This is one of those stories that first elicits a bit of surprised laughter, in the mistaken belief it must be spoof. Then you find yourself thinking, “Oh, no, they didn’t.”
Oh, yes, they did. From the Washington Times:
The Defense Department came under fire Thursday for a U.S. Army Reserve presentation that classified Catholics and Evangelical Protestants as “extremist” religious groups alongside al Qaeda and the Ku Klux Klan.
The presentation detailed a number of extremist threats within the U.S. military, including white supremacist groups, street gangs, and religious sects.
The presentation identified seventeen religious organizations in a slide titled “religious extremism.” They include al Qaeda, Hamas, the Filipino separatist group Abu Sayyaf, and the Ku Klux Klan, which the slide identifies as a Christian organization.
“Religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world,” the slide explains, in language that closely resembles the text of a Wikipedia page on “extremism.”
As the Washington Times goes on to note, a bit north of half the American population fits into DoD’s “religious extremist” classification. Where does a government agency find that kind of eye-rolling lunacy? From the Southern Poverty Law Center, of course. The infamous left-wing group, which has a habit of labeling all political adversaries racists or extremists of some kind, is cited as a source:
The SPLC has dubbed organizations “hate groups” for promoting Christian teachings on morality and sexuality.
A SPLC map of “hate groups” was used by a gunman in 2012 to target the conservative Family Research Council for its position on gay marriage. The gunman shot a security guard at the FRC’s headquarters. The SPLC has refused to comment on its role in the shooting.
But the left-wing media insists on treating the SPLC as a learned, respectable authority, so it’s not too surprising to find the government parroting their Really Deep Thoughts on what qualifies as “extremism.” Not that you’d find any “extremism” lurking in the halls of the Southern Poverty Law Center, perish the thought. Or the pages of Wikipedia, come to think of it.
The UK Daily Mail captures the hectoring, insulting tone of the presentation, which certainly does sound like a production of the SPLC:
The opening slide warns that ‘the rise in hate crimes and extremism outside the military may be an indication of internal issues all [armed] services will have to face.’
Citing a Southern Poverty Law Center report as evidence that extremism is on the rise, the Army Reserve presentation blames “the superheated fears generated by economic dislocation, a proliferation of demonizing conspiracy theories,the changing racial make-up of America and the prospect of 4 more years under a black president who many on the far right view as an enemy to their country.”
The Daily Mail has screen captures of the slides. The Mormons landed on the “extremist” list too, as did Sunni Islam (but not any other kind, although the Muslim Brotherhood got on the list. And here I thought the new rulers of Egypt were a “largely secular” organization, according to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Two years later, they’re on the list of extremists – a pack of religious fanatics as dangerous as Hamas, Catholics, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Tough break, Muslim Brotherhood!)
The Army is trying to figure out who is responsible for this bizarre presentation, and is evidently convinced it was the work of a single loose cannon – which is a damning indictment of the bureaucracy, although the idea that dozens of managers and officers signed off on something like this would undoubtedly be worse.
This is more than merely insulting. If anyone viewing the presentation took it seriously, it would be profoundly counter-productive. Our military and national security personnel are not in need of a dorm-room bull session about what qualifies as “religious extremism.” Why, just about every religion could be broadly described as “extreme,” if taken seriously and not kept entirely private. So could militant atheism. Heavy, dude!
Instead, the people entrusted with our national security need to know about threats, and the propensity for organizational violence. Ironically, the national security bureaucracy has gone to considerable lengths to avoid drawing any conclusions about organized violence from countless “isolated incidents.” Deciding that a random smattering of religious groups (and nutters like whatever is left of the Klan) are equally “extreme” is another manifestation of institutional blindness – seeing threats everywhere is functionally equivalent to seeing them nowhere.
I doubt anyone viewing this slide show took it very seriously, however. More than anything else, it feels incredibly… lazy. A bored middle-school student could write a more useful paper about extremism, and would know better than to crib from Wikipedia.