Two weeks before
the U.S. Department of Homeland Security penned its
controversial report warning against "right-wing extremists" in the
United States, it generated a memo defining dozens of additional groups –
animal rights activists, black separatists, tax protesters, even worshippers
of the Norse god Odin – as potential "threats."
Though the "Domestic Extremism Lexicon" was reportedly rescinded almost
immediately, Benjamin Sarlin of
The Daily Beast recently obtained and published online
a copy of the unclassified memo, dated March 26, 2009.
While many of the groups listed in the lexicon – such as Aryan prison
gangs and neo-Nazis – may indeed be widely considered extremists, others
will likely take offense at being described as a potential "threat."
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For example, the memo defines the "tax resistance movement" – also
referred to in the report as the tax protest movement or the tax freedom
movement – as "groups or individuals who vehemently believe taxes violate
their constitutional rights. Among their beliefs are that wages are not
income, that paying income taxes is voluntary, and that the 16th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution, which allowed Congress to levy taxes on income,
was not properly ratified."
The report, however, continues in its assessment of tax protesters,
asserting that members "have been known to advocate or engage in criminal
activity and plot acts of violence and terrorism in an attempt to advance
their extremist goals."
Similarly, the lexicon concludes its definition of "black separatists" by
asserting, "Such groups or individuals also may embrace radical religious
beliefs. Members have been known to advocate or engage in criminal activity
and plot acts of violence directed toward local law enforcement in an
attempt to advance their extremist goals."
In his blog piece titled "Who You Calling an Extremist?" Sarlin writes,
"Partisans leapt to decry the first DHS memo as part of a Democratic
conspiracy to marginalize right wingers. But it became clear that DHS's
broad descriptions of extremists were symptomatic of an ongoing agency
problem that crossed ideological lines."
The lexicon states its purpose is to provide "definitions for key terms
and phrases that often appear in DHS analysis that addresses the nature and
scope of the threat that domestic, non-Islamic extremism poses to the United
Apparently, the DHS analyzes the "threat" level of Internet news websites
like WorldNetDaily, for the lexicon defines "alternative media" as "a term
used to describe various information sources that provide a forum for
interpretations of events and issues that differ radically from those
presented in mass media products and outlets."
The term "black power," widely used in a variety of contexts, also merits
a definition in the lexicon: "A term used by black separatists to describe
their pride in and the perceived superiority of the black race."
The DHS memo also includes precursors to the ill-fated
Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in
Radicalization and Recruitment" report, which prompted
outrage from legislators and
campaign calling for the resignation of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano.
For example, the lexicon contains virtually the same broad-stroke
language the right-wing extremism report used.
"Rightwing extremism," the lexicon defines as those "who can be broadly
divided into those who are primarily hate-oriented, and those who are mainly
antigovernment and reject federal authority in favor of state or local
authority. This term also may refer to rightwing extremist movements that
are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or
The lexicon further points to those who oppose driver's licenses for
"Anti-immigration extremism," the lexicon defines as "a movement of
groups or individuals who are vehemently opposed to illegal immigration,
particularly along the U.S. southwest border with Mexico, and who have been
known to advocate or engage in criminal activity and plot acts of violence
and terrorism to advance their extremist goals. They are highly critical of
the U.S. Government's response to illegal immigration and oppose government
programs that are designed to extend 'rights' to illegal aliens, such as
issuing driver's licenses or national identification cards and providing
in-state tuition, medical benefits, or public education."
Unlike the right-wing extremism report, however, the lexicon includes
definitions of extremism across a broad spectrum of issues: anarchy, animal
rights extremism, black nationalism, Cuban independence, environmentalism,
Jewish extremism, Mexican separatism, right-wing militias, white
supremacists, the anti-war movement and more.
Among the more curious groups the DHS appears to be monitoring is the
"racial Nordic mysticism" group, defined as "an ideology adopted by many
white supremacist prison gangs who embrace a Norse mythological religion,
such as Odinism or Asatru."
Among the more comical definitions is the description given of what
"racist skinheads" wear, enabling law officers, it appears, to identify
skinheads by their preferred brand of footwear:
"Dress may include a shaved head or very short hair," the report states,
"jeans, thin suspenders, combat boots or Doc Martens, a bomber jacket, and
tattoos of Nazi-like emblems."
Sarlin, who first publicized the memo, reports that a spokesperson for
DHS told him the memo was recalled "within minutes" of being issued but
declined to offer any details on the reasons for its withdrawal.