March 5, 2010

Yesterday we had another act of violence by a right-wing extremist intent on attacking and harming the government, inflamed by far-right conspiracy theories about 9/11 and other supposed instances of government "tyranny":

Internet postings linked to the suspected gunman in a Pentagon subway shooting suggest long-held frustration with the government's reach into the private life of Americans.

The suspect, John Patrick Bedell, 36, died after exchanging gunfire with two police officers. He spent weeks driving to the Capital area from the West Coast, authorities said Friday.

A blog connected to him via the social networking site LinkedIn outlines a growing distrust of the federal government. The blog suggests a criminal enterprise run out of the government could have staged the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

It was the latest batch of conspiracy-laden Internet postings to surface since Thursday night's shooting.

Bedell died Thursday night from head wounds received in a volley of fire with police. Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police, said the two injured officers and another officer who came to their assistance fired upon Bedell at the subway entrance into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Va.

"He came here from California," Keevill said. "We were able to identify certain locations that he spent that last several weeks making his way from the West coast to the East coast."

Keevill described Bedell as "very well educated" and well-dressed, saying Bedell was wearing a suit, armed with two 9 millimeter semiautomatic weapons and carried "many magazines" of ammunition. There was more ammunition in Bedell's car, which authorities found in a local parking garage, Keevill said.

[UPDATE: Think Progress has more on Bedell's background as a right-wing extremist.]

NBC's Jim Miklaszewski assured us this morning that there was no indication this was "terrorism." Likewise, the Associated Press report had a similar assurance:

Investigators have found no immediate connection to terrorism. The attack that superficially wounded two officers guarding the massive Defense Department headquarters appears to be a case of "a single individual who had issues," Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police, said Friday.

Excuse me, but WTF?

It seems to be the new standard among journalists that terrorism is now defined only as conspiracy-based international terrorism. Lone-wolf domestic terrorism? That's now just "a single individual who had issues."

You remember when an anti-tax radical flew his plane into IRS offices in Austin a couple of weeks ago in an attempt to blow those offices up, the Foxite media were eager to proclaim that it was not an act of terrorism, too.

As we explained then:

This too is nonsense: There are different kinds terrorism, to be certain. There's international terrorism. Then there's domestic terrorism, sometimes conducted by a larger conspiracy, and sometimes conducted by small cells like McVeigh and Terry Nichols, and lone wolves like Eric Rudolph, Scott Roeder and James Von Brunn.

All of these acts fit the FBI's twin definition of terrorism:

Domestic terrorism refers to activities that involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state; appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. [18 U.S.C. § 2331(5)]

International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state. These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping and occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.

Remember that DHS bulletin warning of a potential outbreak of right-wing domestic terrorism that so freaked out conservatives because they claimed it "smeared" conservatives? Let's recall what it actually said:

DHS/I&A assesses that lone wolves and small terrorist cells embracing violent rightwing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.

[..] Similarly, recent state and municipal law enforcement reporting has warned of the dangers of rightwing extremists embracing the tactics of “leaderless resistance” and of lone wolves carrying out acts of violence.

As we explained after James Von Brunn engaged in a similar act in D.C.:

Now, here's the odd thing about "lone wolves": Right-wingers like to use the solitary nature of this kind of terrorist act to dismiss them as "isolated incidents." But in reality, the continuing existence of acts of this nature demonstrates primarily that the radical right in America is alive, well, and functioning better than it should. And the continuing -- and as we've seen this week, ultimately futile -- attempts by the right to whitewash their existence from the public consciousness have played no small part in helping that trend continue.

... A 2003 piece by Jessica Stern in Foreign Affairs described how even Al Qaeda was finding the concept useful. And she explains its origins:

The idea was popularized by Louis Beam, the self-described ambassador-at-large, staff propagandist, and "computer terrorist to the Chosen" for Aryan Nations, an American neo-Nazi group. Beam writes that hierarchical organization is extremely dangerous for insurgents, especially in "technologically advanced societies where electronic surveillance can often penetrate the structure, revealing its chain of command." In leaderless organizations, however, "individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction, as would those who belong to a typical pyramid organization." Leaders do not issue orders or pay operatives; instead, they inspire small cells or individuals to take action on their own initiative.

The strategy was also inspired by at least one "lone wolf" shooter: Joseph Paul Franklin, a racist sniper who in the late 1970s and early 1980s killed as many as 20 people -- mostly mixed-race couples -- on a serial-murder spree, and attempted to assassinate both Vernon Jordan and Larry Flynt. (Franklin was also the inspiration for William Pierce's Hunter, the follow-up novel to The Turner Diaries.)

There has been no dearth of lone wolves in the years since Beam set the strategy for the radical right: Eric Rudolph. Buford Furrow. Benjamin Smith. James Kopp. Jim David Adkisson. In 20099, we added Scott Roeder and James von Brunn to the list.

That's quite a trail of "isolated incidents," isn't it?

As we saw in Austin, far-right extremist rhetoric plays no small role in inspiring these acts. And inevitably, it is ordinary Americans who pay the price.

All I know is that if this had been a Muslim man who had walked into the Pentagon and opened fire, all the talk this morning would be about an "act of terrorism". Instead, it's just another "isolated incident." Funny how that works, isn't it?

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