Information Overload: How do you know what to trust nowadays?

We on the Right have several problems, but a big one is that crazy stuff can come in mainstream packages and trick all of us.

The latest escapade – and I don’t even know what to believe myself, I’m just reading the sources and pretty much withholding judgment – involves a Department of Homeland Security report entitled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment” (.pdf).

Michelle Malkin blasted this thing. From her site:

I spent the day chasing down DHS spokespeople….

They were very defensive — preemptively so — in asserting that it was not a politicized document and that DHS had done reports on “leftwing extremism” in the past. I have covered DHS for many years and am quite familiar with past assessments they and the FBI have done on animal rights terrorists and environmental terrorists. But those past reports have always been very specific in identifying the exact groups, causes, and targets of domestic terrorism, i.e., the ALF, ELF, and Stop Huntingdon wackos who have engaged in physical harassment, arson, vandalism, and worse against pharmaceutical companies, farms, labs, and university researchers.

By contrast, the piece of crap report issued on April 7 is a sweeping indictment of conservatives. And the intent is clear. As the two spokespeople I talked with on the phone today made clear: They both pinpointed the recent “economic downturn” and the “general state of the economy” for stoking “rightwing extremism.” One of the spokespeople said he was told that the report has been in the works for a year. My b.s. detector went off the chart, and yours will, too, if you read through the entire report — which asserts with no evidence that an unquantified “resurgence in rightwing extremist recruitment and radicalizations activity” is due to home foreclosures, job losses, and…the historical presidential election.

Now I have to say, generally speaking, that I’m watching my generation take power, and I know how crazy liberal some of them are. I remember how insane college was: you couldn’t say a thing in favor of lower taxes or against identity politics generally. So it makes intuitive sense to me that one nutty report might come out of DHS, especially given that the current administration spent a ton of time putting together a strategy against Rush Limbaugh before finally getting serious about a plummeting Dow.

However, Little Green Footballs has an entirely different assessment of the same report:

…this DHS assessment was begun more than a year ago, before Barack Obama was even nominated. It has absolutely nothing to do with “tea parties,” and it was not done at the behest of the Obama administration.

Second, I’m seeing it brought up repeatedly that the report contains a reference to veterans, mentioning that some of these groups are seeking to recruit them. This is nothing more than a fact, and the report even says that only a tiny number of veterans would join such groups — but that their talents could bring a great deal of capability to the extremists. Has everyone simply forgotten that Timothy McVeigh was a veteran?

The DHS report is not intended to target anyone but the most extreme elements of the far right, and it’s depressing to see so many bloggers jumping to totally unwarranted conclusions.

Alright! We have two entirely different assessments of what should be a simple matter of fact, and both have claims about who’s distorting what. Malkin claims the left-wing and the government are smearing conservatives; LGF not implausibly claims that the wacko elements of the right are using anything they can attack for cover. It is true some very undesirable elements (i.e. neo-nazis) are trying to get into these “tea parties,” and it’s also true that DHS has a tough job and shouldn’t just be attacked because some people don’t like the results of an election.

I don’t know how to solve this problem. Ultimately, I wasn’t too worried about the DHS report, but I did feel initially that people should know about it. Now I feel it’s just a really stupid issue, that it can’t even be put under a “your tax dollars are being wasted” lens because truth be told, this is not something that should have ever been brought to the surface.

The only reason why this could be an issue is to get us hopping mad rightly or wrongly. That’s it: there’s nothing but outrage to be had here. I’m not saying Malkin’s wrong, btw – this is not an easy call. It’s just that increasingly all of us have to make calls like this because there’s too much out there, all designed to be this sort of trap. And I don’t even know how much of a trap this really is: there are people who are very hostile to conservatives that want to smear them at every opportunity.

Still. LGF has a grasp on the operative principle, the most important one, in this matter: Why is this even an issue? I’m not blaming anyone who wants others to know about it, heck, I want others to know about it. But this is a clear demonstration why an emphasis on better media is no replacement for education. Our minds should be occupied with better, higher things, not whatever bits of information are floating out there to try and capitalize on how we’re feeling. In that last respect, nearly all media is a problem, because even the most responsible media can only be “responsible” (i.e. not technically guilty of anything) by purposely keeping things dumber (operative principle: 0 times 0 = 0). To inform people and discuss things genuinely is a risk, albeit one of another sort.

6 Comments

  1. I’m going to sound like a total conspiracy nut for saying this, but for all the invocation of Timothy McVeigh as a lone wolf right-wing vet, people seem to forget these pathologies are not simply Rightist: does anyone remember Oswald, for Pete’s sake? BTW, it’s difficult to imagine a pro-life militant, haha…

    After seeing stuff about this on RCPolitics this morning, it was refreshing to see someone speak to the problem of our media and their handling of things like this DHS report particularly. Ultimately, I don’t know what the DHS was doing, but I definitely can tell what each side of the press was up to. We’d be one step away from Athenian mob rule if this was our daily prescription.

  2. I would say, if anything, Right wingers are less organized than Lefties.

    We don’t have mainstream groups comparable to the eco-terrorists or those folks protesting the G20 meetings and the WTO some years ago in Seattle.

    Without organizations to name in the report, it comes off as a little paranoid. It’s like they are trying to be fair to the Left by saying, yeah, Right wing people can be violent, too.

  3. I think LGF is a bit too cautious on this point. I only think that there was a clarifying statement from the DHS secretary because it very much looks as if political dissent is being monitored. They claim not to be policing political thought, but the report would seem to indicate that if I am against abortion, draconian gun laws, and am a vet, then I am a right wing extremist.

    The danger isn’t so much that our government would author such a report, but that they would release it as is. The report may not be a political stunt of the left, but it’s release most definitely is, and I wonder just how far along this report was a year ago – when the economic crisis was still nascent. This report is now another tool to scare people away from being or associating with conservative thought.

    So, apparently, if you disagree with the president, you must be a right wind nut terrorist. That’s now going to be the prevailing logic in this nation.

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