Republicans are falsely claiming that the Biden administration is targeting ordinary citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security warned on Monday that "false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories" online were potentially creating an environment for domestic terrorism. GOP lawmakers are baselessly trying to turn this into an attack on conservatives and liberty.
On Tuesday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) shared the National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin and tweeted, "The Biden Administration is now defining 'misinformation' as a terrorist threat - in a blatant attack on free speech."
A day later, the right-wing site Breitbart posted a story with the false headline "Biden's DHS Brands Free Speech 'Terrorism Threat' to U.S. — 'Welcome to Your Communist Future.'"
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) echoed the misleading claims on Friday.
"This @DHSgov advisory says U.S. citizens who have committed no crime may be considered 'potential' terrorists based on what they post on social media or say regarding COVID-19 mandates," Rubio tweeted.
"New bulletin states if DHS thinks you post 'misleading narratives and conspiracy theories,' or 'mis-dis- and mal-information' on topics like COVID-19 you will be labeled a domestic terrorist," Johnson tweeted. "Will I be next? Will you? This should frighten every American."
In reality, the DHS document warns that the nation "remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors," including the proliferation of "mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM) introduced and/or amplified by foreign and domestic threat actors."
It warns of possible "mass casualty attacks and other acts of targeted violence conducted by lone offenders and small groups acting in furtherance of ideological beliefs and/or personal grievances," in part due to "the proliferation of false or misleading narratives, which sow discord or undermine public trust in U.S. government institutions."
Recent history has shown right-wing extremist groups to be a very real threat.
On Jan. 6, 2021, thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 presidential election results. They were driven to action by Trump's repeated false claims that the election had been stolen from him.
The Jan. 6 insurrectionists, many of whom were heavily armed, openly threatened the lives of both Democratic and Republican officials. Roughly 150 area police officers were injured during the right-wing extremists' attack, including more than 80 Capitol Police officers. Five police officers who defended the U.S. Capitol have died, including four who took their own lives.
Last week, the Republican National Committee declared that the Jan. 6 rioters were engaging in "legitimate political discourse." Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell denounced the statement, calling the attack on the Senate chamber a "violent insurrection," while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy defended his party's comments.
There are other recent examples of right-wing extremists committing violent acts after being radicalized by their beliefs in dangerous lies.
A 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, a series of mailed pipe bombs that year to prominent Trump critics, and a 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart all also appeared to be motivated by similar conspiracy theories and bigotry fueled by misinformation.
This is not the first time Republican lawmakers have tried to shame a Democratic administration for accurately reporting on the threat of right-wing violence.
In 2009, under then-President Barack Obama, the Department of Homeland Security released a report titled "Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." It predicted that right-wing extremists could be radicalized, leading to "terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
Then-House Minority Leader John Boehner demanded that the department apologize for the report and that DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano explain to the public "why she has abandoned using the term 'terrorist' to describe those, such as al Qaeda, who are plotting overseas to kill innocent Americans, while her own Department is using the same term to describe American citizens who disagree with the direction Washington Democrats are taking our nation."
Napolitano eventually withdrew the report.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.