Daily Beast, Newsweek piece contradicted by story’s source, DHS statements

Jeff Winkler Contributor
Font Size:

UPDATE (5:30pm): The Center for Public Integrity responds to inquires made by TheDC.

It’s only been four days since the senseless Tucson shooting, but the blathering and drivel of pundits and publications has already spiraled out of control, with critiques of critiques of others’ critiques of the political motives of accused shooter Jared Loughner. As Willie Geist observed Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” the national conversation about the Arizona shooting is getting “meta.”

Now it’s gotten “Mehta.”

In a piece that appeared in The Daily Newsweek, reporter Aaron Mehta attempted to draw a straight line between “right-wing extremists” and Jared Loughner. But the story’s only primary source told The Daily Caller that not only is there no direct link between Loughner and “right-wing” or Republican politics, but that the study would not have prevented Loughner from trying to hurt others.

Hanging the entirety of his piece on a 2009 Department of Homeland Security report about right-wing extremism and the potential rise of “lone wolves,” Mehta’s pieces implies that the Arizona shooting could have been prevented if the DHS report had not been politicized, beaten down by Republicans (specifically, Speaker John Boehner) and generally “ignored.”

Mehta, who works at the Center for Public Integrity, a “nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative reporting organization,” wrote:

In the wake of last weekend’s attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which left six dead and 14 wounded, the report’s warning of a lone wolf attack from someone with extremist tendencies seems prescient.

Published at both The Daily Beast and, The only direct quotes of “The Missed Warning Signs”come from Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism and professor of criminal justice at California State University, San Bernardino. The same day Mehta’s piece was published, however, Levin published a piece in the Huffington Post titled ““Mental Distress, Not Ideology Likely Loughner’s Main Accomplice.” Based solely on that headline, it should be of little surprise that Levin’s own thesis diverges significantly from Mehta’s argument.

Asked by The Daily Caller if it was correct to assume Loughner was a right-wing extremist or if the report would have prevented Loughner from inflicting violence if taken seriously, Levin was adamant.

“NO! And let me totally clear. Do I think there are people on the far right who use rancorous  language that could have an influence on semantics, do I think that stuff predominately influenced this fellow? Absolutely not,” Levin told TheDC. “Do I think this guy is a right-wing ideologue? No. I think he’s a pathologically, mentally ill person who would have acted out violently irrespective.”

Levin said conservatives were getting a “bum-rap” when it comes to blaming Loughner’s actions on right-wing politics because, at his core, Loughner was a mentally unstable person.

“He would have shot John McCain if he ran into him in 2007 and asked him the same question and got the same unsatisfying answer,” said Levin

That is not to suggest that Levin was in support of the vitriolic language and symbols used by politicians like Sarah Palin and Joe Manchin, which Levin said can inspire and exacerbate problems suffered by the mentally ill.

In his Huffington Post piece, Levin criticized contemporary American rhetoric, saying that “in no way does [mental illness] absolve the role that rancorous political vitriol can play in amping-up and directing irrational aggression.” Levin, however, described Loughner’s “cobbled ‘political’ manifestations” as a “jumble of racist and anti-government concepts” that point to someone who was “Cognitively Impaired.”

Levin, who stressed that the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism is an actual non-partisan organization, said the 2009 study was important because it could have eventually led to a DHS study of other violent extremists in America — including those who are mentally ill.

He also said his research is often the bane for politicians and partisan hacks on both the left and right. Levin castigated the Republican lawmakers who did object to the 2009 DHS report but have hypocritically, he says, pushed for inquries regarding Muslim extremism in America.

To his credit, Mehta quoted Levin and the DHS in his story. Readers will find the quotes in the piece’s last-of-20 paragraphs:

While discussion has swirled around possible ties between accused gunman Jared Loughner and right-wing extremists, DHS on Monday said department officials “have not established any such possible link.” Levin doesn’t believe extremism was the sole driving factor. “This guy is a mentally deranged person first,” he said, and noted that the mentally ill often latch on to conspiracy theories to layer over their already “obsessive and aggressive template.”

It is unclear whether the Center for Public Integrity is actually “non-partisan.” It is also unclear whether Mehta is being intellectually dishonest or just incompetent as neither Mehta nor The Daily Beast could be reached for comment.

Email Jeff Winkler and follow him on The Twitter