[See update below: Lynch says she didn’t mean how these statements came out.]
It’s bad enough that Attorney General Loretta Lynch refuses to force police to keep records on how many people they kill.
In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.
“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.
It’s her reasoning I find really troubling.
Lynch said the Justice Department does “encourage” local departments to maintain records on police shootings but that improving police-community relations is more important. She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult.
“The statistics are important, but the real issues are: ‘what steps are we all taking to connect communities … with police and back with government?’” she said.
It’s all well and good to say communities and their cops just need to get along.
Here’s what the crime story said: “Among some experts and rank-and-file officers, the notion that less aggressive policing has emboldened criminals — known as the “Ferguson effect” in some circles — is a popular theory for the uptick in violence.” A paragraph later, the story continues: “Others doubt the theory or say data has not emerged to prove it.” Two experts are quoted, and the story moves on from there.
Bill Michtom of Portland, Ore., wrote to me about it, calling it a “classic example of false equivalence.” Ta-Nehisi Coates called the suggestion of a Ferguson effect “utterly baseless” in a piece for The Atlantic, noting that one of the experts quoted said that the rise in violent crime in St. Louis had begun before the large protests last year over a white police officer’s fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager.
One of the story’s reporters, Monica Davey, and the national editor, Alison Mitchell, strongly disagree that this is false equivalence or that it was misleading to readers. In fact, they told me, it would be wrong of The Times not to report something that some police officers are identifying as part of their mind-set.
Ms. Davey, who agrees that false balance is infuriating and must be avoided, said in an email that this example simply doesn’t fit the description. For one thing, she said, there is no established truth here: “The question about the validity of this theory simply has not been definitively answered in the way that the earth’s shape has.” And, she said, “police officers must be given some credence in assessing whether they themselves feel that they are behaving differently now — the essence of what some of them have called the ‘Ferguson effect.’ ”
Or, as Ms. Mitchell puts it: “We have the police suggesting that police are pulling back — should we not report that?”
My view is that the introduction of this explosive idea didn’t serve readers well because, in this context, it was mentioned briefly, sourced vaguely, and then countered by disagreement. If police officers are indeed pulling back from their duties, and are willing to be identified and quoted, and if there’s evidence to back it up, that would be worth a full exploration in a separate article. But this glancing treatment could easily have left readers baffled, at the very least.
Things aren’t going to improve so long as cops can just make shit up, in spite of data to the contrary.
Just as importantly, since 9/11, the mandate throughout the Federal government — and especially for FBI — has been to share information promiscuously, including down to local police departments. Some of that information includes untested leads; some of it includes cyber and terrorist threat assessments.
If Lynch is telling us these local police departments don’t have the ability to handle reporting back and forth from the federal government, than the rest of the info sharing should stop too, because it could violate Americans’ privacy and/or expose intelligence streams.
But we all know that’s not going to happen.
Which means Lynch is supporting an asymmetrical reporting system that can’t be used for oversight of the larger system.
Update: Lynch says her statements last week weren’t what she was trying to say.
The point I was trying to make at that conference related to our overall view of how we deal with police departments as part of our practice of enforcing consent decrees, or working with them and I was trying to make the point that we also have to focus on building community trust which is a very individual – very local – practice. Unfortunately, my comments gave the misperception that we were changing our view in some way about the importance of this data – nothing could be further from the truth. This data is not only vital – we are working closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information.
More from her statement:
“The department’s position and the administration’s position has consistently been that we need to have national, consistent data,” said Attorney General Lynch. “This information is useful because it helps us see trends, it helps us promote accountability and transparency,” said Attorney General Lynch. “We’re also going further in developing standards for publishing information about deaths in custody as well, because transparency and accountability are helped by this kind of national data.”
U.S. Central Command was notified at approximately 1 p.m. today that a commander of a New Syrian Forces element operating in Syria surrendered some of his unit’s Coalition-issued equipment to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary purportedly in exchange for safe passage within their operating area.
“Today the NSF unit contacted Coalition representatives and informed us that on Sept. 21-22 they gave six pick-up trucks and a portion of their ammunition to a suspected Al Nusra Front intermediary, which equates to roughly 25 percent of their issued equipment,” said Col. Patrick Ryder, U.S. Central Command spokesperson. “If accurate, the report of NSF members providing equipment to Al Nusra Front is very concerning and a violation of Syria train and equip program guidelines.”
Earlier this week, Al Nusra Front tweeted an image of a Coalition-issued rifle and claimed that the newest NSF members had handed over all their weapons upon re-entering Syria last week. Central Command conducted an analysis of the image depicted in the Tweet and determined the claim to be false. This determination was based on NSF members reporting that all personnel and equipment were under NSF control and because the tweeted image was an old picture repurposed from the Facebook page of a previously deployed NSF fighter from a different training class.
“In light of this new information, we wanted to ensure the public was informed as quickly as possible about the facts as we know them at this time,” said Col. Ryder. “We are using all means at our disposal to look into what exactly happened and determine the appropriate response.”
That is, CentCom is explaining that when they claimed reports the rebels had handed over their weapons early in the week was a lie, they were wrong. They had based that assertion on the representations of our trained and vetted rebels, including the claim that a picture posted to Twitter was a recycled image (something that happens a lot in propaganda from Syria, from all sides). Given their caveat about whether this latest claim — that the rebels handed over six pick-ups and a bunch of ammunition — may not be accurate, it suggests they still don’t actually know. Which, in turn, suggests they didn’t have the means to vet the tweeted picture, nor do they have enough independent HUMINT coming from the region to be able to fact check what the latest batch of vetted and trained rebels tell them.
This may or may not have to do with the allegations that the intelligence at CentCom is cooked. It, at a minimum, speaks to collection and analysis issues, only the latter of which was covered in the complaint to the Inspector General.
Whatever the cause, though, it does raise real concerns about how blind CentCom is right now.
Just a few days after our Egyptian allies sentenced 3 Al Jazeera journalists to 3 years in prison, Turkey joined the club, charging 2 UK Vice employees and their Turkish fixer with terrorism. Today, Al Jazeera explained why the Vice journalists got charged: because the fixer uses an encryption technique that members of ISIS also use.
Three staff members from Vice News were charged with “engaging in terrorist activity” because one of the men was using an encryption system on his personal computer which is often used by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a senior press official in the Turkish government has told Al Jazeera.
Two UK journalists, Jake Hanrahan and Philip Pendlebury, along with their Turkey-based Iraqi fixer and a driver, were arrested on Thursday in Diyarbakir while filming clashes between security forces and youth members of the outlawed and armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
On Monday, the three men were charged by a Turkish judge in Diyarbakir with “engaging in terrorist activity” on behalf of ISIL, the driver was released without charge.
The Turkish official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Al Jazeera: “The main issue seems to be that the fixer uses a complex encryption system on his personal computer that a lot of ISIL militants also utilise for strategic communications.”
Note, the Vice journalists were reporting on PKK, not ISIS, but it wouldn’t be the first time Turkey used ISIS as cover for their war against PKK.
A lot of people are treating this as a crazy expression of rising Turkish repression, that it conflates use of encryption — even a certain kind of encryption! — with membership in ISIS.
But they’re not the only one who does so. As the slide above — and some other documents released by Snowden — makes clear, NSA makes the same conflation. How do you find terrorists without other information, this slide asks? Simple! You find someone using encryption.
While the US might not arrest people based on such evidence (though it did hold Al Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj for years without charge), they certainly make the same baseless connection.
Is now calling out those who claim Iran — and not Saudi Arabia — is the biggest sponsor of terrorism.
The Washington Post ran a story last week about some 200 retired generals and admirals who sent a letter to Congress “urging lawmakers to reject the Iran nuclear agreement, which they say threatens national security.” There are legitimate arguments for and against this deal, but there was one argument expressed in this story that was so dangerously wrongheaded about the real threats to America from the Middle East, it needs to be called out.
That argument was from Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, the retired former vice commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe, who said of the nuclear accord: “What I don’t like about this is, the number one leading radical Islamic group in the world is the Iranians. They are purveyors of radical Islam throughout the region and throughout the world. And we are going to enable them to get nuclear weapons.”
Sorry, General, but the title greatest “purveyors of radical Islam” does not belong to the Iranians. Not even close. That belongs to our putative ally Saudi Arabia.
But if you think Iran is the only source of trouble in the Middle East, you must have slept through 9/11, when 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia. Nothing has been more corrosive to the stability and modernization of the Arab world, and the Muslim world at large, than the billions and billions of dollars the Saudis have invested since the 1970s into wiping out the pluralism of Islam — the Sufi, moderate Sunni and Shiite versions — and imposing in its place the puritanical, anti-modern, anti-women, anti-Western, anti-pluralistic Wahhabi Salafist brand of Islam promoted by the Saudi religious establishment.
Mind you, I’m not sure I’d say “nothing has been more corrosive” than Saudi extremism. After all, serial US invasions are pretty high up on that list.
But the two together — Saudi complicity and US action — sure do a pretty good job of destabilizing the Middle East.
At Politico, Will McCants has an excerpt from his new book, in which he argues that ISIS differs from Al Qaeda in its apocalyptic vision.
The Islamic State’s brutality and its insistence on apocalypse now and caliphate now set it apart from al-Qaeda, of which it was a part until 2014. We’re used to thinking of al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden as the baddest of the bad, but the Islamic State is worse. Bin Laden tamped down messianic fervor and sought popular Muslim support; the return of the early Islamic empire, or caliphate, was a distant dream. In contrast, the Islamic State’s members fight and govern by their own version of Machiavelli’s dictum “It is far safer to be feared than loved.” They stir messianic fervor rather than suppress it. They want God’s kingdom now rather than later. This is not Bin Laden’s jihad.
He argues the difference arises, in part, because violence works.
But the Islamic State has deliberately provoked the anger of Muslims and non-Muslims alike with its online videos of outrageous and carefully choreographed violence. It showcases the beheading of prisoners—something Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda today, had expressly warned against—and dumps enemy soldiers in mass graves while the camera is rolling. The State revels in gore and wants everyone to know it. And yet it has been remarkably successful at recruiting fighters, capturing land, subduing its subjects, and creating a state. Why?
Because violence and gore work. We forget that this terrifying approach to state building has an impressive track record.
My immediate response to the piece was to suggest the proper comparison was not between al Qaeda and ISIS, but between Saudi Arabia and ISIS. McCants mentions Saudi Arabia, but only to support a historical argument about the efficacy of violence.
More brutal too was the Saud family and its ultraconservative Wahhabi allies, who came to power three times between 1744 and 1926, when the third and last Saudi state was established.
Guess what?! The Saudis are still beheading people, even if Zawahiri is too squeamish to do so. It does so to punish those who question the apocalyptic ideology the Saudis have long used to police order, and never (that I’ve seen) to punish ISIS terrorists.
Though there aren’t many cameras rolling — at least not Western ones — not in Yemen (because they’ve been expelled) and not in Saudi Arabia (because the Western press has little interest in showing the many beheadings our allies carry out).
That’s a point Rosa Brooks makes in this piece arguing that ISIS’ violence is not much different than that used throughout time as part of state-formation (while she talks about our own fight over slavery during the Civil War, she doesn’t mention America’s genocide against native people, annihilation we counted by counting scalps).
The Islamic State can keep right on beheading people, and if we can’t destroy the Islamic State, perhaps we’ll eventually tire of fighting them and decide to cut deals with them. And then, let a few decades pass, and presto! The Islamic State will have a seat at the U.N. — if the U.N. still exists — either as a new state or as a globally acknowledged non-state something or other, and all those terrible atrocities will be politely ignored.
Needless to say, although history suggests that the commission of horrific and widespread atrocities is no bar to entry into polite global society, history also suggests that nothing is inevitable. Plenty of brutal insurgencies and regimes have lived to see their crimes whitewashed and forgotten, but plenty of others have gone down in flames.
When it comes to predicting the future of the Islamic State, there are lots of wild cards. The 24/7 global media environment is quite new, and it’s impossible to say how this — or the universalization of human rights — will affect the Islamic State’s longer-term ability to sustain itself or the international community’s determination to defeat the group. State sovereignty is changing in complex ways, and it’s hard to know what forms global, political, and military power will take 10, 20, or 50 years from now. Elections in the United States may change American military dynamics; China or Russia or any of a dozen other states could decide to cut deals of their own with the Islamic State. Finally, the group remains relatively opaque to outsiders; internal dynamics could also alter its trajectory.
Even so: If I were a bookie, I’d put long odds on the Islamic State being defeated by the United States. The White House can issue as many statements as it wants claiming to have “made considerable progress in our effort to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State, but I suspect the group will still be going strong five or 10 years from now.
One of the only things that makes ISIS different than Saudi Arabia — other than the latter has been recognized as a legitimate government by other nations, while those same nations recognize Bashar al-Assad as the leader of Syria — is that media, particularly the degree to which the Western press focuses on its beheadings rather than Saudi ones.
So who is responsible (even setting aside the Iraq War’s role in ISIS’s rise) for the effect of its violence, for the efficacy McCants claims it has?
ISIS is doing the same kind of things we tolerate in our Saudi allies. The US would do well to consider why it finds one tolerable and the other the prime enemy.
As Yahoo reported, yesterday the trial for upstate New Yorker, Glendon Scott Crawford, started. Crawford is the rare white man charged with terrorist enhancement charges — including Conspiracy to Use a WMD.
Back in 2012, Crawford, who is a member of the Ku Klux Klan, decided he was going to invent a radiation emitting device that could kill targets from a distance. He approached two local Jewish groups promising he would build them a weapon that would kill Israel’s enemies for funding; some of those he approached reported him to authorities. Then he drove to North Carolina and offered up the weapon to a Klan leader, who cooperated with the FBI in its investigation. The FBI set up undercover employees and an informant in both places to coax him along in a weapon he wanted to use against President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Andrew Cuomo, and some local Muslim organizations.
He allegedly wanted to target Obama because the “treasonous bedwetting maggot in chief … directed the ins to start bringing muzzies here without background checks” where “they don’t have to follow any laws.”
Crawford has argued — as many Muslims set up in elaborate FBI stings have before him — that nothing would have come of his conspiracy theories if the FBI hadn’t intervened.
Here, defendant Crawford had no financial resources with which to carry out the charged crime. Crawford did not have any money with which to fund this alleged scheme, and relied upon the money and debit cards provided by the government to purchase the parts necessary to assemble the remote initiation device. The defendant, identified on video as an acknowledged “conspiracy theorist”, worked as an industrial mechanic at General Electric.
He learned from the internet information that is taught in twelfth grade physics that a certain level of gamma rays directed at a source could cause radiation sickness. Defendant then contacted, among others, Congressman Gibson, area Jewish organizations and the Isreali embassy, with what he believed was a never-before considered idea – and idea only – to use on Islamic terrorists. Until his path crossed that of the government, he had never had a device or money or motivation to become involved in an actual device.
Even the complaint admits that Crawford and his alleged co-conspirator, Eric Feight, were queasy about actually using their death ray machine.
Crawford’s attorney also claimed in opening arguments he just wanted to help the government defend against Islamic extremists.
But Crawford’s arguments will be undermined because Feight has already pled guilty (and presumably will testify at trial). And he and Feight have actual expertise: Crawford is an industrial mechanic and Feight is some kind of contract engineer — both worked for a GE facility in Schenectady. While it’s true that the informant did give Crawford money to pay for his mad scientist project, he’s nowhere near as poor as many of the young men whose purported bombs the FBI funded (he could have just sold his Harley to pay for his Death Ray Machine). Basically, he was looking for investors and the FBI happened to invest.
The judge in the case, Gary Sharpe, has ruled prosecutors will be able to show off Crawford’s Death Ray Machine, which Crawford was just demoing when he was arrested.
It will be interesting to see whether an entrapment argument works any better for a white guy claiming to want to target Muslims than it has for a long string of Muslims who’ve gotten caught in the same fashion.
Update: The jury found him guilty.
As part of its PR feed, the FBI routinely sends out self-summaries of some of its case. Today, it sent out this one, on Jason Woodring, who took a plea deal in June for several counts of destruction of an energy facility.
Back in 2013, the self-employed, live with mom, pool cleaner and heavy meth user, did (if you believe the energy companies affected, which the judge did when assessing a fine) millions of dollars of damage to transmission equipment.
On the afternoon of August 21, 2013, the FBI’s Little Rock Field Office was notified by a local energy provider about a downed 500,000-volt power line near an active railroad track in Cabot, Arkansas. A power outage ensued. Company officials and local law enforcement believed that very early in the morning, someone had climbed a 100-foot tall support tower and intentionally sawed off the shackles that held up the power line, which then fell across the railroad tracks. A short time later, a train struck the line and severed it.
In addition to the power line’s support tower shackles being cut with a hacksaw (which had been left behind), someone had loosened most of the bolts holding the support tower to its cement base. Investigators believed that in a previous attempt to damage the support tower and take down the power line, the perpetrator had taken a steel cable—insulated in blue plastic hosing that’s often used for pool maintenance—and tied one end to the bottom of the support tower and the other end to a tree across the railroad tracks in the hopes that a train would run into the cable, pulling down the entire support tower and possibly toppling several nearby towers. Instead, the cable simply snapped when hit by the train, and the tower—and power line—remained in place. Pieces of the cable and the blue hosing from that attempt were found at the crime scene.
But then there were two more seemingly related incidents:
On September 29, 2013, again very early in the morning, an energy provider received an intruder alert at an extra-high voltage switching station in Scott, Arkansas, which was soon followed by a series of other alarms. Local law enforcement officers responded to find the station on fire. Damages in this instance exceeded $4 million.
And on the morning of October 6, 2013, an energy provider in the Jacksonville, Arkansas area experienced a loss of power for several hours, impacting thousands of people. Not long afterward, investigators found that a 115,000-volt transmission line had fallen down after someone managed to cut into two power poles and pull down one of the poles using a tractor. Damages were close to $50,000.
At least according to their public explanation (which may be sanitized to protect investigative methods), the FBI solved the crimes by taking a phone call from local cops, who had recognized when they responded to an explosion at Woodring’s house and figured he was a likely culprit. The cops’ ability to figure that out was presumably helped because FBI had involved the local Joint Terrorism Task Force, but it appears to be local police work that busted this guy.
The FBI vaguely references anti-government statements in their release.
While Woodring’s motives for his activities were not clear, he did leave some vague anti-government messages at two of the crime scenes, and at his recent sentencing hearing, he told the judge that he was trying to help society.
But reporting on Woodring make it sound more like he was trying to cast off suspicion than lead an anti-government crusade, even if he did engage in conspiracy theories.
The deputies also found a message Woodring left behind, scrawled on a metal panel near the entry gate in black marker. He wrote it with his left hand, to disguise his handwriting. It seemed to combine a slogan for Anonymous, the mysterious network of Internet activists, with an oblique reference to the federal government, a kind of paranoid double entendre.
It said: “YOU SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED U.S.”
Woodring kept up on his reading. He read the Bible. He was always surrounded by books on engineering, and had become increasingly fixated on various conspiracy theories, on “subliminal messages coming from the TV” and other plots. “He was really stuck on the whole Nostradamus thing,” his friend said, referring to the 16th century French seer who supposedly predicted all manner of contemporary world-historical events in his “Prophecies.”
FBI’s lack of information about motive is important given that Woodring was initially charged with a terrorist attack against a rail carrier and the two destruction of an energy facility charges to which he pled guilty can merit a terrorist enhancement.
But there’s not much from the public docket that suggests FBI did much beyond send Woodring to be evaluated for competence to stand defense, after which he pretty quickly pled.
I raise this for a few reasons. First, it’s yet another case of a white guy doing stuff that would be treated far differently if a Muslim had done the same.
But it’s also yet another example of how easy it would be to do physical damage to the government’s most panicked target, the electrical grid, and so so without either terrorism or hacking.
On January 21, 2015, the Niagara County Sheriff’s office responded to a report of an explosion at the house of Chair of the Niagara County Legislature, William Ross. They discovered that his step-son, former corrections officer Michael O’Neill, who lived with his mother and step-father at the house, had blown off his leg while working with explosives in the garage. In addition to the one that exploded, there were 6 completed Improvised Explosive Devices in the garage, along with shrapnel, fireworks powder, and other explosives precursors.
The complaint made no mention of any evidence beyond the explosives precursors.
O’Neill was brought to a local hospital where he had his leg amputated.
When an ATF and Sheriff’s investigator interviewed O’Neill at the hospital, he claimed he had been making the bombs to blow up tree stumps.
A week later, on July 29, also in the Buffalo area, FBI Agent Amanda Pike arrested US citizen Lackawanna resident Arafat Nagi on charges of attempting to materially support ISIS. The complaint laying out the case against Nagi relied on trips to Turkey and Yemen (Nagi has family in the latter), a slew of tweets supporting ISIS, and some 2012 and 2013 purchases of military equipment — including body armor and a machete — and Islamic flags from eBay. The complaint also included pictures Nagi had tweeted out depicting ISIS and extremist flags and Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The most recent event cited in the complaint was a February 28, 2015 conversation (apparently not taped) between Nagi and an associate who — given the redaction of a descriptive footnote — almost certainly either has a criminal record or is working off some arrest, in which Nagi said he’d use insurance money to travel to Syria. The associate — not Nagi — raised meeting with al-Baghdadi (presumed to be Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi).
In spite of the silence about any precipitating event that led to Nagi’s arrest in July, the US Attorney for Western New York (and the husband of Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul), William Hochul, had a press conference to announce Nagi’s arrest. Both court documents and public reporting indicated that the Muslim community had tipped authorities off to Nagi’s increasing belligerence in support of radical views.
On July 27, Magistrate Hugh Scott had a hearing on O’Neill’s custody. In spite of the government’s request, Scott did not place O’Neill in US Marshal custody right away, in part so his mother could visit him more easily.
On July 30, Magistrate Scott again deferred his decision on custody to receive briefing.
On July 31, Nagi had his arraignment before the same judge, Magistrate Hugh Scott. Scott ordered Nagi, whose last incriminating act was in February, held without bail, citing the seriousness of his alleged crime and past (2013) violence. Scott further cited, “the volume and nature of the social media usage [that] indicate that Nagi has formed a strong intent to join and to support ISIL and was looking for opportunities to do so.”
On August 5, Scott held a third hearing on O’Neill’s detention. O’Neill’s attorney argued that his 7 IEDs did not constitute bombs at all (remember, he said he was going to attack tree stumps with them). The government said they were, pointing to the shrapnel in one of the constructed bombs. The judge agreed, noting “there is no non-malevolent explanation for why that explosive powder needed to contain or to be associated with nails and other shrapnel.” Unlike in Nagi’s detention consideration, Scott did not mention his prior violence, such as the bar fight a year ago that was precipitated when O’Neill used a racial slur in response to a request for a lighter.
If I’m reading the docket correctly, after a recess in this Wednesday hearing, Scott issued his written opinion. Only then did the parties proffer new evidence. His defense shows that a number of DWUI charges (one of which resulted in him losing his gun permit in 2010,which in turn referenced earlier alcohol issues recorded by his work, presumably, the corrections facility where he used to work) had been resolved with no jail time.
But only then — after the judge had already decided to hold O’Neill because he put BBs and nails in his IEDs — did the government introduce this evidence, evidence that had to have been apparent (and probably was collected) when the ATF and Sheriff’s investigator did their initial investigation of what O’Neill had been doing in the garage owned by the Chair of the County Legislature.
That evidence shows that the work bench at which Ross’ step-son was emptying fireworks for powder and adding nails to IEDs was decorated with a Stormtrooper poster, a picture of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate flag, and a poster advertising, “The KKK wants you.” O’Neill also appears to have had a sword (most visible in Exhibit 14) not mentioned in any legal document.
I don’t fault Scott that he didn’t mention the evidence that O’Neill was constructing bombs amid a bunch of white supremacist propaganda — he hadn’t been shown it or apparently even informed of it until he issued his opinion. But I find it notable that the prosecutors — and Hochul, who held a press conference upon the arrest of a guy who hadn’t done anything incriminating (at least according to the complaint) since February — didn’t mention this until this stage of the proceedings. And while Hochul commented publicly to the press, I don’t believe he had a formal press conference to highlight the guy making 7 bombs in his step-dad’s garage did so under the glare of the first Klan Grand Wizard.
O’Neill’s politically connected step-father, in whose garage he was assembling bombs right below Nazi and Klan paraphernalia, said “he didn’t know what O’Neill was doing and if he did, he would have alerted authorities,” which appears to make him far less attentive than the Muslims who reported Nagi’s belligerence. Judge Scott expressed some skepticism that Ross could miss both the explosives construction and the Nazi propaganda in clear view in his garage.
The US Attorney’s office says it is investigating O’Neill’s devices to see if they can determine where he learned to build the IEDs and whether they can determine precisely what “stumps” he had in mind for a target. Notably, these IEDs are probably powerful enough the government could charge O’Neill with possession of WMD, which carries a terrorist enhancement, if they discover he had plans of using those IEDs to terrorize.
Since Nagi’s arrest, a number of commentators — including this post and a paragraph of this excellent Ryan Reilly piece — place this case among those where someone is accused of terrorism exclusively for speech. The bulk of the evidence in this case, aside from two trips to Turkey during which Nagi didn’t join ISIS, amounts to speech, albeit clearly hateful speech.
We don’t yet know whether O’Neill has engaged in similar public hate speech (aside from the racist comment last summer that seems to have gotten him hospitalized); what has been mentioned so far is dead tree propaganda, nothing that would reflect interaction with others (his neighbors, at least, had no idea what he was doing in the garage at all hours of the night). Moreover, there is the added (inexcusable but predictable) factor that this guy was the step-son of a politically connected guy, which would lead prosecutors to exercise some caution about crying terrorism without a good deal of evidence.
Still, these two extremists were working their way through the same court room at the same time. The contrast between the two cases is instructive.
One of my favorite ironies from the Greg Miller story on the Mullah Omar death — which doesn’t really try to explain why we’re just learning about a death that all sides likely knew about years ago — is that Mullah Omar, not Osama bin Laden, got hospitalized with kidney problems.
Omar was said to be afflicted with illnesses ranging from kidney failure to meningitis.
But I’m most interested in the timing of our confrontation of Pakistan that they were harboring in the kidney ward: early 2011, or around the same time we were planning our raid on Osama bin Laden (according to some accounts, with the involvement of top Pakistani officials).
In early 2011, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta confronted the president of Pakistan with a disturbing piece of intelligence. The spy agency had learned that Mohammad Omar, the Taliban leader who had become one of the world’s most wanted fugitives after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, was being treated at a hospital in southern Pakistan.
The American spy chief even identified the facility — the Aga Khan University Hospital in Karachi — and said the CIA had “some raw intelligence on this” that would soon be shared with its Pakistani counterpart, according to diplomatic files that summarize the exchange.
I just find it odd that, given the Raymond Davis confrontation and our plans — covert or not — to take out Osama bin Laden, we also had this confrontation.
My guess is one day we’ll learn that all these confrontations were of a piece, and that we’ve long known who was and wasn’t alive (including Ayman al-Zawahiri), but that the powers that be had reason to pretend these people weren’t corpses yet.
Until such time as the next terrorist narrative starts and you have to end the previous one.
Heck. This story might even be coming out as the counter-Osama bin Laden narratives did: to pressure the US about the corrupt deals they’ve long been living under.
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.
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.
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?