate mental health capacity, and we're learning that every day. And as weak as the mental health capacity is, the psychiatrist would have stopped this if people had listened to her.
GREENBERGERThirdly, on Saturday, an off-duty police officer hired by a movie theater to be a security guard saw a guy walking to the movie theater with a big bag loaded with guns, rifles and knives, and he stopped it. And the Aurora, Colo. shooting could have been stopped if there was minimal security here. So I think it's important to say that what we're -- where we are right now is our defenses are completely down. We're not surveilling, we're not using the mental health system, and we aren't holding our clinches up to do the most basic security protection of some of these facilities.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Tracy in Texas says, "I'm curious about what the Southern Poverty Law Center has heard from the white supremacist hate groups it monitors in the wake of the shooting out in Wisconsin. Has communication increased or gone silent? What are they saying to one another? And how about the hate music scene?" Mark.
POTOKWell, the answer is we did look at, you know, what the reaction was to, you know, to the shooting in Milwaukee. And basically what we saw was about a 3-to-1 mix, about, you know, about three-quarters of the people we read comments from in their world were, this really wasn't such a good thing. It makes us look bad. They'll be, you know, going after white nationalists now. And the other quarter was absolutely celebratory.
POTOKThere's a guy named Alex Linder who operates something called Vanguard News Network which is a neo-Nazi Web forum, and here is a quote: "Take your debt and go back to India and dumb their ashes in the Ganges, Sikhs. You don't belong here in the country my ancestors fought to found and deeded to me and mine their posterity. Even if you came here legally and even if you haven't done anything wrong personally, go home, Sikhs. Go home to India where you belong. This is not your country. It belongs to white men." And there are a lot of other comments along those lines.
REHMMichael Greenberger, how do you react to that?
GREENBERGERWell, I mean, look...
GREENBERGERIt's stunning. But, you know, it's very interesting. On April 19, long before this happened, 90 members of Congress wrote a letter to the executive branch saying they were very worried about violence against the Sikh community. This was -- again, you've got to connect the dots here. You cannot sit back and say, oh, we're only going to look at al-Qaida. When we have a threat, Timothy McVeigh shows that here in the United States.
GREENBERGERAnd I will say that the people who criticize Napolitano -- and by the way, Napolitano did back away from that report, that's what I said from the beginning -- but who did criticize her will say, oh no, we have to go after lone wolves. We have to protect ourselves.
REHMBut she backed down because of political pressure.
GREENBERGERThat's right. And instead of...
REHMIntense political pressure.
GREENBERGERYes. And instead of backing down, she should've defended what she was doing. It made perfect sense. History has shown what her concerns were made perfect sense.
REHMSo, Mark Potok or David Gomez, in light of what's happened in just the past few months, do you see the FBI taking a more assertive position? Do you see Homeland Security acting more directly? Either one of you. Mark Potok.
POTOKYeah. I mean, my own sense of that -- and I think David may be closer connected to the agencies -- is that, yes, especially since Barack Obama appeared on the scene. You know, Daryl Johnson's finding in 2009 DHS reports were very similar to our findings which were, you know, quite independently reached. And, you know, I think during the Bush administrations earlier, especially from the leadership of the FBI, there was a kind of downplaying of the domestic threat.
POTOKThere was a lot of talk about so-called eco-terrorists who have killed no one in the history of their movement and very, very little about white supremacists, so where the real threat is, that, I think, changed and very clearly, at least to me, it seems law enforcement is quite aware that this is a very real incredible threat. And each time we have one of these attacks, that's reinforced.
REHMAll right. David Gomez, I want to give you a chance to comment very quickly, please.
GOMEZWell, certainly, I think that there is a heightened vigilance on the part of the FBI. Certainly here in the Pacific Northwest, we've always had heightened awareness of the threat from white supremacists groups like The Order, the Aryan Nations, the Phineas Priesthood. And now we're seeing investigations being conducted into some of the left wing groups like the Black Bloc anarchist and other groups here in the Pacific Northwest...
REHMAll right. David Gomez, former FBI special agent, Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center, Michael Greenberger of the University of Maryland, let's hope we can stay on top of this. Thank you, all. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
Most Recent Shows
A Justice Department investigation finds a pattern of racial discrimination by police officers and courts in Ferguson, Missouri. Diane and guests discuss what's in the new report and how it could affect police departments nationwide.
We live in an age when science and technology touch nearly every aspect of our lives. Yet scientific findings on climate change, vaccines and evolution are increasingly under attack. Why people doubt science.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a much-debated speech to Congress. We look at reaction to the speech here and abroad and efforts to reduce U.S.-Israeli tensions over a possible nuclear agreement with Iran.