Some of our readers have been wondering C&L, of all places, jumped on the speculative bandwagon that presumed early on yesterday that the terrorist attacks in Norway were the work of Islamic radicals -- speculation that turned out, of course, to be dead wrong. After all, we have been warning for several years now that assuming that terrorism is the sole realm of brown-skinned Muslims is a recipe for disaster.
But the reality is that we, like everyone else, only published "is it Islamists?" speculation because that was the only speculation available from the so-called "terrorism experts. (And for what it's worth, we only posed it as a possibility with a question mark, and declined to speculate about the meaning of it in terms of Muslims.)
And the reason for it is that everyone in the press acted like a mindless pack in broadcasting the first bit of "expert" information that came along -- even though the "expert" in question was in fact completely wrong, and working from dubious information in the first place.
Benjamin Doherty at Electronic Intifada has the complete story of "How a clueless 'terrorism expert' set media suspicion on Muslims after Oslo horror", setting out the whole sequence of pack behavior:
The New York Times originally reported:
A terror group, Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or the Helpers of the Global Jihad, issued a statement claiming responsibility for the attack, according to Will McCants, a terrorism analyst at C.N.A., a research institute that studies terrorism.
In later editions, the story was revised to read:
Initial reports focused on the possibility of Islamic militants, in particular Ansar al-Jihad al-Alami, or Helpers of the Global Jihad, cited by some analysts as claiming responsibility for the attacks. American officials said the group was previously unknown and might not even exist.
The source is Will McCants, adjunct faculty at Johns Hopkins University. On his website he describes himself as formerly “Senior Adviser for Countering Violent Extremism at the U.S. Department of State, program manager of the Minerva Initiative at the Department of Defense, and fellow at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.” This morning, he posted “Alleged Claim for Oslo Attacks” on his blog Jihadica:
This was posted by Abu Sulayman al-Nasir to the Arabic jihadi forum, Shmukh, around 10:30am EST (thread 118187). Shmukh is the main forum for Arabic-speaking jihadis who support al-Qaeda. Since the thread is now inaccessible (either locked or taken down), I am posting it here. I don’t have time at the moment to translate the whole thing but I translated the most important bits on twitter.
The Shmukh web site is not accessible to just anyone, so he is the primary source for this claim. McCants stated from the beginning that the claim had been removed or hidden, and on Twitter he even cast doubt on whether it was a claim of responsibility at all.
... McCants later reported that the claim of responsibility was retracted by the author “Abu Sulayman al-Nasir.” Furthermore, according to McCants, the moderator of this forum declared that speculation about the attack would be prohibited because the contents of the forum were appearing in mainstream media. It does seem more than a little bit odd that genuine “jihadis” would post on a closed forum that a former US official and “counterterrorism expert” openly writes about infiltrating.
The result was that the NYT's bad reportage gave a green light to every other TV journalist and every so-called "terrorism expert" who only seemed to have information about Islamic terrorism to run wild speculating that this was a product of Muslim radicals. This was especially the case, of course, at Fox News, where Greg Burke quickly declared from his seat of expertise in Rome that "this looks like the work of Al Qaeda," as well as Fox "terrorism expert" Peter Neumann, who agreed wholeheartedly (with an assist from the network's chryon writer, too).
Moreover, as Doherty observes, none of these folks will ever pay the price for being dead wrong. After all, Steve Emerson -- who infamously led the American journalistic pack down the same dead end in 1995 by declaring the Oklahoma City bombing likely the work of Muslim radicals -- is still peddling his snake oil:
Disseminating false, unverifiable information should be a blemish on McCants’ credibility, but what is more likely is that his failure will harm other communities elsewhere before it harms his career.
Moreover, you have to wonder when the media will wake up and realize that their operative paradigm for understanding terrorism is broken. As we observed this morning about the attacks:
It's also a sobering reminder that, while we've been obsessing nationally over the supposed threat of Islamist radicals -- embodied by Peter King's haplessly myopic hearings on domestic terrorism -- the reality remains that right-wing extremist terrorism remains the most potent domestic-terrorism threat in America as well. Indeed, the number of violent domestic-terrorism incidents has been steadily rising for the past two years, but the threat has gone largely ignored. Indeed, the Obama administration has kowtowed to right-wing complaints by gutting our own government's intelligence-gathering capacities in this area.
Charles Pierce has a piece in this month's Esquire describing how, indeed, "the truth is, the overwhelming majority of our terrorism has always been homegrown. And it is times like these — times of anger and disaffection — when we turn on ourselves, and kill" (and he gives our work a nice shout-out, too):
At the beginning of this year, not long after they'd found the bomb on the bench in Spokane, a journalist named David Neiwert put together a list of nearly thirty acts of right-wing political violence that had taken place, or had been foiled, in the United States since the summer of 2008 — or roughly since Barack Obama's presidency began to be seen as a genuine possibility. The list began with Jim David Adkisson, who killed two people in a Unitarian church in Tennessee because he was angry at how "liberals" were "destroying America." It included two episodes in April 2009, one in Pittsburgh and one in Florida, in which men who were sure that Barack Obama's government was coming for their guns opened fire on law-enforcement officers who had come to investigate them on other matters.
Some of the crimes on the list were briefly sensational — Scott Roeder's murder of Dr. George Tiller in Wichita, or Joseph Andrew Stack's flying his small plane into a building in Austin in protest of the Internal Revenue Service, or the incoherent array of violent crimes committed by the "Sovereign Citizens Movement." But most of them barely made the national radar at all. In December 2008, a woman in Belfast, Maine, named Amber Cummings shot to death her sleeping husband, James, who'd been savagely abusing her. Upon arriving at the Cummings home, investigators found Nazi paraphernalia and a stash of chemicals indicating that James Cummings was preparing to make a "dirty bomb" that he planned to detonate at Obama's inauguration. Except in the local media, that aspect of the case disappeared completely. James Cummings and his bomb had nothing to do with Scott Roeder's handgun or Joe Stack's airplane.
It is a fertile time for such things. The country elected a black president with an exotic name. The economy, wrecked by a rigged game at the highest levels, continued to grind through a jobless recovery. The national dialogue grows coarser and wilder, and does so at a pace accelerated by technology. People sense the fragmentation — things are falling apart — even while they take refuge in those fragments of life that seem safest and most familiar.
Charlie is a great writer, so be sure to read the whole thing.
Here is the whole list, and an interactive map with links to each of the stories we've assembled. (It's actually in need of a brief update, which I hope to get to in the next few days.)
It might actually be a good idea if Peter King wants to hold hearings on domestic terrorism. But it needs to tackle the whole threat, and not just the one our xenophobic myopia readily identifies.
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