An internal Department of Homeland Security memo obtained by Fox News says that accused Arizona shooter Jared Loughner is “possibly connected” to American Renaissance, a group that describes itself on its website as committed to “the study of all aspects of race, whether historical, cultural, or biological. This approach is known as race realism.”

The DHS memo, as cited by Fox, said the “group’s ideology is anti government, anti immigration, anti ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government), anti Semitic.” It notes that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords “is the first Jewish female elected to such a high position in the US government. She was also opposite this group’s ideology when it came to immigration debate.”

On Sunday, Jared Taylor, editor of the American Renaissance website, wrote in a post on the site that “no one by the name of Loughner has ever been a subscriber to American Renaissance or has ever registered for an American Renaissance conference. We have no evidence that he has even visited the AR website.” He also insisted “AR is not anti-government, anti-Semitic, or anti-ZOG, as is clear from the 20 years of back issues that are posted on our website. The expression ‘ZOG’ has never appeared in the pages of AR, and we have always welcomed Jewish participation in our work. Many of the speakers at American Renaissance conferences have been Jewish.”

Mark Potok, director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, who keeps close tabs on extremist groups and has reviewed Loughner’s Internet trail, believes the suspect was likely not motivated by hate but is a troubled man who latched onto anti-government rhetoric. The Jewish Week spoke to Potok on Monday as the nation sought out answers about the tragedy.

Was the suspect connected to hate groups?

I know of absolutely no connection of Jared Loughner to any groups. It seems very likely he absorbed some of the more far-out ideas of the radical right via the Internet, like this idea of the government controlling people through grammar, which is extremely unusual even on the fringe of the fringe.

The report of some internal e-mail from DHS is making the claim that he was connected to American Renaissance. All I can say is I don’t see any connection after looking at everything out there, although maybe they saw something I didn’t. It is not an anti-Jewish group; it’s an anti-black group.

Aren’t such groups interconnected?

Not in this case. The American Renaissance has explicitly rejected anti-Semitism. In any case, in reading through this person’s material I did not see anything that suggested anti-Semitism.

What about his citation of “Mein Kampf” in his YouTube profile?

My own take on his readings when you look at those books together [“Mein Kampf,” the “Communist Manifesto” and Ayn Rand’s “We The Living”] they’re about the individual versus the state, a tyrannical, oppressive government. That’s a weird reading of “Mein Kampf” … he is hardly an intellectual or even a consistent political thinker. My own sense is that he is mentally ill and seems to have absorbed some ideas from the radical right.

Could those ideas have pushed him over the edge?

Perhaps you can say the ideas affected him and whom he killed and the target he selected. Otherwise he may have ended up shooting up an elementary school or a post office or a mall. The fact that the target was the highest official of the federal government near him means it was very likely sparked by something. Maybe the kind of words he saw on the Internet made him feel that behind all evil in the world was the federal government.

Had you heard of Jared Loughner before Saturday?

We didn’t know him at all.

Is there any indication that he was influenced by the tone and rhetoric of conservative political commentators?

There is nothing to suggest that.