National Press Club

Morris Dees: Congress, Nation Must Guard Against Domestic Terrorism

July 13, 2009 | By Ellyn Ferguson

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Key congressional committees should review Pentagon policies on extremist groups to determine if they prevent the U.S. military from “inadvertently training future domestic terrorists,” the chief trial counsel for a civil rights watchdog group told a National Press Club audience July 10.

Morris Dees, cofounder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, released a letter he sent to the House and Senate Armed Services and homeland security committees. He called for an investigation into Pentagon rules designed to keep racial extremists from joining and serving in the military where they have access to special training and weapons.

For example, Dees said, the center found more than 40 personal profiles in which the posters on an online social networking site operated by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement listed the military as their profession.

Dees also cited a Department of Homeland Security report sent to law enforcement authorities warning that “right-wing” groups pose a significant threat of domestic terrorism and that they might focus recruitment efforts on returning combat veterans. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the report, but apologized to veterans, conservatives and congressional lawmakers who said the report libeled military personnel.

Dees said the Southern Poverty Law Center has identified more than 600 Web sites operated by extremist groups and 926 U.S. hate groups – a 54 percent increase since 2000.

James von Brunn, the 88-year-old avowed white supremacist accused of fatally shooting a black security guard at the Holocaust Museum, had his own Web site espousing his anti-Semitic views and fears that the white race is in a struggle for survival.

“Was he just one lone nut?” Dees asked.

Dees said he doesn’t think so.

Recent incidents involving white supremacists seem fueled by the election of the nation’s first black president, a weak economy and projections that racial and ethnic groups will comprise nearly half the nation’s population by 2040.

“A perfect storm is brewing for the buildup of these hate groups,” he said.

That’s one reason Congress needs to scrutinize the Defense Department’s policies to prevent racial extremists from joining and serving in the uniformed services, Dees said. The two primary conspirators behind the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City’s Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building – Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols – met during basic training at Fort Benning, Ga.

The bombing, which killed 168 people and wounded hundreds, was the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil until Sept. 11, 2001, when foreign terrorists destroyed New York’s World Trade Center, damaged the Pentagon and crashed a domestic airliner in Pennsylvania.