Somebody sent me this article, or even subscribed me to the http://headlinenewsbureau.com site itself. Np problem, it seems to be interesting to hear just who is out gunning for Barack Obama….
Protecting the US president has presented the secret service with
the greatest challenge in its history. But who wants to kill him? And
how likely are they to succeed?
The Southern Poverty Law Center began life in 1971 as a tiny law
firm specialising in civil rights cases. It took on the might of the Ku
Klux Klan, and was duly rewarded by having its offices razed and its
senior lawyers targeted for assassination. But it kept on going and grew
to be one of the most respected monitoring groups of rightwing
extremism in America today.
Recently it brought out a report called Terror From the Right ,
which identifies, in chronological order, the serious home-grown plots,
conspiracies and racist rampages that have been cooked up in America
since the Oklahoma City bomb in 1995. The list runs to 10 pages of
closely printed type and itemises 75 domestic terrorism events, from
plans to bomb government buildings to attempts to kill judges and
Each of the incidents aimed to change the political face of America
through violence, courtesy of groups with such titles as Aryan People’s
Republic, The New Order and The Hated. But in the summer of 2008 the
chronology takes on a sharp change of tack. Entries, which had been
running at one or two per year, start coming faster. And instead of a
variety of different targets, one name crops up time and time again:
The first such entry is for 8 June 2008. Six people, linked to a
militia group in rural Pennsylvania, are arrested with stockpiles of
assault rifles and homemade bombs. One of the six allegedly tells the
authorities that he intended to shoot black people from a rooftop and
predicts civil war should Obama, who five days previously had cleared
the Democratic nomination for president, be elected to the White House.
Next entry: 24 August 2008. The day before the opening of the
Democratic convention in Denver at which Obama was nominated, three
white supremacists are arrested in possession of high-powered rifles and
camouflage clothing. They are talking about assassinating Obama.
24 October 2008: Less than two weeks before the election, two white
supremacists are arrested in Tennessee over a bizarre plan to kill more
than 100 black people, including Obama.
21 January 2009: The day after Obama’s inauguration, a white man is
arrested inï¿½ Massachusetts, having allegedly killed two black immigrants
and injured a third. He says he was "fighting for a dying race".
10 June 2009: James von Brunn, aged 88, walks into the Holocaust
Memorial Museum in Washington and shoots dead a security guard. Von
Brunn, who died last month in jail awaiting trial, left a note that
read: "Obama was created by Jews."
In the 13 months that Barack Obama has been the occupant of the Oval
Office he has been the subject of an extraordinary outpouring of
emotion from the American electorate. At the start it was largely
adulatory, though more recently the adoration has been drowned out by a
cacophony of criticism from tea party activists, birthers,
global-warming deniers and viewers of Fox News. At the same time,
largely hidden from view, there has been a layer of antagonism towards
Obama that lies well beyond the boundaries of reasonable political
That has been a fact of life for Obama and his family since long
before they took the keys to the White House. On 2 May 2007, fully 18
months before election day, he was assigned a secret service detail –
much earlier than any other presidential candidate in American history.
The precise reasons for the move have never been disclosed, but there
was certainly a mood in the air sufficiently palpable to disconcert
Michelle Obama. A senior US official in the State Department has told
the Guardian that before he decided to run for the presidency, Obama had
actively to win Michelle over to the idea by assuaging her fears about
the potential of an attack on him, her and/or their two daughters.
Michelle would have been aware of the backstory here: that Colin
Powell had declined to run for the 1996 Republican nomination partly
because his wife Alma feared his assassination at the hands of white
supremacists. Over the course of the long presidential race, Michelle
spoke openly about her anxieties and how she had determined to overcome
them, telling 60 Minutes that she had decided to fling herself into the
race because "I am tired of being afraid".
According to John Heilemann and Mark Halperin’s new account of the
2008 election, Game Change, she eventually felt relaxed enough to crack
sardonic jokes about the subject. "I’ve already gone out and increased
our life insurance on [Barack]," she quipped. "You just can’t be too
careful!" But as the Southern Poverty Law Center survey shows, the issue
of safety and the 44th president remains anything but a laughing
matter. "Virtually every domestic terrorist event we have identified
since June 2008 – when it became obvious that Obama was going to win –
has been directly related to him," says the author of the report, Mark
Apart from the Obamas themselves, the burden of such a threat falls
primarily on the shoulders of the US secret service, and as Joseph
Petro, head of global security for Citigroup, puts it, the challenges
facing the service today are unlike any period that has gone before. On
top of all the usual risks associated with guarding the world’s most
powerful politician, there is now the added, explosive ingredient of his
race. "As the first black president he creates a whole other set of
issues for the secret service to deal with," he says.
Petro can claim to be something of an expert in this area: he spent
23 years as a special agent in the service, four of them, from 1982 to
1986, as the man who stood beside Ronald Reagan. He knows what it’s like
to be the last line of protection, how it feels to be in a milling
crowd in which you are surrounded by thousands of potential assailants,
what it is to live with the constant knowledge that any mistake – a
split second taking your eye off the ball – could be fatal.
Petro has a formula for measuring the potential dangers for any
particular incumbent of the White House. You take the general atmosphere
of the times in which they are in office and combine it with the
specific personality that the president brings to the job. In both
regards, he says, Obama presents a huge task.
"In Obama, we have a president with a very unique personality who
likes to be out with the people. Put that together with the political
atmosphere of these times that is highly partisan and vitriolic, then
include race, and we’ve got a big challenge. There’s no margin for
Petro’s point about the role the president’s personality plays in
his own safety is ably illustrated by the single most disastrous failure
in the secret service’s history – the event that every incoming trainee
agent spends hours and hours studying until it is drilled into his or
her bone marrow. Judged by modern security standards, the shooting of
John F Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November 1963 should for several reasons
never have happened. The parade route Kennedy took was publicised in
advance – a cardinal sin by the rule book of today. Lee Harvey Oswald
had a relatively easy line of fire from the sixth floor of the Texas
School Book Depository, which would these days have been thoroughly
swept and sealed off. But it was the orders given by Kennedy himself
that did for him – the president asked for the bullet-proof glass bubble
to be taken off his limousine and for agents not to ride on the back of
the car, thus leaving himself utterly exposed.
In the last analysis, as Kennedy proved at his own cost, a president
can only be as safe as he allows himself to be. Agents can advise the
commander-in-chief what is best for his security, but they cannot give
him orders. "The secret service would want to take the president to Camp
David straight after the inauguration and keep him there out of any
contact with the public for the next four years. But they know that’s
not possible," Petro says.
During his presidential campaign, Obama would regularly mingle among
crowds of astonishing size. But since his inauguration he has clearly
responded to the guidance of his protecting agents, detaching himself
considerably from direct public engagement. To some extent, that is only
normal – he is no longer running in an election. But for a president
who promised to break down barriers between politicians and people, it
is noticeable how sparingly he is seen in public these days, and how the
events he does appear at are almost invariably staged indoors.
Over the years, the secret service has developed a range of
technological devices for improving security. Petro recalls asking
Reagan on several occasions to wear a bulletproof vest. (Reagan would
grumble and groan but usually comply.) Over the last decade, such
innovations have come thick and fast. A whole new array of gadgetry has
been added to the service’s armoury, from face-recognition technology to
a new generation of armoured vehicles. Obama rides in a Cadillac with
military grade eight-inch thick doors; on election night in November
2008 he gave his victory speech to a crowd of almost a quarter of a
million people from behind bullet-proof glass walls designed to foil
But gadgetry is only as effective as the people who use it. In the
last analysis, the human factor remains supreme, as was illustrated last
November when two reality show hopefuls gatecrashed aï¿½ White House
function, penetrating the inner core of the building and shaking Obama’s
hand. As it happened, they had no malice towards the president. But in
the mindset of the mortified secret service that didn’t matter; they
could have done.
Which on some level is the nature of the beast: being president of
the United States is a high-risk enterprise, as Abraham Lincoln, James
Garfield, William McKinley and John Kennedy all found out the hard way.
Danger can come at a president from any number of directions. It can
come from the lone deranged gunman. It can come too, theoretically, from
international terrorism of the Islamist variety. But al-Qaida experts
point out that the closest the group has come to a direct attack on the
president was 9/11 itself. "From al-Qaida’s view, to assassinate the
president would be very desirable," says Yehudit Barsky, a terrorism
specialist at the American Jewish Committee. "But it would be difficult
for them to go after him not because they don’t want to but because
their capacity is so impaired."
Which is why in the overall assessment of risk to Obama, so much
attention is settling on rightwing extremist groups who are already
operating inside America, are armed and ideologically motivated, and in
some cases potentially capable of desperate acts. This brings us back to
the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking the activity
of potentially violent militia groups since the last great wave in the
1990s when the so-called Patriot movement ballooned in proportion to
rising rightwing anger towards Bill Clinton and fears of impending gun
control. That wave of opprobrium culminated in the Oklahoma bombing in
which 168 died and 680 more were injured.
The centre’s latest report , released last week, records an
astonishing mushrooming in extremist anti-government Patriot groups who
see the Obama administration as a plot to impose "one-world government"
on liberty-loving Americans. The numbers leapt from 149 groups in 2008
to 512 groups in 2009, of which 127 were classed as paramilitary groups.
"We know there has been a spike in activity across a broad range of
things, particularly with regard to the notion that thisï¿½ government is
illegitimate," says Brian Levin, a criminologist who heads the Center
for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University.
Levin says the phenomenon is evident in rural areas around the
Appalachian mountains and Great Lakes and into the west and Pacific
north-west, where new armed militia groups are spontaneously emerging;
and he has no doubt about why this is happening right now: "We’ve always
had people who hate the president, we’ve always had conspiracies, but
the fact that we have a black president at a time of economic tumult
makes these conspiracies much more volatile among a far wider group of
Chip Berlet, an analyst of rightwing extremism at the
Massachusetts-based group Political Research Associates, estimates that
there have been nine murders by individuals who have white supremacist,
xenophobic or antisemitic leanings since the inauguration of Obama.
Berlet sees similarities in the current foment to the militia agitation
of the 1990s. "Anger is spilling over from people who believe Obama is
coming to remove their liberties, seize their guns, enslave the white
American nation. What’s new is that they can now recruit and communicate
online, and that makes it very much more dangerous for the president."
Montana is one of the rural states where resurgent extreme rightwing
activity can be detected. Travis McAdam has been tracking such activity
for the last two decades on behalf of the Montana Human Rights Network,
so has a unique vantage point for what is going on today. "The hatred
that’s there is very real. It’s more than a gut-level hatred of having
an African-American as president, it’s also ideological – these people
see black people as sub-human. Groups are popping up that have a new
message and are using Obama to recruit new members."
White supremacist forums that provide closed talking shops for
members only have been abuzz with anti-Obama rhetoric since the
presidential election. In one such talkboard, monitored by a watchdog
group, a correspondent writes: "if we want to see the overthrow or the
cleansing of society then we should support Obama being where he is! I
believe in the coming war. With this Nig as President he will just speed
up the process. He’s a catylist! Is’nt this what we want?" Another
says: "Our backs are really against the wall now. We need progressive
activism and we need to be solution orientated. For a Whiter future for
our children." A third says: "I never thought I’d ever see the day when a
monkey ran my country & I’m 34. I weep for our children."
For McAdam, the crucial question is how to sort this body of vitriol
into its constituent parts – to separate out those individuals and
groups who may be offensive and repulsive in their choice of words but
are essentially harmless, from those that have the potential to be truly
violent. He likes to think of it as a funnel, at the top of which are
many people drawn to radical right groups for all sorts of reasons – gun
rights, taxation, Obama-as-alien, or whatever. Most never go further
than that level, but some do. "As they dig into the subject, going down
into the funnel, they start to lose connection with the social networks
around them that keep them tied to normality. Down, down they go, and
eventually out the other end of the funnel emerges the Oklahoma bomber,
Timothy McVeigh, who says, ‘Our country is under attack, I must do
something about it.’"
It’s the thought that some may be emerging from the end of the
funnel at this politically charged moment, McAdam says, that bothers him
so, and makes him think that "violence against President Obama is a
McVeigh, executed in June 2001, is a name that crops up frequently
among the extremism monitors. It comes up again when Mark Potok gives
his last word on the threat to Barack Obama. The white supremacists and
anti-government militia who are out to get the president should not be
underestimated, he says. "These groups aren’t al-Qaida. Most of them
look vastly more bumbling than effective." But then he adds: "It only
takes one to get through. Timothy McVeigh taught us that."