Former President Barack Obama, responding to the white nationalist terrorist attack in El Paso that has left 22 people dead, urged U.S. leaders to “soundly reject language” that “feeds a climate of fear and hatred or normalizes racist sentiments” —and although Obama didn’t mention President Donald Trump by name, it wasn’t hard to read between the lines. Not surprisingly, some of Trump’s carnival barkers at Fox News, including Brian Kilmeade of “Fox and Friends,” have reflexively rushed to the president’s defense. And in doing so, Kilmeade has promoted some ideas about Obama’s presidency that are badly flawed.
Trump, known for watching Fox News religiously, tweeted what Politico’s Quint Forgey described as a “distillation of a sentiment” Kilmeade expressed: Trump’s tweet read, “‘Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his reign. Not many people said Obama is out of Control.’ ‘Mass shootings were happening before the President even thought about running for Pres.’ @kilmeade @foxandfriends.”
It’s true that mass shootings occurred when Obama was president. The United States suffered mass shootings not only under President Obama, but also, under President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton. But here’s the problem with the notion that Obama didn’t do enough to prevent mass shootings or political violence: it was Republicans who, in 2009, gave former Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano hell for warning about the terrorist dangers of white nationalism.
“Did George Bush ever condemn President Obama after Sandy Hook. President Obama had 32 mass shootings during his re… https://t.co/4BqF1NB5Ro— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1565088463.0
Napolitano, a centrist Democrat who previously served as governor of Arizona, had strong evidence for her fears: an intelligence report by Daryl Johnson, a former senior analyst and domestic terrorism expert for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In his report, Johnson specifically mentioned “right-wing extremism” and was concerned that extremists might try to recruit returning military veterans.
Republicans in Congress and in the right-wing media were furious. Some demanded that Johnson be fired; some wanted Napolitano fired as well. And DHS, as Johnson noted in an August 21, 2017 article for the Washington Post, “caved to the political pressure.” Johnson’s work in the area of far-right and white nationalist extremism was halted because of the Republican backlash. Kilmeade’s colleagues at Fox News, never missing an opportunity to bash the Obama Administration, painted Johnson’s perfectly legitimate investigation as a partisan attack on the GOP — which it wasn’t.
The New York Times’ Paul Krugman, in a column published this week, asserts that Republicans endangered public safety by objecting so vehemently to the DHS’ investigation of white nationalism.
“The party’s complicity started long before Trump came on the scene,” Krugman recalled. “More than a decade ago, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report warning about a surge of right-wing extremism. The report was prescient, to say the least. But when congressional Republicans learned about it, they went on a rampage, demanding the resignation of Janet Napolitano, who headed the agency, and insisted that even using the term ‘right-wing extremism’ was unacceptable.”
Of course, Johnson’s fears were perfectly justified. The August 3 shooter in El Paso, according to law enforcement, was motivated by exactly the type of far-right white nationalist extremism that Johnson was worried about — and that Republicans have failed to take seriously.
Kilmeade and his colleagues at Fox News can criticize Obama and praise Trump all they want. But the fact is that Johnson and the DHS, under Obama, tried to investigate and prevent white nationalist terrorism — and the Republicans gave them nothing but grief for it.