Our Definitions of National Security Crimes Are Fucked

I realized something the other day.

For the purposes of hacking, a theater (or at least any mall it was attached to) might count as critical infrastructure that would deem it a National Security target, just as Sony Pictures was deemed critical infrastructure for sanction and retaliation purposes after it got hacked.

But if a mentally ill misogynist with a public track record of supporting right wing hate shoots up a movie showing, it would not be considered a national security target. Given his death, DOJ won’t be faced with the challenge of naming John Russell Houser’s crime, but they would have even less ability to punish Houser for his motivation and ties to other haters than they had with Dylann Roof.

DOJ had no such problem with Joseph Buddenberg and Nicole Kissane, who got charged with terrorism (under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) yesterday because they freed some minks. And a bobcat.

So shooting African Americans worshipping in church is not terrorism, but freeing a bobcat is.

Meanwhile, most of the 204 mass shootings — averaging one a day — that happened this year have passed unremarked.

I laid out some of the problems with the disparity between Muslim terrorism and white supremacist terrorism (to say nothing of bobcat-freeing “terrorism”) the other day.

“This should in no way signify that this particular murder or any federal crime is of any lesser significance.” [than terrorism, Loretta Lynch claimed while announcing the Hate Crime charges against Roof

Except it is, by all appearances.

When asked, Lynch refused to comment on how DOJ is allocating resources, but reporting on the increase in terrorism analysts since 9/11 suggests the FBI has dedicated large amounts of new resources to fighting Islamic terrorism, domestically and abroad. In addition, there are a number of spying tools that are tied solely to international terrorism — but DOJ has managed to define, in secret, domestic terrorism espoused by Muslims in the U.S. as international terrorism. That means FBI has far more tools to dedicate to finding tweets posted by Muslims, and fewer to find the manifesto Roof wrote speaking of having ”the bravery to take it to the real world” against blacks and even Jews.

Perhaps most importantly, because of vastly expanded post-9/11 information sharing, local law enforcement offices have been deputized in the hunt for Muslim terrorists, receiving intelligence obtained through those additional spying tools and sharing tips back up with the FBI. By contrast, as one after another confrontation makes clear — most recently the video of a white Texas trooper escalating a traffic stop with African American woman Sandra Bland that ultimately ended in her death, purportedly by suicide — too many white local cops tend to prey on African Americans themselves rather than  the police who target African Americans for their race.

[snip]

Finally, the FBI has an incentive to call Roof’s attack something different, as it makes a big deal of its success in preventing “terrorist” attacks. If the Charleston attack was terrorism, it means FBI missed a terrorist plotting while tracking a bunch of Muslims who might not have acted without FBI incitement. That would be all the worse as the FBI might have stopped Roof during the background check conducted before he bought the murder weapon, if not for some confusion on a prior charge.

[snip]

I’m certainly not saying we should expand the already over-broad domestic dragnet to include white supremacists espousing ugly speech (but neither should hateful speech from Muslims be sufficient for a material support for terrorism charge, as it currently is). Yet as one after another white cop kills or leads to the death of unarmed African Americans, we have to ensure that we call like crimes by like names to emphasize the importance of protecting all Americans. DOJ under Eric Holder was superb at policing civil rights violations, and there’s no reason to believe that will change under DOJ’s second African American Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.

But hate crimes brought with the assistance of DOJ’s Civil Rights division (as these were) are not the same as terrorist crimes brought by national security prosecutors, nor are they as easy to prosecute. If our nation can’t keep African Americans worshipping in church safe, than we’re not delivering national security.

But I’d add to that. If we’re discussing mass killings with guns (remember, earlier this year Richard Burr tried to include commission of a violent crime while in possession of a gun among the definitions of terrorism) then it suggests far different solutions than just calling terrorism terrorism.

What if we focused all our energy on interceding before crazy men — of all sorts — shoot up public spaces rather than just one select group?

What if our definitions of national security started with a measure of impact rather than a picture of global threat?

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

9 replies
  1. bevin says:

    The “tools” that are needed to cure the racism and madness which is evidenced in these shootings, the police murders which occur every few hours and the sadistic insanity of mass incarceration (for private profit) are higher taxes for the wealthy, a guaranteed income for all, full access to high quality medical care and prescribed medicines, decent day care and schooling for kids, and a ‘good example’ from Washington in the shape of a cessation of the massive campaigns of violence waged in order to prevent an oversupply of weapons and materiel.

    Only the rats and other species which see themselves as putative legatees of our suicidal civilisation benefit from the current policies of governments. Which is why, I suppose, they contribute so generously to election campaigns.

  2. emptywheel says:

    One thing I meant to include in this post. At Aspen (when he was bemoaning the fact that ISIS is targeting the young and mentally ill men FBI has long selectively targeted in stings) John Carlin noted the “terrorist” attack in Chattanooga, but not those in Lafayette and Charleston. Obviously, he doesn’t consider the latter two part of his “national security” job.

  3. wallace says:

    quote”What if our definitions of national security started with a measure of impact rather than a picture of global threat?”unquote

    Hahahahahaha! Emptywheel..you’re priceless. And mean. Comey would faint from cognitive dissonance overload.

  4. Stephen says:

    In other words, what the issue boils down to just what the heck is a “national security crime” anyway?
    .
    That question and other issues raised in this article suggest a degree of arbitrariness is being applied by the DOJ to the administration of the federal legal system.
    .
    One further point…

    “This should in no way signify that this particular murder or any federal crime is of any lesser significance.” [than terrorism, Loretta Lynch claimed while announcing the Hate Crime charges against Roof

    Since when was murder a FEDERAL crime in the US? If it was committed somewhere beyond the reach of state or local law it might be, but that does not seem to be the case with the crime that Roof committed.

  5. Rich says:

    We’re all with you on this personal journey of self-discovery. Get thyself over to The Rancid Honeytrap. He’s on top of it.

    • wallace says:

      Yes, indeed. It must be terrible to watch your mother torture your pets on an alter to the KKK while wearing a white silk robe, and then be subjected to deviant sexual abuse at the hands of her Texas police friends.

  6. jo6pac says:

    Yep, bought me some of those corp. jail stocks today. The great thing about this stock if I’m in jail I’m helping my stock and if I’m out well let the mad dog 20/20 roll.

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