A Terror Threat Close To Home

07.15.2004 | David L. Steinhardt | National Affairs | 12 Comments

In America, you can grow up to be anything you want to be.
Except a terrorist. For that, you need foreign assistance.
Stephen Jordi tried to qualify. When the distinguished veteran was arrested for planning, oh, 30 or 40 firebombings of abortion clinics, gay bars and churches he disapproved of, he expected to be sent away for a long, long time.
Last week, he was sentenced to five years.
The Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, John Schlesinger, argued that under sentencing guidelines for terrorists, Jordi should get 10 years. Judge James Cohn (recently appointed by Pres. Bush) disagreed, saying the guidelines did not permit him to call a crime without a foreign component a terrorist act.
Hoping to beat up on a soft-on-domestic-terror Bush appointee, I read the statute. I’m sorry to say I disagree with the prosecutor and side with the judge. The language is plain that terror is defined as what other people do to us: “Whoever, involving conduct transcending national boundaries….”
Stupid, huh? Yes. George W. Bush likes to quote the Christian parable about not trying to pick a speck out of someone else’s eye when you’ve got a log in your own. Regular readers know I consider the domestic terror threat to be the giant sequoia obscuring the presidential iris.
Speaking of which, y’ever notice how environmentalists who block logging, but don’t kill anyone, get labeled “eco-terrorists”? Nonviolent animal-rights activists get called terrorists too, equally without justification. Even those who spraypaint fur coats get called terrorists. But when anti-abortion militias kill, the word magically drops from the right-wing lexicon.
So Stephen Jordi isn’t a terrorist under U.S. law. Maybe when he gets out of jail, he can hook up with someone from Liechtenstein or Andorra to make the grade.
This omission in the law means neither Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, nor their conspirator who remains at large (remember “John Doe #2”?) could legally be considered terrorists either, unless the suspected meetings they had with foreign agents were to be proved in court. Funny thing about all that is even without the “terror” designation, we still sometimes execute such people.
Which, of course, makes our problems worse. Stephen Jordi, a former Army Ranger with no previous felony convictions, corresponded with Paul Hill (executed in 1994 for murdering a Pensacola physician who performed abortions), while Hill was on death row.
Notice the echo of Oklahoma City? As reported here in April, the destruction of the Murrah Building was originally planned by domestic terrorist (my term, not the law’s) Richard Snell, executed the very day the 168 were slaughtered. Had Snell been jailed, not murdered by the state, McVeigh and his fellow idiots would likely not have been so inspired to pay tribute to him.
So what do we do about this?
Not what we’ve been doing.
It’s a creepy pattern: The U.S. trains those with ambition but no money to become killers in an army increasingly used for discretionary invasions. Not surprisingly, some of our soldiers internalize the message. “The Army of One” remains so after discharge.
I love and respect and feel great gratitude for our veterans. My dad was a World War II vet. They sacrifice more for this country than almost anyone else.
But if law enforcement were truly to profile by likelihood to endanger public safety, vets of recent vintage would have to get stopped vastly more often than dredlocks in a Bentley. They probably rank statistically higher to terrorize U.S. citizens than American Muslims, persons of color, young people, or any other group police tend to target when they’re feeling itchy. Think of the Ft. Bragg crime wave of wife abuse and murder, the DC sniper, McVeigh, so many other Gulf War vets, and now Jordi.
Those who can disprove this speculation with solid numbers are invited to post below.
How do we awaken from this nightmare? At the risk of appearing idealistic, let’s break it down:
—Use the military for defense, not offense.
—Increase the decently paid federal jobs available to poor young people a hundredfold. Ambitious poor people, given respect and responsibility, are the best workers you could ever hope for. Sure, that’s a stereotype, but I’ve lived enough of my life amidst the truly broke to know it’s far truer than more pervasive, meaner generalities.
—Aggressively target domestic political killers, then publicize their arrests and convictions to the max. Harass their enabling organizations till they find it impossible to have so much as a pizza party without getting busted for Improper Ingestion of Cheese. The bankrupting of the Klan (via lawsuits) is an excellent model.
—End the death penalty; it only mints martyrs and legitimates the barbaric concept that dispassionately killing people is a form of justice. It’s murder, folks, and it repeatedly inspires revenge.

 * * *
Tangentially connected to today’s column, let’s start a semi-regular feature, in which I invite readers to join: Let’s tell the future.
Was anyone surprised to read this week, in that radical publication Newsweek, that the Administration is begging for permission to call off the November elections if they can find a pretense for doing so? If I’d written that here last week, I’d surely have been called paranoid. I do love being diagnosed as nuts when I’m right, though, so let’s let a few predictions rip, and let time sort out who’s right and wrong.
Just for fun, today’s will all invite overuse of the P word; in subsequent installments we’ll take on milder issues.
—A tiny percentage, yet substantial number of Iraq War veterans will go on killing rampages once they return stateside. They will also commit rape at a rate to make a drunken frat house seem like a women’s shelter, but almost no news media will report on these crime waves.
—A wider Mideast War, set off by our invasion of Iraq, will continue past the expiration of the current Administration.
—John Doe #2 will commit an act of domestic terror and a subsequent investigation will reveal the Justice Department had him in their sights, but did not follow up sufficiently, on orders from above. The crime may well be a “tribute” to his executed cohort, McVeigh.
—The anthrax attacks of a few years back, when finally investigated properly, will be revealed to be 100% domestic in origin and involve names already familiar to us, but probably not that of Stephen Hatfill, the “person of interest” named by John Ashcroft who is suing the NY Times and columnist Nick Kristof for defaming his character.
—Domestic terror in the U.S. later this year will initially be blamed, with no evidence, on foreigners.
—Moles in some of the nation’s 15 intelligence agencies will be unmasked, then quickly hushed up, while leaving the systems that enabled them largely untouched.
—U.S. nuclear power plants, passenger trains, and commercial airliners will all be the objects of terror strikes in coming years, especially after changes in presidential administrations.

—Police will round up potential demonstrators to both the Democratic and Republican Conventions, for perfectly legal activities, on charges that will later be dismissed, too late. Footage of police behavior at demonstrations will show unprovoked, aggressive behavior quite at odds with what’s reported in the mainstream press.
—The Athens Olympics will have a higher death toll from terrorists than the 1972 Games in Munich.
—If John Kerry is leading in the polls in October, an attempt will be made on his life. If it is unsuccessful, the Republicans will attempt to portray it as a reason to reelect the President, and Fox News and the NY Post will endorse that line of reasoning. If the assassination succeeds, the GOP will be fulsome in their praise of the late nominee, while simultaneously ridiculing the notion of voting for Sen. Edwards.
—If President Bush is reelected, he will quite rapidly attempt to seize de-facto dictatorial powers, to such an extent that Sandra Day O’Connor and Antonin Scalia will be placed in the unusual position of behaving like civil libertarians.
Sorry about that last one; I forgot it already happened.

This New Yorker dispatch suggests that immediate, comprehensive improvement needs to be made in the military's psychological evaluation techniques to avoid the consequences predicted above.


I would add a prediction of my own: Seymour Hersh will in fact before the election release comprehensive and irrefutable proof that the participation of US soldiers in child rape in Abu Ghraib was covered up at the highest levels of the administration. This and a major terrorist strike on US soil will be the deciding factors in the election. Here are accounts of two recent Hersh speeches: http://radio.weblogs.com/0107946/2004/07/14.html#a1922 http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000987.html
07.15.2004 | Tim Marchman
"Tales from the Crypt" from http://thunderstorms.blogdrive.com

It's a muggy night to be stuck in a windowless room staring at hanging chads down in South Florida, but Dave Ortega is a veteran of the infamous 2000 election and he wants to keep his spirits up for the rest of the team. Silently though, he says a small prayer for a fast-moving, cleansing rain storm to come in on the sea breeze to clear the humidity and send the gaggle of television news crews outside scrambling and stumbling away. In charge of announcing the elections results, Dave imagines himself having a Jimmy Hoffa moment and mumbles, "Ants at a picnic," under his breath.

Interrupting Dave's slightly vindicative daydream is Manny Hernandez, one of the technology student volunteers from the university assigned to help the team makes sense of the electronic voting results that have been a pain in Dave's neck since 2004.

"It's pretty clear," says Manny, "Hillary Clinton has won the 2008 presidential race."

[... to be continued?]

Look, I know some of you didn't realize I could write horror fiction, but maybe like you, I grew up on Stephen King, too. I appologize if my little future scene made your stomach tighten or your socks become stained with a little trickle of urine.

I stopped short of bringing up the Hillary topic in comments yesterday to Brandon Starr. Even though it is related, I thought it better to have an entry about it rather than going off topic in comments. But I've been thinking about this for a few days now.

As I've mentioned in the past, I like to have C-SPAN droning away on the television set at times because it is so helpful in overcoming my insomnia and putting me fast to sleep. This past weekend, I caught part of a BookTV broadcast with Dick Morris speaking about his new book, Rewriting History. Being part of the Clinton Whitehouse at the time, I thought he might be in an unusually good position to comment about the Clintons. Some people have said that rather than simply reviewing or commenting on the Hillary Clinton autobiography, Dick Morris wrote Rewriting History as a response to Hillary Clinton's Living History.

What struck me were some comments Dick Morris made during this book signing and in the question and answer session. He basically stated that the Clintons, being faithful Democrats but very savvy politicians, want George W. Bush re-elected. They aren't going to anger other Democrats and bad-mouth Kerry directly. Dick Morris posed this framing question, "What might you do if you're Bill Clinton?". He then went on to say how Bill Clinton's My Life was timed to come out this summer.

The hope is that by having Bill Clinton doing so much publicity for his memoir book, it will steal the spotlight away from Kerry and flatten any momentum his campaign would normally garner from naming his VP or the Democratic National Convention.

Another brand new book talking Hillary and the Clinton "plan", is Christoper Andersen's American Evita. I caught about three minutes of Andersen's appearance on Hannity and Colmes in the middle of a channel surf, tonight. Maybe some of you regular Hannity-ites can comment more on it.

I just scanned some info on Amazon. Andersen is a venerated celebrity author who has had best-sellers on members of the Kennedy family. Interestingly, not only is Morris' Rewriting History suggested as a related book, but also Sean Hannity's Deliver Us From Evil.

All in all, I think it may come down to this. Bill and Hillary don't want to wait until 2012 or 2016. If Bush gets re-elected, he can't run again. Dick Cheney is not going to run and, from the look of the Republican Party, there isn't a very promising stable of up-and-coming stars to run against Hillary Clinton in 2008. On the other hand, if Kerry wins in 2004, he or Edwards would be the presumptive 2008 Democratic candidate.

So, I think I may have a subtitle for my own little horror story:

"How the short-sighted christian-right voted for Bush and helped get Hillary Clinton elected"

07.15.2004 | John Furie Zacharias
If keeping Hillary out of the White House in 2009 is a reason not to reelect Bush, for that reason alone I hope more people think as immediately above.
07.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
I tend to be a bitter cynic, but that's why I wrote it. The more people I speak with that self-label themselves as born-again-christian, the more it becomes apparent that these social conservatives are simply so enamored with Bush because he professes to be a man of faith. It's a simple matter of 'it is their guy' in office.

These BAC Dubya-defenders have a blind devotion to this manufactured perception of Bush. For example, they will justify Bush's failure as a fiscal conservative, a time-honored badge of Republicans, by holding up the blurry long-bearded image of terrorism.

More and more, it is not exclusively blue-haired pensioners that are so socially conservative. There was an uptick in all religious participation and practice in the U.S. after 9-11 because of the overwhelming and pervasive confusion and fear that immediately followed. Unlike older social conservatives who get their cues from their places of worship -- synagogue, church, or mosque -- the younger crowd is much more likely to parrot soundbytes and ideas from conservative media personalities.

Since plain spoken logical argument has failed me in the past to persuade these Ditto-heads and Hannity-ites, I thought bringing out the spectre of their own feared bogey woman might work.
07.16.2004 | John Furie Zacharias
Great links, Tim.

Amazing how the news of what was reported as "video of Iraqi guards raping children as Americans watched" has washed right off the screen.

Where would this country be without Sy Hersh? In the dark ages. Where would this country be if Sy Hersh were as TV friendly as John Edwards? Dennis Hastert would be President!

Yes, in any other nation, our government would have been forced to resign already. In the authoritarian-friendly USA, we instead debate under what circumnstances barabarism is appropriate.
07.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
Mr. Zacharias, I think you are right about the Clintons clearly not wanting Senator Kerry to win, but I don't think that is any reason to vote for Kerry. The Republican Party is not that devoid of talent that they won't be able to field a credible candidate in 2008. I think you are thinking way too far ahead if you would really consider voting for someone you don't like just so someone you don't like even more won't have a chance to become president in four years.

Mr. Steinhardt, I think you are right about domestic terrorism, it is just as serious as foreign terrorism and it should be treated accordingly. However, I do not think it appropriate to pawn off the problems of domestic terrorism on army vets, or even worse, to suggest that our military be turned into only a defensive one to prevent the encouragement of domestic terrorism. It is not the fault of the army that it attracts this sort of slightly unhinged gun nut, and as a result, the army should not be blamed for what these people have done after their service.

Furthermore, I heartily disagree with your prediction of another war in the Middle East. The only sort of war I could see unfolding in the Middle East would be a civil war. Even if there was to be an international war, how could it be blamed on the U.S.? Nearly every Middle Eastern nation united in opposition to the war. If anything, we brought them closer together.

Finally, I think your prediction of an assasination attempt against Senator Kerry is simply laughable, especially if you are suggesting this act would be carried out by friends of the Republican Party. Has partisanship really grown so intense in the U.S. that Democrats think Republicans would go so far as to kill the presidential nominee? Republicans are not a mass of wild-eyed killers just because they don't march in lockstep with the DNC. Even if this absurd scenario were true, look at what death so close to an election has done for candidates before. I think of the late Mel Carnahan winning the 2000 Missouri Senate election against John Ashcroft.

Many of your predictions are reasonable, but I really have to take issue with the Kerry assassination one.
07.16.2004 | Matt Luby
I certainly hope you're right, Mr. Luby! But as for what the death of a Democratic candidate can do before an election, note that Paul Wellstone's seat ended up Republican. If he'd lived, I think he could have taken the election that Mondale lost.

Missouri isn't much of an example because, please, would a majority of any Americans, anywhere, vote for John Ashcroft once they understood what a hypocritical un-American monster he is? His one-time Missouri constituents certainly didn't, regardless of the blank ballot space against him.

A blank ballot space for President would be a VERY different issue. A one-term smiling haircut ascending to the top spot by default would be no gimme as a Bush opponent, and would likely help the GOP's chances.

And yes, I do believe that admirers of the current Administration would commit heinous crimes to prevent the sort of democratic transition we used to take for granted in this country. Remember the riot, feigned as popular but in fact paid Republican operatives, that convinced one Florida county to end its recount when Gore would have gained by it?

One need not be a conspiracy theorist to understand we are dealing with an extremist movement that will seize power by absolutely any means they believe they can get away with. In fact, one would have to be naive and in denial not to recognize this paradigm as the dominant M.O. of the Bush Administration and their allies.
07.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
I really don't see any precedent for this on the part of the Bush administration. President Bush has lost elections before, while Vice President Cheney and SecDef Rumsfeld have both been part of numerous presidential administrations, and have never shown any penchant for violent power grabs. Furthermore, among the support base, sure, feelings run high, but when you get down to it, we are all Americans. Americans respect democracy, and we've respected peaceful transfers of power ever since the John Adams-Thomas Jefferson changeover, excepting, of course, the Civil War.

I really don't see this happening, especially because I don't think Senator Kerry is going to win this election.
07.16.2004 | Matt Luby
I believe Mr. Bush has lost one election, for Congress, over a quarter century ago.

This recent inquiry into calling off the national election is a case in point: There are 50 state elections for electors, plus DC. What crisis could possibly be so big that the states can't run their own elections? September 11, 2001, was primary day in New York, and the state elections authorities handled the matter.

The feds do not and should not have jurisdiction over the November voting. If they're worried, then encourage us to get absentee ballots early and let's make like Oregon and vote at our own convenience. But this search for a way to call off the November vote? It sends shivers to all the places I don't like to shiver.
07.16.2004 | David L Steinhardt
I will admit that at the very least, it was not very tactful for the Bush administration to make that announcement. Even if they do have good intentions in this case, which I think they do, it only adds fuel to the fires of people who think FEMA will try to take over the country, and to the Michael Moore thesis of constantly trying to scare America. America should have some sort of contingency in place, though.
07.16.2004 | Matt Luby
I'll claim 50% over the last week: an Israeli mole in the office of the #3 at the Pentagon, an office that analyzes intelligence independently of the usual safeguards (not "collecting" independent intelligence, the straw-man charge they always deny); already, Larry Franklin's "influence" is being pooh-poohed within the Administration, as if that were the issue about being spied on by your staff!

And on the negative side. I'm happy to have been wrong about a terror toll at the Athens Olympics.
08.29.2004 | David L Steinhardt
Still hoping attention can be paid to these vets before they detonate.

CNN: Troops face 'epidemic of mental illness'

03.13.2007 | David L Steinhardt

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