By: GARY WECKSELBLATT Bucks County Courier Times
U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent is calling for a hearing to look into a recent Department of Homeland Security threat assessment report that labels returning war veterans as potential "rightwing extremists."
Dent, a 15th District Republican and a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, supports the stance by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson that requested an appearance by Secretary Janet Napolitano to discuss some of the "troubling" aspects of the 10-page report released last week.
"The men and women who are fighting true violent extremists in Iraq, Afghanistan and other remote places in the world deserve better than their own government calling them a potential threat," Dent stated in a press release. "While I certainly agree that DHS should be thorough in its assessments of all forms of threats, this particular passage is offensive because it merely feeds into fears and stereotypes of returning veterans.
Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said the report raises privacy and civil liberty issues. "This report appears to have blurred the line between violent belief, which is constitutionally protected, and violent action, which is not," he wrote in a letter to Napolitano.
The report said while there is no specific information that domestic right-wing terrorists are planning acts of violence, it suggests acts of violence could come from unnamed "rightwing extremists" concerned about illegal immigration, abortion, increasing federal power and restrictions on firearms - and it singles out returning war veterans as susceptible to recruitment.
"The possible passage of new restrictions on firearms and the return of military veterans facing significant challenges reintegrating into their communities could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks," the report stated.
Napolitano has apologized to veterans for being mentioned in the report, which concluded that a declining economy and the nation's political climate could fuel a resurgence of right-wing extremism.
In a letter to Napolitano, the American Legion's national commander, David K. Rehbein, called the report "politically biased."
"I think it is important for all of us to remember that Americans are not the enemy. The terrorists are," he said.
On its Web site, the Veterans of Foreign Wars called the report a "threat assessment, not accusation."
Glen M. Gardner Jr., national commander of the VFW, said it "should have been worded differently" but served a vital purpose.
"A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility," he said in a statement.
Eighth District Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy, who has gained notoriety as the first Iraq War veteran in Congress, had no comment on the report, according to his spokesman Adam Abrams.