WASHINGTON -- It’s been almost two years since Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), as a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, watched conservatives blast Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a report warning right-wing extremists threaten American security. But after Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six and critically injuring three, Pascrell is calling on lawmakers to reconsider the report.
The nine-page document, titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” was released in April 2009. It found that deep-rooted frustration across right-wing extremist groups may push individuals toward violence. "If such violence were to occur,” the report said, “it likely would be isolated, small-scale, and directed at specific immigration-related targets.”
Reaction from the right was furious. Former Michigan Rep. Pete Hoekstra, then the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, asked for an investigation around the DHS report for "unsubstantiated conclusions and political bias." Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin called it a “piece of crap” and “one of the most embarrassingly shoddy pieces of propaganda” she had ever seen.
“People just concluded that if it didn't involve al Qaeda, it wasn't a case of terrorism, which was absolutely foolish,” Pascrell said in an interview with The Huffington Post. But "this was part of the Homeland Security’s responsibility to look at domestic terror. It existed in America -- it's not something people made up or manufactured.”
Pascrell acknowledged much isn't known about accused temple shooter Wade Michael Page, who was killed by police. Page was a white supremist, played in white supremist heavy metal bands and urged other skinheads to be more active in their cause.
Daryl Johnson, a former DHS security analyst and the report's principal author, left his government job after his report was criticized. Johnson told HuffPost on Tuesday the decision not to take the report's warnings seriously has "come at a cost and that’s the bottom line. Lives have been lost. Attacks continue to happen."
“This is serious business,” Pascrell said. “When we go back to the warnings in that DHS report, it just jumps right out at you.
“The shooting in Wisconsin is an act of domestic terrorism -- it's plain, it's simple, it's very clear,” Pascrell continued, adding that there has been no major effort to prepare or protect Sikh Americans, who have repeatedly been targeted since 9/11.
A DHS spokesman didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The FBI and the Justice Department currently lump hate crimes against Sikhs together with hate crimes against Muslims -- saying that Sikhs are often targeted by individuals who mistake them as Muslim.
Pascrell was also one of 93 members of Congress who signed a letter to the Justice Department in April, as part of an appeal to the FBI to track hate crimes specifically against Sikh Americans. That letter was spearheaded by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.), who told HuffPost Monday that the Justice Department and FBI “need to take it one step further” with respect to counting crimes against Sikh Americans, to better understand why they are being targeted, and to look for a resolution.
Pascrell said the request is entirely reasonable to protect the half-million Sikh Americans -- as well as Muslim Americans, who are just as much of a target.
“Just because you're Muslim, or just because you're Sikh, should not be a cause for you to worry about your safety,” Pascrell said, adding that there needs to be a greater push to outlaw all hate crimes. “Lawmakers on both sides, Democrats and Republicans, they need to come together and stop trying to get short-term political advantage. Let me simply say this: If we choose to wait to see what happens, then the long-term suffering of America continues.”