Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Sunday portrayed veterans as victims – not perpetrators – of right-wing extremism as she sought to combat the political controversy arising out of an April 14 Homeland Security memo warning that returning soldiers could be ripe for domestic terrorism participation.
“The report is not saying that veterans are extremists. Far from it,” Napolitano said on CNN’s State of the Union. “What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that.”
The April 14 DHS report on the dangers of right-wing extremism said that such groups “will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”
And the report noted that there is recent historical precedent for the concern among the counterterrorism community.
“The willingness of a small percentage of military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned, or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today,” the report continued.
A number of Republicans lashed out at the report, honing in right away at its assessment of veterans.
The day following its release, House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) demanded an apology from Napolitano.
“To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable,” Boehner said. “The Department of Homeland Security owes our veterans an apology.”
Napolitano said she regretted the politicization of the report, but defended it as another in a series – from her department and others – that have reached the same conclusion.
“I regret that in the politicization of everything that happens in Washington D.C., some took offense,” Napolitano said. “But when you read the report, what it was saying was, look, we have a threat of terrorism within our own shores, and one of the groups being targeted to see if they would be aligned with that are some of our veterans.”