Greg Sargent, Washington Post, January 10, 2011
For the last 24 hours, the Web has been alive with speculation that the Arizona shooter has some sort of ties to a right-wing group called American Renaissance. The primary source for this claim is a Fox News report from yesterday saying that law enforcement had made this determination based on information provided by the Department of Homeland Security.
But a DHS official tells me that the department has not established any such possibility, undercutting what appears to be the primary basis for this claim.
Fox News’s report yesterday initially claimed that a DHS memo had outlined the possible connection, and defined American Renaissance as a “pro-white racist organization” that Jared Loughner “mentioned in some of his internet postings.” Fox later walked back the report a bit, sourcing the claim to “a law enforcement memo based on information provided by DHS.”
The Fox report caused a splash, with some news orgs reporting that anonymous officials had confirmed such possible ties. Some conservatives railed at DHS for supposedly trying to tie the shooter to the right for political reasons, and others disputed the suggestion that this displayed the shooter’s ideological leanings.
But DHS has not officially provided any such information to any law enforcement officials, the DHS official says.
“We have not established any such possible link,” the official says.
The official adds that it wouldn’t be DHS’s place to reach any such conclusion in the first place, since the FBI is leading the investigation.
A possible link between Jared Lee Loughner, the primary suspect in the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and American Renaissance, the publication of an anti-immigration group, offers potential new insights into what may have caused the 22-year-old Arizonan to carry out the attack, which killed six people and wounded more than a dozen outside a Tucson, Ariz. stripmall on Saturday.
On Sunday, Fox News quoted a Department of Homeland Security memo that states Mr. Loughner is “possibly linked” to American Renaissance, which DHS says promotes views that are “anti-government, anti-immigration, anti-ZOG [Zionist Occupational Government], anti-Semitic.” Both Giffords and Mr. Zimmerman are Jewish.
American Renaissance is the publication of the The New Century Foundation, described by the Anti-Defamation League as a “self-styled think tank.” The ADL, on its website, calls American Renaissance a “white supremacist journal and companion Website” that “promotes pseudoscientific studies that attempt to demonstrate the intellectual and cultural superiority of whites and publishes articles on the supposed decline of American society because of integrationist social policies.”
The DHS memo quoted on Fox goes on to say: “Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the target of Loughner’s firing frenzy, is the first Jewish female elected to such a high position in the US government. She was also opposite this group’s ideology when it came to immigration debate.”
“When you look at Loughner’s web posts, he puts himself out as half fantasy seeker and dreamer and half political philosopher, and American Renaissance, while a hate group, markets itself as a political philosophy organization,” says Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, at San Bernardino.
Mark Pitcavage, director of investigative research at the Anti-Defamation League, is skeptical about any hard connection between Loughner and American Renaissance.
“The fans of American Renaissance tend to be older and they tend to be intellectuals or pseudo-intellectuals,” says Mr. Pitcavage. “Based on the limited nature of [Loughner’s] internet footprint suggesting his thoughts and beliefs, there’s nothing to lead one to think he would lean that way. It’s perplexing to us that there is a notion of a substantial connection.”
American Renaissance’s website carries what appears to be a paid tea party advertisement featuring the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag that’s become synonymous with many of the movement’s protests.
The New Century Foundation was founded by Yale University graduate Jared Taylor, the author of several books on race and policy who has has written that diversity is “dangerous” because it is “one of the most divisive forces on the planet.”
Mr. Taylor has become a well-known and oftentimes mainstream commentator on race and immigration issues, having appeared on networks like CNN as well as hard-right radio shows. The ADL describes his bailiwick as “intellectualized white supremacy.”
Invited by a college conservative group to speak at Clemson in 2007, Taylor said, “It is a mistake to assume it is wrong to prefer the company of people similar to oneself. . . . It is universal, and I think there’s every reason to believe there are innate biological reasons. . . . In [the] United States, this kind of preference . . . is recognized and encouraged and institutionalized so long as the people who are expressing this preference are not white.”
Fox News quoted Taylor Sunday as calling the DHS’ views “scurrilous.” He took especial issue with the reference to his group being “anti-ZOG.”
“That is complete nonsense,” he told Fox. “I have absolutely no idea what DHS is talking about. We have never used the term ‘ZOG.’ We have never thought in those terms. If this is the level of research we are getting from DHS, then Heaven help us.”
Taylor said he checked his organization’s records going back twenty years and Loughner never subscribed to American Renaissance’s publications.
Through web posts and interviews with those who know him, a picture of Loughner has emerged as an anti-social, erratic and possibly mentally unstable young man, whose anti-religion and anti-flag views run starkly counter to the broader tea party platform. Caitie Parker, one of his high school classmates, says in press reports that in the past Loughner was “quite liberal,” and a “political radical.” Sheriff Dupnik said Saturday, “He has a troubled past, I can tell you that.”
Among favorite books listed on Loughner’s MySpace page are “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”
In his internet posts, Loughner complains that the government was in some way trying to take advantage of him. “I know who’s listening: Government officials, and the People,” Loughner wrote. “Nearly all the people, who don’t know this accurate information of a new currency, aren’t aware of mind control and brainwash methods. If I have my civil rights, then this message wouldn’t have happen.”
Some commentators minimized the likelihood Loughner was politically motivated.
“For all the instant analysis that this might be tied to political attacks on Giffords and others who supported President Obama on health-care reform, there’s not a whiff of politics in Loughner’s language about coins and calendars and other ramblings,” writes USA Today’s Cathy Lynn Grossman. “Yet he does exclaim in his YouTube video, ‘No! I won’t trust in God!’
Trying to tease out definitive links between Loughner and specific political movements or groups is problematic, says Mr. Levin, of California State University.
“Extremists can be like bullets ricocheting off the political spectrum and bouncing to whatever gives them comfort or meshes with their paranoid distrust,” he says.