On the eve of 9/11's tenth anniversary, and all the reflecting that date triggers, it's useful to put it in context -- as we wait to see the outcome of the threatened truck bomb attack. Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane, "Hearing Rumors of a Plot, Cities Make Their Security Forces Seen," New York Times, September 10, 2011, p. A9
Given that milestone, this semester's Cyber and Electronic Law has led off with a focus on national security and the legal issues surrounding the role of technology as a weapon of war, a defensive shield, and a force eroding our civil liberties and privacy.
So the students and I naturally tend to keep an eye out for the new developments that seem to pop up on a daily basis, and informally share news stories with each other.
Thus, this morning's [Sept. 10] Associated Press story on the Gazette's front page, "An Intel Q&A: How the U.S. Gets It, Where It Goes," caused me to seek out the original and full story online. Kimberly Dozier and Calvin Woodward, "An intel Q&A: How the US gets it, where it goes," Associated Press/Panama City [Florida] News Herald, September 10, 2011.
It turned out to be a partial and not too detailed overview, mostly material we've already discussed in class, but useful basic information if you haven't been tracking what's going on.
What caught my eye, however, was an accompanying interactive document, "Government Targeted: Nine charged in radical U.S. Christian militia plot."
The only opening text is brief: "People who have attacked the government range from neo-Nazis and other racist and religious radicals to members of armed militias. A look at some of the most notorious attacks or plots the last 15 years."
What follows, as you scroll right, are descriptions of various anti-government attacks, with dates, pictures of the perpetrators, and the scenes of their damage.
Here are some of the first few:
It begins with April 19, 1995, and a picture of the Oklahoma City federal building after the bombing by "militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh and assistant Terry Nichols."
Next is a deliberate derailment of an Amtrak train in Arizona six months later by the "Sons of Gestapo" (never caught).
Two months after that, December 18, 1995, "Tax protester Josephy Martin Baillie" is arrested when a "plastic drum packed with ammonium nitrate and fuel" is found behind the Reno, Nevada, IRS building.
"Seven members of Mountainer Militia are arrested in a plot to blow up the FBI's national fingerprint records center in West Virginia" the following year.
In 1997, "anti-government extremists" in what is "believed to be a protest against taxes" set fire to a Colorado Springs, Colorado, IRS office.
"Armed anti-government activists" near Fort Hood, Texas, chose July 4th of that year to attempt "an alleged planned invasion of an army base."
"Materials to make the deadly poison ricin" were found in the home of James Kenneth Gluck following his "10-page letter to judges in Colorado threatening to 'wage biological warfare' on a county justice center." That was 1999.
The list goes on: a plot to assassinate the governor of Washington, someone trying to buy sarin nerve gas and C-4 explosives who says "it would be a 'good thing' if somebody could detonate a weapon of mass destruction in Washington, D.C.," the discovery of "stockpiles of weapons allegedly intended for attacks on government officials," a "white supremacist, shoots a security guard to death at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum," an IRS dispute "and a hatred of the government" led to injury and death when a private plane was deliberately flown into an IRS building, someone "fascinated with conspiracy theories, libertarian ideas and the science of warfare" shot Pentagon police.
Obviously, there are many more -- and probably far more than what the AP interactive feature describes -- up to and including last year:
"March 28, 2010What are we to make of this history?
Nine alleged members of a Christian militia group that was girding for battle with the Antichrist were charged with plotting to kill a police officer and slaughter scores more by bombing the funeral - all in hopes of touching off an uprising against the U.S. government. The Hutaree militia members were arrested in raids in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio."
1. "Crime" often involves a theft of property, or aggression toward another arising out of a personal encounter. That is not what these incidents represent. All of the cases cited by the AP, however criminal, and whatever the mental health of the perpetrators, are in one degree or another politically or ideologically driven -- in this case, often by a hatred of the American government in general or a specific agency (such as the IRS) in particular.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a variety of additional ideological and hatred-driven attacks -- primarily representing racial and religious, rather than anti-government, hatred -- in its Hate Map, Intelligence Files, Intelligence Report, and Hate Incidents.
2. None of the anti-American-government terrorists mentioned above were of the Muslim faith, let alone driven, or even influenced, by Muslim beliefs.
Some were overtly "Christian" (as was the recent Norwegian terrorist, Anders Behring Breivik, "described as a right-wing fundamentalist Christian" -- notwithstanding some media's early assertions he must have been Muslim).
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Virtually all of the individuals involved in the AP examples, one suspects, would self-identify as either Christian or non-religious. [The one possible exception, which the AP mentions and I did not include above, is "Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army major, allegedly opens fire at Fort Hood military base in Texas, killing 13 people and wounding many others. The motive behind the shooting is unclear. Hasan was in contact with a radical American-Yemeni cleric before the attack."]
3. We still confront real threats. Most responsible public officials, and American citizens, have made a genuine effort to distinguish between "anti-American radical Islamic fundamentalist jihadists" (or some similar phrase) and the peaceful American citizens who are their own neighbors, colleagues and friends of the Muslim faith.
We do this as naturally as we distinguish between members of the "Christian Hutaree Militia" and the Congregationalists and Catholics of our acquaintance.
Yet make no mistake, the evil motives of all responsible for the thousands of deaths, and subsequent consequences, of the attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania, are among the worst in the trail of incidents of unspeakable cruelty throughout human history. I join all who continue to grieve over the loss of life on that day -- and the continuous loss of life, and $4 trillion in treasure, that have continued until the present day.
That kind of threat continues, despite our efforts.
The old line is still valid: "You're not paranoid, you've got real enemies."
America has real enemies. Eric Schmitt and Scott Shane, "Hearing Rumors of a Plot, Cities Make Their Security Forces Seen," New York Times, September 10, 2011, p. A9.
But if we are truly concerned about "terrorism," and seek to preserve our "homeland security," we need to look within as well as without. We need to recognize that by all odds the greatest source of terrorism in America -- criminal acts driven by political ideology and hatred -- comes from those who look like us and attend our churches.
As I have written elsewhere on this subject:
President Bush at one time said that those who finance, or “harbor” terrorists and their training camps, are as much our enemy as those who attack us.Nicholas Johnson, "General Semantics, Terrorism and War," Fordham University (speech text), New York City, September 8, 2006 (with endnotes of sources).
OK, but surely we don't want to argue that it is only "terrorism" when others do it to us. And yet, if not, how do we justify "harboring" -- to use President Bush's word – the American Catholics who were financing terrorist acts of the IRA against Protestants in Ireland?
What about the "harboring" of our former "School of the Americas" (“SOA”) training camp in Georgia? It's trained those we've called "freedom fighters," and others might call “terrorists,” in Central and South America.
School of the Americas Watch charges that, "Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.” Does that make the former School of the Americas a terrorist training camp?
Apparently our government thinks not. At least there was no known plan to bomb the State of Georgia -- to be distinguished from our military forces sent to the Republic of Georgia.
Should we have bombed the State of Idaho [Timothy McVeigh's home] after the Oklahoma City bombing?
4. Rhetoric is relevant. Do I think right-wing, hate-spewing, haranguing talk shows are the sole motivating force responsible for the incidents itemized by the AP, or Jared Lee Loughner's shooting Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords on January 8th of this year? No; of course not. Nicholas Johnson, "Glenn Beck: 'Shoot Them in the Head;' Beck Says 'Progressives' Are Radical, Revolutionary Communists Who May Shoot You," January 24, 2011.
On the other hand, there is a distressing similarity between what was said or espoused by some of those involved in the AP's cases, and some of the rhetoric coming from politicians, talk show hosts, and TV's chattering classes as they repeat their talking points.
With "freedom of speech" should go a certain "responsibility of speech," especially from those enjoying the awesome power and reach of our mass media.
Just some thoughts as we show our respect for our military, those who have survived as well as those who did not, patriotically following orders fashioned by others than themselves, and those civilians who also lost their lives ten years ago tomorrow.*
* Chris Matthews just used [September 10, 5:00 p.m.] the following numbers: 6000 U.S. military killed (two times U.S. civilians on 9/11), 250,000 civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 100,000 U.S. military injured and requiring care (some, for life), and a cost of $4 trillion.