The Controversial CTC Report
The Center for Combating Terrorism at West Point released a report on domestic terrorism that raised hackles for a number of reasons. Despite the dismissals of liberal political pundits, the reasons for objections to the CTC report are legitimate but they did not need to arise in the first place and might have been avoided with a slightly different editorial approach or appropriate caveats (I just finished reading the report, which is primarily focused on the usual suspects). Here’s why I think the normally well-regarded CTC stumbled into a hornet’s nest:
First, in this foray into domestic terrorism analysis, the center chose to concentrate only on the threat of violence of the Far Right while ignoring other threats coming from the Far Left, infiltration by criminal insurgent networks from Mexico, notably the ultraviolent Zetas whose reach has stirred gang violence in Chicago and Islamist terrorism, either homegrown “lone wolves” or from foreign infiltration or subversion. In itself, this is understandable if the CTC plans a series of reports with a separate focus on different domestic threats; but without that context, it is a myopic analytic perspective, particularly given the demonstrated capabilities of various AQ affiliates or just south of the border, the criminal–insurgency of the narco-cartels. Had all of these been addressed in one omnibus report, any complaints from conservatives were likely to have been muted or nonexistent. This is not to say that the radical American Far Right does not have a violent threat potential of it’s own worth studying; it does and it is real. But available evidence indicates it to be the least organized, least operationally active and least professionally competent in terms of terrorist “tradecraft” of the three.
The second and most problematic aspect of the report is an intellectually sloppy definition of a dangerous “antifederalist movement” where noxious concepts like “white supremacy” and wacko conspiracy theories are casually associated with very mainstream conservative (or even traditionally bipartisan !) political ideas – coincidentally, some of the same ideas that contemporary “big government” liberal elites tend to find irritating, objectionable or critical of their preferred policies. Part of the equation here is that American politics are evolvng into a very bitterly partisan, “low trust” environment, but even on the merits of critical analysis, these two passages are ill-considered and are largely responsible for most of the recent public criticism of the CTC:
….The antifederalist rationale is multifaceted, and includes the beliefs that the American political system and its proxies were hijacked by external forces interested in promoting a “New World Order” (NWO) in which the United States will be absorbed into the United Nations or another version of global government. They also espouse strong convictions regarding the federal government, believing it to be corrupt and tyrannical, with a natural tendency to intrude on individuals’ civil and constitutional rights. Finally, they support civil activism, individual freedoms, and self government
….In contrast to the relatively long tradition of the white supremacy racist movement, the anti-federalist movement appeared in full force only in the early to mid-1990s, with the emergence of groups such as the Militia of Montana and the Michigan Militia. Antifederalism is normally identified in the literature as the “Militia” or “Patriot” movement. Anti-federalist and anti-government sentiments were present in American society before the 1990s in diverse movements and ideological associations promoting anti-taxation, gun rights, survivalist practices,and libertarian ideas
This is taxonomic incoherence, or at least could have used some bright-line specifics ( like “Posse Commitatus” qualifying what was meant by “anti-taxation” activists) though in some cases, such as “libertarian ideas” and “civil activism”, I’m at a loss to know who or what violent actors they were implying, despite being fairly well informed on such matters.
By the standard used in the first paragraph, Glenn Greenwald, Ralph Nader and the ACLU would also be considered “far right antifederalists”. By the standards of the second, we might be in physical danger from Grover Norquist, Congressman John Dingell and Penn Jillette. No one who opposed the recent increases in income tax rates, dislikes gun-control or thought the DOJ may have abused it’s power in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz or in their stubborn refusal to prosecute Bankster racketeering is likely to welcome a report under the auspices of West Point that juxtaposes such normal and perfectly valid American political beliefs with neo-Nazism. A move that is simply going to – and quite frankly, did – gratuitously irritate a large number of people, including many in the defense and national security communities who are a natural “customer base” for CTC reports.
As I said previously, this could easily have been completely avoided with more careful use of language, given that 99% the report has nothing to do with mainstream politics and is concerned with actors and orgs with often extensive track records of violence. As the CTC, despite it’s independence, is associated so strongly with an official U.S. Army institution, it needs to go the extra mile in explaining it’s analysis when examining domestic terrorism subjects that are or, appear to be, connected to perfectly legitimate participation in the political process. This is the case whether the subject is on the Left or Right – few activists on the Left, for example, have forgotten the days of COINTELPRO and are currently aggrieved by the activities of Project Vigilant.
I might make a few other criticisms of the report, such as the need for a better informed historical perspective, but that is hardly what the recent uproar was about.
January 25th, 2013 at 9:37 pm
Thank you for this post Charles!
And it’s doubly ironic that they refer to the militia movement as ‘anti-federalist’ when if anything they are very federalist in the classical definition of that term implying that the USA like Switzerland is a federation of cantons or states.
Furthermore although you showed great restraint in writing this piece it seems some of the authors were trying to please the White House with this report by equating many of the WH’s domestic critics from both the libertarian Right (the particular passage about the New World Order seems to all but say ALEX JONES in three inch font) and the libertarian/civil liberties concerned ‘Left’ (Dennis Kucinich, Glenn Greenwald, and some of the ACLU).
January 25th, 2013 at 11:02 pm
you might like this one about passing laws classifying whistleblowers as terrorists
January 26th, 2013 at 1:09 am
Hi Mark –
The argument that the report should have addressed all domestic terrorists is the usual rightwing argument that it’s unfair to talk bad about anyone on their side of the spectrum without dissing someone from the other side. It’s been effective with newspeople worried about being “fair and balanced”, but it’s even wearing thin with the news media that don’t use those words.
It would be fair enough to write a report about schools in Chicago without writing about schools in Detroit, or, come to think about it, don’t conservatives write articles about how unfairly biased toward the liberal side many universities are? Why don’t they write about the universities that are unfairly biased toward the right? Liberty University, anyone?
Not that I’m serious about that last, just demonstrating how silly that objection is.
I thought it was a good report. I didn’t spend enough time with it to parse a discomfort I had with how some of the things were divided up. But I suspect that incoherence exists in the stated programs and actions of many of the groups. Frankly, some of the distinctions made my head spin – the distinctions the groups make about themselves and what they consider to be the federal government (or all government, depending on the group). I was glad not to have to try to set up those categories.
January 26th, 2013 at 3:18 am
I’m not the one you should be thanking — Zen wrote this one!
January 26th, 2013 at 3:19 am
To someone such as myself, interested in the role of religious drivers in terrorist acts, the report reads like an addendum to other reports from CTC which have dealt in great detail with the role of religious drivers in Islamist terror. The main difference for me here is that the targets are Christian Identity rather than Salafi-Jihadist, and from that POV the report is distressingly short on detail. As I said elsewhere, Michael Barkun has covered that territory in far greater detail.
I’d certainly be interested in a similar report on violence in extremes of the left, particularly if religious sanctions for violence were involved, or one on Hindutva religious violence in India, for that matter.
The report also comes at a time when many on the US right are worried that the administration is about to put unwelcome controls on gun ownership — and I can see how someone for whom that is a major concern, as religious violence is for me, might be troubled by this report, not for what it says — it’s pretty explicitly not about “the right” as such, but restricts itself to actual manifestations of violence on the “far right” — but for what polemical uses it may be put to.
Perhaps this paragraph from the page introducing it on the CTC site can go some way to making it clear how the CTC itself vies the matter:
Political views are one thing, violent actions are quite another.
January 26th, 2013 at 3:45 am
I just wrote:
I should perhaps clarify that. The Hizb ut Tahrir movement condemned the London bombings and does not advocate the use of violence to obtain its aims, yet it is sometimes considered to act:
[Wikipedia]. Similarly, Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and others whose words Anders Breivik quoted in his manifesto are sometimes accused of providing ideological precursors to, and thus facilitating, Breivik’s violence.
Just how to fully comprehend the relationship between an ecosystem of ideas and the violent acts of certain individuals is unclear to me at the moment. What is clear is that acts of violence against persons, acts of violence against property, and acts of principled non-violence can and should be distinguished from one another, and that speech is different in kind — though it may directly incite, or indirectly provide support for, any of them.
January 26th, 2013 at 6:55 am
Mr. X – Thank you. The report suffers from the lack of a historian’s participation, which may account for the strange use of the term “anti-Federalist” which has a specific meaning in the American context which doesn’t really fit what the CTC is attempting to express as well as other decisions. For example, the selection of 1990 as a start point for radical right violence might make sense, from a quantitative analysis/good data set perspective, but it is very misleading in terms of a historical picture, akin to starting violent crime data stats 3 years ago (and indeed, the report covers many notorious incidents that precede 1990 in narrative form). The Klan, for example, and within my lifetime, was still conducting campaigns of violence, bombing, murder and intimidation as well as being a political factor in the Democratic Party in the deep Southern states. And that paled in comparison with the political violence of the previous century – 1868 elections in the Reconstruction South were comparable to Iraq occupation in levels of political violence by resistant ex-Confederates. A historical curve for radical right violence in the US would look something like a Pareto curve while Left wing violence would look more like an oscillating wave
Lynn – that is abombinable and arguably, unconstitutional.
Cheryl – Sorry, we are going to mostly disagree.
First, I’m fine with a report on radical right violence – I object to the unsupported, throwaway association with mainstream conservatism. The radical right is a curious priority vice other more active threats but it is, in my view, a legitimate topic as I stated in my post.
Secondly, if the CTC were to put out a report that threw in, during a conservative GOP administration, without evidence, affirmative action, multiculturalism, climate change and social welfare programs into a report covering the activities Anonymous, ELF, the Unabomber and al Qaida, liberals would rightly cry “WTF?”. And I’d agree with them.
I can think of only a handful of conservative institutions in all of higher ed- the econ department at Chicago, the Hoover Institution, Hillsdale College, and some explicitly religious right institutions like Liberty, Bob Jones U., Wheaton College and so on. Now it may surprise you, but I had Marxists and Social-Democrats as mentors and graduate advisers and I learned a great deal from them re: historian’s craft and enjoyed a good relationship with them. Several were award winning scholars but it is empirical reality that most academics and university faculty in America trend well to the left of the general population.
I think the discomfort you feel relates to the CTC not thinking through what they were trying to convey with the “anti-federalist” section. It looks very muddled to me. Neo-Nazism/Klan by contrast is pretty clear as are Identity groups, though Charles is right that even there the analysis there is extremely shallow, Of the violent far right, the most motivated actors would likely be those with intense religious views. It would make sense to take a deep dive into, say, British Israelism theology or the Phineas Priesthood that Charles has written about. But they didn’t. Not at the quality level of their other reports, in my view
Charles – I suspect the CTC is, in scholarly terms, much stronger and more sure-footed on Islamism than radical sects of the Christian extreme Right. I doubt, for example, that they would do as well as you did with the followers of Rushdoony and his maximalist ideology. This is probably a natural consequence of the last 10 years of war looking at the main adversary (to borrow an old Soviet term) and not at the marginal corners here at home. Dominionists and Identity extremists after all have not blown up skyscrapers in New York or trains in Madrid so they are not prioritized. This effort, aside from the polemic paragraphs, was fine but I didn’t see anything new in this report either.
Hizb ut-Tahrir is “a conveyor belt”; Did you see David’s email the other day re: FPRI? The part on the Muslim Brotherhood recruitment process was very interesting and very much akin to Hizb ut-Tahrir. I saw once, a report on an arrest list of Hizb members in one of the ‘Stans, forget which, but it read like a spot check of ambitious but frustrated bourgeoisie of Olivier and Kepel’s “pious middle class” – engineers, field grade officers, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, professors, businessmen – not an illiterate villager or day laborer in sight. Nor any millionaires or government officials either
January 26th, 2013 at 7:59 am
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January 26th, 2013 at 8:51 am
“Just how to fully comprehend the relationship between an ecosystem of ideas and the violent acts of certain individuals is unclear to me at the moment.”
It is unclear to everyone. Even, I imagine, to those who eventually do commit violent acts in service to an ideology — or in reaction to an ideology, as the case might often be.
January 26th, 2013 at 9:21 am
Zen, thanks for the comments. One of my mentors — I won’t say at which Uni — was himself on the Left and detested Bush at a time when I was moderately pro-Bush during the first term before my Awakening to certain domestic and foreign policy realities in the second — i.e. that the GOP with control of the WH and both branches of Congress had absolutely no intent to seriously cut spending and didn’t even make token efforts. Then the war in Iraq dragged on, the Georgia War happened with most of the Anglo-American media taking a wildly anti-Russian position from the word go without considering how nasty Saakshvili had been (or his ties to Soros and globalism, for those on the mainline GOP Right). And then of course, Dubya iced the cake by backing the bank bailouts and the start of QE to infinity. I concluded like millions of other people, particularly those who were idled by the economic collapse for many months and had some time to think, that we now have Right and Left wings of the same oligarchic bird of prey.
Yet I should insert here that my liberal mentor was also realistic enough to tell a roomful of Bush loathing undergrads in 2004 that Dubya would probably be reelected — in other words, not to listen to the echo chamber. I for one thought Obama might win reelection but was stunned by his margin, which has forced me to reevaluate just how few people are left who agree with the Constitutionalist (forget the rapidly dying off Dubya legacy mainline GOP) position.
I concluded that while the awakening is accelerating (your own essay the Creepy State being a good example of it, neither ‘Left’ nor “Right’ simply recognizing how far we’ve come from the Founding), so is the oligarchic reach for all the police state tools. At some point the two are going to collide head on, I fear in a bloodbath, not withstanding the states and sheriffs temporarily forcing a retreat from outright gun confiscation by executive order (see Ulsterman’s “Republican Insider” who claims Obamanistas were seriously contemplating these radical steps before Harry Reid talked them into settling for their joke of 23 executive talking points and introducing the Feinstein bill, which is STILL UNCONSTITUTIONAL by any plain reading of SCOTUS ruling in the <i>Heller</i> case).
January 26th, 2013 at 9:26 am
As for the many active duty military who are reading this: I thank God you are reading it and are becoming fully Awake as to what the increasingly globalist rather than American oligarchy may one day ask you to do (even if Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin is getting disinfo re: senior commanders now being asked as a litmus test whether they’ll obey orders to shoot Americans someday).
That’s all I have for this thread, I’ll let everyone else take it from here.
January 26th, 2013 at 9:30 am
I know I’d said I’d quit while I’m ahead, but I just wanted to make one further point: yes much of the crazy stuff we’ve been reading on alternate/libertarian media sites has not happened yet. But I would just state that one of the oldest tricks in cointerintelligence (indeed, once employed by the Nixon ‘plumbers’ crew dedicated to stopping the leaks) is to create a deliberately shocking piece of disinformation and then watch one’s own bureaucracies to see who blurts it out to folks like Alex Jones, or Doug Hagmann, or whomever. In other words BigSis is creating all this panic stuff and telling cops they might have to confiscate guns JUST TO SEE WHO TALKS AND WHO DOESN’T. That right there is an indication of how nasty the people in power have become, notwithstanding how often certain alternate media and indeed King of Conspiracy outlets buy the BigSis ‘canary traps’ hook, line and sinker.
January 26th, 2013 at 4:32 pm
This report can be used to feed the paranoia on the extreme right and justify the conspiracy theories. I am currently reading Meacham’s Jefferson book and am struck that old TJ would fit into this template. I suspect he would be proud.
January 26th, 2013 at 5:35 pm
Hi Zen –
I figured we would disagree, but I remain convinced that the “fair and balanced” argument is a throwaway from the right. And I do believe that you learned a lot from your leftist professors; learning occurs within you, and anyone can awaken your abilities and thoughts, even, I suspect a conservative. (And I’m thinking of a particular person I know when I say that.)
If I read the report again, I’ll keep your “anti-federalist” points in mind. But I suspect I won’t get back to it. Too many other things going on in my life.
January 26th, 2013 at 11:37 pm
I always thought that the 2nd amendment and it’s use of the term militias was an anti-federalist piece of legislature. I have a hard time believing that our Army or National Guard felt comfortable with the militias they had to deal with in Iraq, and would have been more at home handling an Iraqi Army or national guard unit, which they made short work of.
This goes with a another comment I read on one of your posts that seemed to indicate that the “Rebs” of the South, during the Civil War, in Northern America, were of the Right.
While there was a religious component, it seems to me that the “Rebs” were a distributed network and not a decentralized network, as our National Guard are.
This distribution network would clearly but them on the Left, and not Right, as a religious organization can be structured either as the Left or Right.
Any thoughts on what a network structured as the Right or Left would look like?