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Napolitano defends report on right-wing extremist groups

  • Story Highlights
  • Homeland secretary: U.S. will not monitor ideology, political beliefs
  • Agency released a report on April 7 warning about right-wing extremism
  • Report: "no specific information" on violent plans by domestic right-wing terrorists
  • Report about left-wing extremists released in January; both reports initiated by Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Department of Homeland Security will never monitor ideology or political beliefs, the head of the agency said Wednesday, responding to criticism of a recent report on right-wing extremist groups.

The Department of Homeland Security says membership in extremist groups like this may be increasing.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the U.S. will never monitor ideology or political beliefs.

"Let me be very clear: We monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a written 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."

The report, "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment," said right-wing extremist groups may be using the recession and the election of the nation's first African-American president to recruit members.

The report, which was prepared in coordination with the FBI, was published last week. It was distributed to federal, state and local law enforcement officials. Mainstream media picked up the story after it was reported by conservative bloggers. Video Watch more on the DHS assessment »

Though the nine-page report said it had "no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," it said real-estate foreclosures, unemployment and tight credit "could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists and even result in confrontations between such groups and government authorities similar to those in the past."

The report compared the current climate with that of the 1990s, saying a recession, criticism over outsourcing of jobs and a perceived threat to U.S. power at that time fueled a resurgence of right-wing extremism.

However, it said, "Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years."

It warned that the groups may use proposed restrictions on firearms and the debate on immigration as recruiting tools, and said the groups may try to reach out to veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today," the report said. It noted that Timothy McVeigh, the bomber of the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, was a military veteran.

Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh decried the report on Tuesday, saying, "There is not one instance they can cite as evidence where any of these right-wing groups have done anything," according to a transcript of his remarks on his Web site.

"You have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than al Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong Il," he said, referring to the leader of North Korea.

Michael Savage, another conservative commentator, also criticized the report.

"What does Big Sis say these right-wingers are concerned about?" he wrote on his Web site, referring to Napolitano.

"Illegal aliens, the increasing power of the federal government, gun grabs, abortion and the loss of U.S. national sovereignty. In other words, anyone who is worried about preserving our borders, language and culture is on Big Sis' watch list."

In her Wednesday statement, Napolitano said the agency is on "the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not -- nor will we ever -- monitor ideology or political beliefs."

She said she was briefed on the general topic, which "struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution."

Napolitano said she intends to meet with American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein, who sent her a letter Monday stating his concern about the report.

"Timothy McVeigh was only one of more than 42 million veterans who have worn this nation's uniform during wartime," he wrote. "To continue to use McVeigh as an example of the stereotypical 'disgruntled military veteran' is as unfair as using Osama bin Laden as the sole example of Islam."

He added, "I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are."

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Napolitano said in her statement that she will tell Rehbein that the Department of Homeland Security honors veterans and employs thousands, including Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute.

The Obama administration in January issued a warning about left-wing extremists. Both reports were initiated during the administration of President George W. Bush.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve contributed to this story.

All About U.S. Department of Homeland SecurityBarack ObamaJanet Napolitano

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