It’s true: I’m pretty sure that if George W. Bush had been President 15 years ago, I would have been arrested for being part of a terrorist conspiracy.
You see, in college, my friend M—— (I won’t use his real name, because he is now a happily-married father of one with another on the way, living in Seattle and working as an anesthesiologist and I wouldn’t want him to end up on any watch lists) and I conspired to have a revolution and kill all the people who annoyed us. We kept lists. I think these lists might have been written down at some point, but maybe they were just in our heads. Oh, and maybe we didn’t actually plot a revolution, but we certainly made our plans for who would be up against the wall when the revolution came.
Were we dangerous? Probably not. Does that matter? Maybe not. Because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales believes that
it’s dangerous for us to try to make an evaluation case by case
as we look at potential terrorist plots and making [sic] a decision, “Well,
this is a really dangerous group; this is not a dangerous group.”
So perhaps it is M—— and I who would have found ourselves up against the wall.
I don’t mean to downplay the threat of terrorism, or to imply that naive, incompetent bumblers can’t be a real threat. But The Washington Post notes “the murkiness that has been common to many of the government’s terrorism-related prosecutions since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, cases that often hinge on ill-formed plots or debatable connections to terrorism.”
This was in an article about the arrest on Thursday of seven men alleged to be “homegrown terrorists,” who were charged with
conspiring to support the Al Qaida terrorist organization by planning attacks on numerous targets, including bombing the Sears Tower in Chicago, the FBI building in North Miami Beach, Florida, and other government buildings in Miami-Dade County.
On Friday, Gonzales held a news conference to discuss the arrest, which he described as “an important step forward in the war on terrorism here in the United States.” He went on to say that
The convergence of globalization and technology has created a new brand of terrorism. Today, terrorist threats may come from smaller, more loosely defined cells who are not affiliated with Al Qaida, but who are inspired by a violent jihadist message. And left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like Al Qaida….They sought funding, support, materials and weapons for their mission. They initiated a plot to blow up targets, including the Sears
Tower, as you’ve heard, and five government buildings, including the FBI office in Miami.
They conducted surveillance. They conspired to murder countless Americans through attacks that would be, in their words, quote, “just as good or greater than 9/11,” as the attorney general has mentioned. But we preempted their plot.
This investigation reminds us that while we have made tremendous progress in combating terrorism, the struggle is far from over. We cannot afford to become complacent as the threat is real and the stakes are high.
But the group’s only contact with “Al Qaeda” was with a government informant pretending to be a member of Al Qaeda, who also supplied them with the video camera they used for their surveillance operation. More from the press conference:
QUESTION: Did any of the men have any actual contact with any members of Al Qaida that you know of?GONZALES: Any?PISTOLE: No.
GONZALES: The answer to that is no.
QUESTION: Did they have any means to carry out this plot? I mean, did you find any explosives, weapons?
GONZALES: No, and you raise a good point.
You know, our philosophy here is that we try to identify plots in the earliest stages possible, because we don’t know what we don’t know
about a terrorism plot. And that once we have sufficient information to move forward with a prosecution, that’s what we do. And that is what
has occurred here.
And so what we have is a situation where individuals here in America made plans to hurt Americans. They did take some overt acts. They did request materials. They did request equipment. They did request funding. They swore allegiance to Al Qaida.
We clearly believe there’s sufficient information, sufficient facts, to support this prosecution. And, therefore, we took action when we did because we believe we have an obligation to prevent America from another attack here.
QUESTION: From reading the indictment, it appears that about a month ago, their plans, sort of, fell apart, which raises a couple questions.
QUESTION: One: It appears they had real criminal intent, but did they have the capability? That is, were they just naive and incompetent? In other words, were you ever afraid that they could really pull off this plot?
GONZALES: I think it’s dangerous for us to try to make an evaluation case by case as we look at potential terrorist plots and making a decision, “Well, this is a really dangerous group; this is not a dangerous group.”
We look at the facts in every particular case. And we felt that the combination of the planning and the overt acts taken were sufficient to support this prosecution. And that’s why we took this action. [emphasis added]
Read the transcript. There is much more that is funny, in a 1984 kind of way. Especially the part where they’re being charged with supporting a terrorist organization, even though there wasn’t a real terrorist organization. So, M——, if you still have those lists, shred them now.
Remember, whatever the Bush administration says, the real threat isn’t from generic “terrorists;” it’s from loony, fundamentalist Muslims who want to kill the infidels and subjugate everyone who’s left to their primitive worldview. What motivated these guys? Good question:
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) logical follow-up to that, then, is why would a group of men of seemingly different ethnic backgrounds … get together? What do they have against the United States? Why would they pledge allegiance to Al Qaida?PISTOLE: They shared a common ideology, which I think you have heard some about, or you will later, in the Miami press conference. So there was a common ideology. They had other similarities which will be —more information will be provided on that later.QUESTION: Well, I’m just trying —what they had against the United States?
PISTOLE: They did not believe that the government of the United States had legal authority over them. They were separatists in the sense of not
believing that the U.S. government had the legal authority to enforce certain laws against them. And so it was from that ideology that some of this stems.
We don’t have the full story on this case, but that’s not going to stop me from speculating. Homegrown nutcases? Absolutely? Dangerous? Maybe, but probably just to the local liquor store. Part of a vast, evil terrorist conspiracy? Seems unlikely. “An important step forward in the war on terrorism”? How could anyone say that with a straight face? It seems like most of the administration’s “progress” consists of tangential news like this, while progress in the real “war” consists mainly in violating the civil liberties of Americans who pose no threat, while stirring up Islamic fundamentalist ire with the war in Iraq. And making me take off my shoes every time I walk through an airport.
For more discussion, see Andrew Cohen’s Bench Conference, and especially the comments thereto.