The Fox Nation is the latest media outlet to advance right-wing smears of Erroll Southers, President Obama's nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), by linking to video clips of an interview Southers gave on national security and terrorism issues. Asking, “Will Pres. Obama's TSA Nominee Recover from This?”, Fox Nation echoed attacks made by Red States' Erick Erickson by distorting and misrepresenting Southers' remarks.
Fox Nation false claim: Southers said, “A 'common misconception' about terrorism is that it's committed by 'Muslim radicals' ”
CLAIM: Fox Nation suggests Southers said in video, “A 'common misconception' about terrorism is that it's committed by 'Muslim radicals.' ” On January 11, the Fox Nation -- under the headline, “Will Pres. Obama's TSA Nominee Recover From This?” -- linked to a video of Southers with the text, “A 'common misconception' about terrorism is that it's committed by 'Muslim radicals.' ”
REALITY: Southers said a “common misconception” is that "all terrorism" is committed by Muslim radicals. As the video to which the Fox Nation makes clear, Southers did not say that a " 'common misconception' about terrorism is that it's committed by 'Muslim radicals.' " In fact, Southers said, “The most common misconception I think that people have about terrorism, first of all, to speak ethnically, that they think all terrorism is perpetrated, if you will, or committed by people who are Muslim radicals, Islamic extremists [emphasis added].”
Fox Nation distortion: Southers said, “A group that's trying to achieve a balance” is most likely to commit acts of terror
CLAIM: Fox Nation suggests Southers said that "[a] group that's trying to achieve a balance" is “most likely to commit acts of terrorism.” The Fox Nation suggested that Southers answered the question, “Who is most likely to commit acts of terrorism?” by saying, “A group that's trying to achieve a balance.”
REALITY: Southers said “achiev[ing] a balance” of “constant fear, constant threats, and the occasional attack” is what “people try to gain through terrorism.” Contrary to the Fox Nation's suggestion, in the video to which the Fox Nation linked, Southers was actually answering the question, “What do people try to gain through terrorism?” -- not a question about “who is most likely to commit acts of terrorism.” Southers responded:
SOUTHERS: Terrorism is perpetrated or carried out because you have an asymmetrical situation. You have a group, an entity, that can't match against the power that they're trying to go up against. In all cases, they're trying to make some kind of political statement, sometimes religious, sometimes truly political, sometimes other, but it's asymmetrical. So you've got a small power, if you will, against a much larger, immense power. They're trying to achieve a balance. The balance is constant fear, constant threats, and the occasional attack, which is successful against a power that is much, much larger than they are.
Fox Nation distortion: Southers simply said, “Some people might argue that U.S. foreign policy exacerbates terrorism”
CLAIM: Southers simply said, “Some people might argue that U.S. foreign policy exacerbates terrorism.” The Fox Nation quoted Southers as saying, " 'Some people might argue that U.S. foreign policy exacerbates terrorism,' " without providing further context.
REALITY: Southers argued U.S. needs to “explain what we do.” In the video, after saying, “Some people might argue that U.S. foreign policy exacerbates terrorism,” Southers explains: “Our enemy, if you will, uses our foreign policy to suggest that, in the case of Islam, that this is a war against their religion.” He later states that the United States should be “explaining what we do, why we're doing it,” in order to have an effective foreign policy:
SOUTHERS: Some people might argue that U.S. foreign policy exacerbates terrorism. Our enemy, if you will, uses our foreign policy to suggest that, in the case of Islam, that this is a war against their religion. And given media networks overseas, such as Al Jazeera and others, they use what we do to suggest that this is a holy war. So our foreign policy really needs to engage communities across the globe in explaining what we do, why we're doing it, and partner with them. I don't think our foreign policy is going to be effective unless we partner with other countries who have the same terrorist concerns that we do in addressing those concerns. I think it's very important.
Fox Nation distortion: Southers claimed, “The War on Terror -- as a priority -- deserves to rank on par with 'global warming' ”
CLAIM: Fox Nation quotes Southers saying, “The War on Terror -- as a priority -- deserves to rank on par with 'global warming.' ” Linking to another video, the Fox Nation suggested Southers said, “The War on Terror -- as a priority -- deserves to rank on par with 'global warming' ” and did not provide further context for the remark.
REALITY: Southers: “National security is always going to supersede everything else.” In the video, Southers answers the question, “How high should the 'war on terror' be on our list of national priorities?” by saying, in part, “I do think, however, [national security] deserves to perhaps have some parity with global warming, with education, with the economy. But, national security is always going to supersede everything else.” From the video:
SOUTHERS: [The 'war on terror'] should be high on our list of priorities because of -- speaking globally -- the threat that exists. Due to connectivity that we have with countries such as Israel, France, countries that are seen by Al Qaeda as being infidels or anti-Islamic, by the true nature of our alliance with them means that we are subject to being attacked as well. I do think, however, it deserves to perhaps have some parity with global warming, with education, with the economy. But national security is always going to supersede everything else. I don't think you could have all those other entities flourish in a state where the security is not felt to be confident, comfortable, and intact. So it's always going to be a priority.
REALITY: Global climate change is seen by defense, intelligence experts as relevant to national security. In June 25, 2008, testimony, Dr. Thomas Fingar, then-chairman of the National Intelligence Council, stated that “global climate change will have wide ranging implications for US national security interests over the next 20 years,” citing the possible worsening of “existing problems -- such as poverty, social tensions, environment degradation, ineffectual leadership, and weak political institutions” abroad, as well as the likelihood that “economic migrants will perceive additional reasons to migrate.” The NIC's 2025 Global Trends Report, published November 2008, further stated that “Climate change is likely to exacerbate resource scarcities, particularly water scarcities.” Moreover, an August 8, 2009, New York Times article reported that “military and intelligence analysts” have said that climate change “will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades.” And on October 28, 2009, the Associated Press reported that the American Security Project, “an advisory group of high-powered Republicans and Democrats,” affirmed that global warming is relevant to national security.
Fox Nation omits context of Southers' remarks on domestic terror threats
CLAIM: Southers said “the most threatening homegrown terror groups in the U.S. are 'Christian identity-oriented,' 'anti-government, anti-abortion,' 'survivalist,' 'white supremacist' groups.” The Fox Nation linked to a video of Southers with the text, “The most threatening homegrown terror groups in the U.S. are 'Christian identity-oriented,' 'anti-government, anti-abortion,' 'survivalist,' 'white supremacist' groups.” The Fox Nation did not provide further context for the remarks.
REALITY: Southers was answering the question, “Which home-grown terrorist groups pose the greatest danger to the U.S?” and referenced specific acts of domestic terror associated with those groups. After speaking about the dangers of Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups, Southers was asked, “Which home-grown terrorist groups pose the greatest danger to the US?” He replied:
SOUTHERS: Most of the domestic groups that we have to pay attention to here are white supremacist groups. They're anti-government and in most cases anti-abortion. They are usually survivalist type in nature, identity orientated. If you recall, Buford Furrow came to Los Angeles in, I believe it was 1999 when he went to three different Jewish institutions, museums, and then wound up shooting people at a children's community center, then shooting a fellow penal postal worker later on. Matthew Hale, who's the Pontifex Maximus of the World Church of the Creator out of Illinois, and Ben Smith who went on a shooting spree in three different cities where he killed a number of African Americans and Jews and Asians that day. Those groups are groups that claim to be extremely anti-government and Christian identity oriented.
REALITY: Southers' comments on domestic terror threats came after extensive discussion of al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups. Prior to being asked about “which home-grown terrorist groups poise the greatest danger to the U.S.,” Southers discussed al Qaeda; the group's history; the threat the group poses; and other “Jihadi Salafi” groups that have the U.S. “on their radar screen.”
Christian Identity movement --which ADL identifies as a “racist” and “anti-Semitic” ideology-- reportedly responsible for plots for bombing, killing plots. Discussing homegrown terrorist groups, Southers mentions Christian Identity as a particularly dangerous ideology. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), “Christian Identity is a religious ideology popular in extreme right-wing circles. Adherents believe that whites of European descent can be traced back to the 'Lost Tribes of Israel.' Many consider Jews to be the Satanic offspring of Eve and the Serpent, while non-whites are 'mud peoples' created before Adam and Eve. Its virulent racist and anti-Semitic beliefs are usually accompanied by extreme anti-government sentiments.” According to the ADL, “In the 1990s, Identity criminal activity continued apace, including efforts by an Oklahoma Identity minister, Willie Ray Lampley, to commit a series of bombings in the summer of 1995 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by Timothy McVeigh.” ADL also states:
In 1998, Eric Rudolph, who had been associated with Identity ministers such as Nord Davis and Dan Gayman, became a fugitive after allegedly bombing gay bars, the Atlanta Summer Olympics, and an abortion clinic. The following year, Buford Furrow, a former Aryan Nations security guard, went on a shooting spree at a Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles, wounding four children and an adult, and later killing a Filipino-American postal worker.
Fox Nation suggests Southers' comments about not winning “war on terrorism” are somehow disqualifying
CLAIM: Southers simply said, “We will never win the 'war on terrorism,' just like we will never win the 'war on drugs.' We should try to 'contain' terrorism.” The Fox Nation linked to video of Southers with the following text: “We will never win the 'war on terrorism,' just like we will never win the 'war on drugs.' We should try to 'contain' terrorism.”
REALITY: Southers said, “Terror is a strategy and it's difficult at best, academically speaking, to have a war against a strategy.” In response to the question, “What is the 'war on terror'?” Southers said:
SOUTHERS: First, terror is a strategy and it's difficult at best, academically speaking, to have a war against a strategy. Second, to suggest a war suggests there's a matrice for success. So, if the war on terror means that we're going to mitigate terrorism from ever happening again we will never win that war. Much like, unfortunately, the war on drugs. The war on drugs has been around for as long as I am alive and narcotics trafficking is alive and well and prospering. So I would like to say that we have an effort here to contain terrorism, to reduce the risk of terrorism and I think that's what you'll find homeland security, national security agencies are engaged in, which is reducing that risk, making the environment hostile for them to operate in in order to be successful.
REALITY: Southers' comments echo those of national security experts.
Stephen Flynn: “Natural disasters will happen, and not all terrorist attacks can be prevented.” In his 2007 book, The Edge of Disaster, Stephen E. Flynn, an Ira A. Lipman senior fellow for counterterrorism and national security studies, wrote that "[n]atural disasters will happen, and not all terrorist attacks can be prevented. However, what is preventable is the cascading effects that flow from these disasters and attacks." He further wrote:
The danger from man-made attacks is growing despite the more-than- five-year reprieve the United States has enjoyed since 9/11. We have been hedging most of our security bets on open-ended military campaigns to combat terrorism overseas, a gamble that appears to have worsening odds. When we were focused on containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War, relying on the projection of our military power beyond our shores made sense. However, today, we are seeing that the far-flung radical jihadist threat cannot be encircled by deploying our armed forces to the Middle East and Central Asia. Indeed, those efforts have had the unintended consequence of attracting more recruits, including “self-starter” groups of first and second- generation Muslim immigrants in advanced democratic societies such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Canada. The use of sabotage by insurgents in Iraq has also helped to proliferate the number of individuals who possess the skills and technology to target critical facilities such as refineries, pipelines, water management systems, power generators, and electrical transformers. Whatever the long-term prospects for a more peaceful Middle East -- and they do not look good for the foreseeable future -- the global terrorist risk is going to get worse before it gets better. It is simply a matter of time before the United States is attacked again.
Thinking about and preparing for when things can go very wrong need not be about becoming a nation of Chicken Littles. It is foolish and self-destructive to oscillate between immobilizing fear, on the one hand, and blithely going about our lives playing a societal version of Russian roulette, on the other. However, Natural disasters will happen, and not all terrorist attacks can be prevented. what is preventable is the cascading effects that flow from these disasters and attacks. The loss of life and economic fallout that disasters reap will always be magnified by our lack of preparedness to manage the risk actively and to respond effectively when things go wrong.
Flynn: “While we cannot expect to be completely successful at intercepting terrorist attacks, we must get a better handle on how we respond when they happen.” Flynn further wrote in a January 3 Washington Post article:
Terrorism is a real and potentially consequential danger. But the greatest threat isn't posed by the direct harm terrorists could inflict; it comes from what we do to ourselves when we are spooked. It is how we react -- or more precisely, how we overreact -- to the threat of terrorism that makes it an appealing tool for our adversaries. By grounding commercial aviation and effectively closing our borders after the 2001 attacks, Washington accomplished something no foreign state could have hoped to achieve: a blockade on the economy of the world's sole superpower. While we cannot expect to be completely successful at intercepting terrorist attacks, we must get a better handle on how we respond when they happen.
Gen. Pace: Keeping "the level of crime below the level at which the government can function" is “really what winning in the war on terrorism is.” As Think Progress noted, a November 10, 2006, New York Times article reported that then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Peter Pace “likened the fight against terrorism to fighting crime. 'Example: Here in Washington, D.C., there's crime, but there's a police force,' he said. 'And the police force keeps the level of crime below the level at which the government can function. That's really what winning in the war on terrorism is.' ”
Fox Nation's attacks on Southers echo RedState -- which got everything wrong
Erickson's claims about Southers are distortions or downright falsehoods. As Media Matters for America noted, in a January 11 post, RedState's Erick Erickson attacked Southers, falsely asserting that video shows that "[a]ccording to Erroll Southers, pro-life Christians and our support of Jews is a bigger threat to national security than Al Qaeda." Other attacks launched by Erickson similarly distort or misrepresent Southers' remarks.