Napolitano Apologizes for Offending Veterans After DHS Eyes Them for 'Rightwing Extremism'
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized to veterans in a FOX News interview after a DHS report labeled returning troops at risk for embracing right-wing extremism.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized to veterans after a report issued by her department said troops returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were at risk for being recruited by right-wing extremists.
"To the extent veterans read it as an accusation -- and apology is owed," she said in an on-air interview on FOX News Thursday, a day after veterans' groups and members of Congress blasted her for the report, which they said libeled members of the armed forces.
"The last thing I want to do is offend or castigate all veterans. To the contrary, let's meet and clear the air," she said.
A footnote in the report, which was released last week by DHS' Office of Intelligence and Analysis, said that while there is no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are planning acts of violence, such acts could come from unnamed "rightwing extremists" concerned about illegal immigration, abortion, increasing federal power and restrictions on firearms -- and singled out returning war veterans as susceptible to recruitment.
"If there's one part of this report that I would rewrite ... it would be that footnote," Napolitano said.
Napolitano defended the report Wednesday, saying it is part of an ongoing series of assessments to provide information to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on "violent radicalization" in the United States.
"Let me be clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Napolitano said in a statement. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence."
Veterans groups like the American Legion and Vets for Freedom quickly criticized the report, which described disgruntled veterans as coveted recruits for group looking for "combat skills and experience."
In a letter to Napolitano on Tuesday, American Legion National Commander David Rehbein blasted the report as incomplete and politically-biased.
"The American Legion is well aware and horrified at the pain inflicted during the Oklahoma City bombing, but Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation's uniform during wartime," Rehbein wrote. "To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical 'disgruntled military veteran' is unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam."
Napolitano acknowledged Rehbein's letter on Wednesday and said she plans to meet with him sometime next week.
Pete Hegseth, chairman of Vets for Freedom, said the report represents a "gross misunderstanding and oversimplification" of the country's service members.
"It's amazing they would single out veterans as a threat to this country," said Hegseth, an Army veteran who served in Iraq. "It underscores a pervasive belief that some are trying to spread that veterans are victims and we're coming home as damaged goods that need to be coddled instead of celebrated."
The report follows a similar DHS assessment released in January that detailed left-wing threats, focusing on cyberattacks and radical "eco-terrorist" groups like Earth Liberation Front, accused of firebombing construction sites, logging companies, car dealerships and food science labs. The report noted that left-wing extremists prefer economic damage to get their message across.
"Their leftwing assessment identifies actual terrorist organizations, like the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front," House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith, R-Texas, said Wednesday. "The rightwing report uses broad generalizations about veterans, pro-life groups, federalists and supporters of gun rights. That's like saying if you love puppies, you might be susceptible to recruitment by the Animal Liberation Front. It is ridiculous and deeply offensive to millions of Americans."
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