Nixon blames 'overzealousness' for militia report

Thursday, March 26, 2009
Jay Nixon, seen here in a January 2008 file photo. (AP Photo/Kelley McCall)

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Jay Nixon said Thursday that the "overzealousness" of a Missouri State Highway Patrol unit is to blame for a report drawing intense opposition from conservatives because it links various right-wing organizations with the modern militia movement.

The Democratic governor faced numerous questions about the report and how the state's police agencies gather intelligence during a news conference following a signing ceremony for legislation creating two new state accounts for federal stimulus money.

"I'm confident that some of the overzealousness of this previously formed unit will be appropriately managed," Nixon said.

The report, which no longer is being distributed because of the controversy, says many militia members subscribe to fundamentalist Christian, anti-abortion or anti-immigration movements. It also notes that members usually support third-party presidential candidates and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who ran unsuccessfully for president last year.

The document was created by the Missouri Information Analysis Center, which collects intelligence from state and federal agencies to combat terrorism and criminal activity. It was designed to be read only by police and not the general public.

Anger over the report's conclusions has bubbled among conservatives for weeks. The controversy intensified Wednesday after Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder held a news conference in the Capitol and called for Nixon's director of public safety to be disciplined.

Several hours after Kinder's news conference, Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. James Keathley said he had halted distribution of the report and said no future reports will be issued from the state's fusion center before he and Public Safety Director John Britt approve them.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Nixon called that an important oversight step that was neglected when the information center was created under former Republican Gov. Matt Blunt.

When asked from where the ideas behind the report's conclusions originated, Nixon said he did not know.

"I have no idea, I was not governor when MIAC was formed," Nixon said. "I was not the governor, I did not hire any of the people who are there, and nobody from my administration — the director of public safety or the colonel (Keathley) — saw the stuff before it went out."

Even while criticizing that the document was allowed to be distributed, Nixon defended the use of intelligence-gathering by Missouri's police departments.

"Threat assessments are important to do in all law enforcement," he said. "When a cop walks a beat — whether it's in a school or down a neighborhood — they look at a lot of houses of a lot of law-abiding people. And basic police work takes in intelligence and deals with that and develops threat bases, threat assessments."

But Nixon's explanation was not sufficient to some angered by the report.

Kinder spokesman Gary McElyea said reviewing future reports is good but that the lieutenant governor's questions have not been answered about why the report was even drafted and if there are other reports that politically profile people.

"Someone should still answer for the profiling that was done in this previous report," he said.

Fusion centers such as the one in Jefferson City that created the report have faced controversy elsewhere. In Maryland, the American Civil Liberties Union has sued over undercover surveillance by the state police of anti-death penalty protesters and peace activists.

A Texas fusion center memo to police urged monitoring of Muslim civil rights groups and anti-war protesters.

Earlier this month, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited the Jefferson City fusion center and called it part of the front line in the country's efforts to battle terrorism. Napolitano said during a national conference in Kansas City that the information centers are not designed to be domestic spy agencies that infringe on Americans' civil liberties.

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