Last week, CNN revealed the existence of a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) report that placed right-wing sovereign citizen groups on equal footing with ISIS and Islamist terrorists as the most worrisome and significant source of terrorism on U.S. soil.
“[F]ederal and local law enforcement groups view the domestic terror threat from sovereign citizen groups as equal to — and in some cases greater than — the threat from foreign Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS,” CNN’s report asserted.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) was very happy at this news, welcoming a government-backed report that shifts the focus away from Islamists and, instead, toward “the threat posed by domestic right-wing violent extremists.”
Then on Wednesday, the folks at Reason got their hands on the DHS report itself. They had a hard time coming to the same conclusions about the right-wing “threat” that CNN had reached.
Here’s Reason’s Jesse Walker:
The intelligence assessment, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) prepared in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, was circulated to law enforcement on February 5 but was not released to the public. (DHS did not respond to repeated requests from Reason for comment.) CNN revealed its existence last Friday, but the network quoted only a couple of lines from it and did not post the full document for everyone to see.
… The document declares on its first page that most sovereign citizens are nonviolent, and that it will focus only on the violent fringe within a fringe — the people it calls “sovereign citizen extremists,” or SCEs. It describes their violence as “sporadic,” and it does not expect its rate to rise, predicting instead that the violence will stay “at the same sporadic level” in 2015. The author or authors add that most of the violence consists of “unplanned, reactive” clashes with police officers, not preplanned attacks.
When sovereigns do plan an attack in advance, the report suggests that this tends to be “in direct response to an ongoing personal grievance, such as an arrest or court order.” It argues that sovereign citizens are unlikely to pick a symbolic target — like, say, the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City — and that in this way they are distinct from the killers who attacked two randomly selected cops in Las Vegas last year or three TSA officers at an L.A. airport the year before that. While some police assessments of the movement may give officers the impression that anyone asserting their rights or videotaping an encounter might be a sovereign citizen, the DHS report draws its distinctions fairly carefully.
In short, the DHS report presents sovereign-citizen violence as a fairly rare risk that officers should nonetheless be prepared for should it arise. It does not claim that the threat to police is growing, it does not conflate the sovereigns with other anti-government groups, it makes no broad claims about terror on the right (the word “right-wing” appears nowhere in the document), and it does not compare the sovereigns to ISIS or to any other foreign terrorists.
That, of course, didn’t stop CNN from making the comparison when it first revealed the report in a sensational story with the headline “Bigger threat than ISIS?” (H/T to Reason for tracking down the archived original link to the CNN story page, whose headline CNN has since modified.)
Here’s the full DHS report, which CNN did not provide at the time it released its Web story exaggerating the “threat” from right-wing domestic terrorists.