Arizona's two U.S. senators lashed out Wednesday at the Department of Homeland Security, charging the agency with what amounts to profiling people as terror risks based on their political beliefs.
Sen. Jon Kyl said he understands the need of the agency charged with helping protect the country from terrorists to understand where the threats may be coming from. And he acknowledged that Homeland Security has done various similar reports.
But Kyl said a 10-page memo on right-wing extremists prepared earlier this month by the department goes over the line.
"It's rather odd to be so specifically oriented toward ... a political point of view," he said. "If it's a real assessment of threats, I would think there are a whole lot of things you'd look at in addition to these kind of political beliefs."
The memo warns of how economic problems as well as the election of the first black president have provided fertile recruiting conditions for some extremist organizations.
But it also says that the possible enactment of new restrictions on firearms, coupled with the return of military veterans who may have trouble reintegrating into their communities, "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone-wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
The memo also says that right-wing extremist groups can include not only those who commit hate crimes but also "those that are mainly anti-governmental, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely."
Kyl said he is concerned to know that Homeland Security is looking at those sorts of things in determining who might be a threat.
"I don't know where they get the idea that somebody who served the country, who's pro 10th Amendment, who's pro Second Amendment, who's pro states' rights makes them a security threat to the United States," Kyl said. "That's sort of a belief in the U.S. Constitution."
The 10th Amendment says powers not delegated by the U.S. Constitution to the federal government are reserved for the states; the Second Amendment deals with the right to bear arms.
Sen. John McCain took particular offense to the language that suggested that returning war veterans might bear watching.
"It's an insult to the men and women who have served our country in the armed services," he said. McCain said he intends to call on Janet Napolitano, as head of Homeland Security, "to repudiate any such inference that might be contained in it."
Napolitano shows no signs of backing down.
In a prepared statement Wednesday, the former Arizona governor said the memo, never intended for public release, was one of "an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States."
Napolitano said she was "briefed on the general topic," saying it "struck a nerve" because she was involved with the prosecution of Timothy McVeigh, the man convicted of the 1995 bombing of the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City.
The former Arizona governor said her agency monitors the risk of "violent extremism taking root here in the United States." She said her agency's role is to protect the country from terrorism, regardless of the ideology behind it.
But Napolitano said those who fear political profiling are off base.
"We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not - nor will we ever - monitor ideology or political beliefs," she said. And Napolitano said her agency's activities are subject to "rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources."
Kyl and McCain are not the only ones who have complained.
In an open letter to Napolitano, David Rehbein, national commander of the American Legion, called the memo an "incomplete and, I fear, politically biased report."
He specifically said her agency's claim that new restrictions on firearms and returning veterans might lead to acts of terrorism is "without any statistical evidence."
Napolitano said she was aware of Rehbein's letter and her staff is trying to set up a meeting next week, after she returns from Mexico.
"I will tell him face-to-face that we honor veterans at DHS and employ thousands across the department, up to and including the deputy secretary," she said.
On Tuesday, state Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, called the memo "one of the most vicious forms of propaganda, not unlike what you would find in 1930s Germany."
"It cries out against free speech, it cries out against dissent, it cries out against religious faith and belief," he said in a floor speech Tuesday on the House floor. "And it calls anybody who has these type of faith or beliefs to be right-wing extremists."