There are four revealing stories to be gleaned from the Aggrieved Conservative Backlash™ to an exhaustive and sober new West Point Combatting Terrorism Center report on “Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right.” (For a more grassroots-y look at how hysterical and viral that backlash is, see some choice tweets here).
First, there is the obvious lesson about double standards. When the government accuses a Muslim group of being a national security threat, conservatives are quick to applaud and demand immediate (often violent) action, without regard for the whole “innocent until proven guilty” stuff. By contrast, when the government accuses an ideologically right-wing group of being a similarly dangerous threat, many of the same conservatives suddenly play the victim card, insisting that the Big Bad Government is wrongly demonizing them.
Second, the backlash tells the story of how priorities abruptly change when the context shifts. Again, when the government accuses a Muslim group of posing a threat, the substance of the accusations (how much of a threat? what is the operational capacity of the threat? etc.) are typically received by conservatives as serious national security issues. But when far right groups are labeled a threat, many conservatives’ first reflex is to defend the accused and wholly ignore the substance of the accusations no matter how well documented those accusations are (and say what you will about the West Point report’s conclusions, it’s supporting evidence is most certainly well-documented).
This spotlights the third storyline – that of the double standard that governs what is, and is not, considered an acceptable rhetorical response to a purported national security threat. In the reaction to the West Point report, many conservatives seem to be arguing that that the government is unduly targeting the anti-government/allegedly pro-freedom agenda that they share with far-right extremist groups. This move to first and foremost defend the common ideology is apparently seen as A-OK. But ask yourself: how would liberals be received if, upon publication of a report about Islamic terrorism, their reaction was first and foremost to publicly defend, say, the anti-imperialist sentiment of the accused terrorists? Such a reaction probably would get those liberals accused of “giving aid and comfort” to said terrorists and therefore being traitors to country.
Finally, and perhaps most revealingly, there is the fourth story – the one of desperate, almost comical misdirection in the face of all-too-serious evidence. In following up its original story with a piece headlined “‘Far Right’ report outrages critics of federalism,” the right-wing Washington Times tells us that conservatives “wonder why an institution that molds future Army officers to fight foreign enemies now is focusing on a perceived domestic threat.” The paper then quotes “a Republican congressional staffer who served in the military” demanding to know why West Point would dare focus on right-wing terrorism at all.