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The Other Pentagon (We Don't Think About)

Roundup
tags: authoritarianism, Department of Homeland Security, policing



Andrea Mazzarino, a TomDispatch regular, co-founded Brown University’s Costs of War Project. She has held various clinical, research, and advocacy positions, including at a Veterans Affairs PTSD Outpatient Clinic, with Human Rights Watch, and at a community mental health agency. She is the co-editor of War and Health: The Medical Consequences of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A relative of mine, who works for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) compiling data on foreigners entering the United States, recently posted a curious logo on his Facebook profile: a white Roman numeral three on a black background surrounded by 13 white stars. For those who don’t know what this symbol stands for, it represents the “Three Percenters,” a group that the Anti-Defamation League has identified as an anti-government militia. Its members have a record of violent criminal attacks and strikingly partisan activity, including arrests and guilty pleas in connection with the bombing of a Minnesota mosque in 2017 and appearances as “guards,” carrying assault-style weaponry, at several pro-Trump rallies. Six of its members have been charged with plotting to assault the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

When my husband, a Naval officer of nearly 20 years, saw this symbol on a family member’s Facebook page, he pointed out to me that, despite the Hatch Act, created to ensure nonpartisanship among federal workers, DHS employees are not always held accountable for exercising “free speech” that would violate that law. The Three Percenters claim that they’re protesting government tyranny. The roman numeral itself refers to a debunked claim that only 3% of Americans in the original 13 colonies took up arms against the British in the Revolutionary War.

What does it mean that an employee of the Department of — yes! — Homeland Security can openly and proudly promote a homegrown militia whose members have threatened and attacked American lawmakers and police? Sadly enough, this fits all too well an agency that national security expert Erik Dahl of the Costs of War Project recently described as looking the other way in the face of rising far-right extremism. That includes anti-government, white-supremacist, and anti-Semitic groups, armed and otherwise. Such right-wing militias and extremist outfits, as Dahl makes clear, have killed an increasing number of people in this country since the 9/11 attacks, significantly more than groups inspired by foreign Islamist organizations like al-Qaeda. And yet, in both its public statements and policies, the domestic agency created after the 9/11 attacks to keep this country “secure” has consistently focused on the latter, while underestimating and often ignoring the former.

How U.S. Security Changed after 9/11

The Department of Homeland Security was quite literally a product of 9/11 and so was formed in a political climate of nearly unwavering support for anything Congress or the White House proposed to combat extremist violence. It officially arrived on the scene just weeks after the 9/11 attacks as the Office of Homeland Security” when President George W. Bush appointed former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as its first director. By 2002, now a “department,” it would bring together 22 different government agencies, including the Transportation and Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Its mission, as stated in a proposal by President Bush, was to “protect our homeland… against invisible enemies that can strike with a wide variety of weapons.” In the end, that new department would represent the largest reorganization of government since World War II. Though few here think of it that way, it would prove to be a second Pentagon and, over the years, would be funded in a similarly profligate fashion.

 

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