As if there were not enough bogeymen – terrorism, climate change/global warming, the perils of red meat, obesity, greenhouse gas emissions, Rush Limbaugh and the evil Wall Street bankers – the Missouri Information Analysis Center has given us yet another reason to look under our beds each night. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected that the seemingly mild-mannered, elderly neighbor with the Ron Paul yard sign prominently displayed was a prospective militia man or urban terrorist.
The analysis center-compiled report flagged certain activities of individuals or groups, linking them prone to militia membership or domestic terrorist activity. These indicators include “subversive” literature, selected political bumper stickers and religious and anti-abortion paraphernalia. The “Modern Militia Movement” document identified supporters of third-party candidates and those displaying the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag of the Revolutionary War and even the American flag as objects for added surveillance.
As one might expect, the release or leaking of this report has raised a maelstrom of recriminations both pro and con, the critics far outnumbering the defenders. The irony of this self-inflicted wound should not be lost on anyone who follows politics and the doctrine of political correctness — this is but an extension of stereotyping or profiling, a practice that has been roundly criticized by the very office promoting the scrutiny.
Kicking this can of labeling individual or group activities for heightened surveillance further down the road, should we not consider also that these friends of libertarian or conservative causes tend to be sportsmen and women who drive pickup trucks, hunt, fish and perhaps even engage in paintball exercises? With that established, do we target also those who purchase hunting and fishing licenses or are gun owners as potential advocates of overthrowing the government?
Admittedly, there exists a delicate balance between the Constitutional right to assemble and the requirement to ensure the assemblage be a peaceful one with neither subversive nor violent intent. Consequently, neglecting intelligence overwatch to preclude overt nefarious activities of domestic or foreign nature ranges from the naive to the criminal. National security is not an exercise in semantics — does anyone believe that victims of terrorist attacks would be proud to know that the bombers were free from government surveillance or wiretaps?
Nevertheless, Missouri's analysis center, one of 58 Homeland Security “fusion centers” created to collect local intelligence, overstated its mandate with the warning, “Due to the current economical and political situation, a lush environment for militia has been created. Unemployment rates are high as well of costs of living expenses. Additionally, President Obama is seen as tight on gun control and many extremists fear he will enact firearms confiscations.”
While there are elements of truth in that observation, it hardly reflects the sentiments of the Libertarian Party, the Constitution Party, Ron Paul supporters or even those of rascally Republicans. In fact, this broad-brush stereotyping of those leaning to the conservative side does everyone a disservice by fomenting a fear of one’s neighbor merely because he/she exhibits a nonmainstream political belief.
As an example of one who might be caught up in this ill-advised hysteria, I qualify in many of the categories considered suspect by the center. I am a pro-military, pro-choice, gun-owning conservative who has always driven a pickup truck, one of which was adorned with a “God Bless John Wayne” bumper sticker. Although I respect their rights and views, I don’t support third-party candidates — primarily for the same reason I don’t buy lottery tickets. As a prospective winner, the lottery has greater promise.
These fusion centers, designed by the Department of Homeland Security to collect and share local intelligence with state and federal governments, do provide a vital security function in the identification of threats. The 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9-11 felling of the Twin Towers are reminders of the inherent danger of complacency in national defense. Nevertheless, there are two valuable lessons to be learned from the release of this report.
First, a study of this magnitude and sensitivity should not be entrusted to amateur theorists but be carefully supervised with appropriate guidelines and adult leadership in setting parameters. Next, to avoid embarrassment, before released, it should be reviewed by the officials responsible for the content and conclusions — in this instance, the director of Public Safety and Highway Patrol superintendent.
Both the governor and the analysis center are on record as supporting the study; however, it is difficult to defend the content of a document that no one has read. One has only to look to the recent passage of the federal stimulus package to find a parallel.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.