MIAMI (Reuters) - Right-wing extremists in the United States are gaining new recruits by exploiting fears about the economy and the election of the first black U.S. president, the Department of Homeland Security warned in a report to law enforcement officials.
The April 7 report, which Reuters and other news media obtained on Tuesday, said such fears were driving a resurgence in “recruitment and radicalization activity” by white supremacist groups, antigovernment extremists and militia movements. It did not identify any by name.
DHS had no specific information about pending violence and said threats had so far been “largely rhetorical.”
But it warned that home foreclosures, unemployment and other consequences of the economic recession “could create a fertile recruiting environment for right-wing extremists.”
“To the extent that these factors persist, right-wing extremism is likely to grow in strength,” DHS said.
The report warned that military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with combat skills could be recruitment targets, especially those having trouble finding jobs or fitting back into civilian society.
The department “is concerned that right-wing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities,” the report said.
DHS spokeswoman Sara Kuban said on Tuesday the report was one of an ongoing series of threat assessments aimed at “a greater understanding of violent radicalization in the U.S.”
A similar assessment of left-wing radicals completed in January was distributed to federal, state and local police agencies at that time.
“These assessments are done all the time, this is nothing unusual,” Kuban said.
The Department of Homeland Security was formed in response to the September 11 attacks of 2001 and has focused largely on threats from Islamist extremists.
The report said domestic right-wing terrorist groups grew during the economic recession of the early 1990s but subsided as the economy improved.
Government scrutiny disrupted violent plots following the April 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City by Army veteran Timothy McVeigh which killed 168 people.
“Despite similarities to the climate of the 1990s, the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years,” the report said.
The Internet has made it easier to locate specific targets, communicate with like-minded people and find information on bombs and weapons, it said.
Extremist groups are preying on fears that President Barack Obama, the first African American U.S. president, would restrict gun ownership, boost immigration and expand social programs for minorities, the report said.
It said such groups were also exploiting anti-Semitic sentiment with accusations that “a cabal of Jewish financial elites” had conspired to collapse the economy.
“This trend is likely to accelerate if the economy is perceived to worsen,” the report said.
Additional reporting by Randall Mikkelsen in Washington, editing by Jim Loney and Alan Elsner