Category Archives: Terrorism

Does It Matter If the Oregon Standoff is Terrorism?

A bunch of armed white guys have taken over a building in a wildlife refuge in Oregon, and liberal Twitter is going a little nuts because the media isn’t calling it “terrorism.”

It’s a lot easier to send camera crews to a St. Louis suburb than to a remote wildlife refuge, and they won’t be allowed as close to the action as they are in urban protests, but I understand the point: If a bunch of black people had done this, the usual law-and-order dipsticks would be screaming about terrorism. (And if a bunch of middle-eastern-looking people had done this, we’d have Presidential candidates calling for a drone strike.) So it seems weird when people are all of a sudden getting really sensitive about labels.

I get that. I know there are people who wanted to carpet bomb the Ferguson protesters because somebody burned down a QuikTrip, and now the same kinds of people are talking about the Oregon protesters “standing up to tyrannical government” over western U.S. land management issues. It’s natural to be angry that a bunch of white ranchers are being treated more sympathetically than black folks from the city. But the injustice here is not that white ranchers are being treated well, but that black people are treated so poorly.

The definitions of words like terrorism are inherently somewhat arbitrary and shifting, but I grew up in the 1970s, and terrorism back then meant shooting or kidnapping people, blowing things up, and hijacking airplanes. Basically, it was guerrilla warfare against non-combatants.

Whenever we get into an argument about definitions, I find it’s helpful to ask why the definition matters. All the activities that make up typical terrorism — killing people, blowing things up, kidnapping — are already defined as crimes, so what is the point of identifying some criminal act as terrorism? I’ve been thinking about my own mental definition of terrorism, and it seems to consist of three parts: (1) killing, kidnapping, or seriously hurting non-combatants or doing massive property damage, (2) by perpetrators who present an ongoing threat (3) to advance a political cause. The point of defining terrorism this way is that it identifies a pattern of dangerous crime that does not end with a single incident. It’s a continuing threat of serious violence that has to be investigated and fought. That’s what makes it different from most other kinds of crime.

Under my definition of terrorism, the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon is not terrorism. You don’t have to like my definition, but if you’re going to insist that this incident is terrorism despite the lack of shooting or explosions or any kind if injury, can you explain to me why it matters? What’s so important about calling this terrorism?

That seems plausible. The Black Panthers got into gunfights with the police on numerous occasions, and when MOVE occupied a building in Philadelphia the police literally bombed it, killing 11 people, including children, and burning down an entire city block. In fact, in response to events in Oregon, someone at ThinkProgress even tweeted a picture of the MOVE fire:

But I guess my question is, if you’re complaining that the situation in Oregon isn’t being called “terrorism,” is it because you want that to happen to the white guys occupying the MNWR building?

I certainly hope not. While I think it’s likely that a bunch of armed black people who took over a government building would be treated a lot worse than the white guys in Oregon, I don’t think the solution is encourage the government and the media to treat the white people worse.

Some people have claimed that the militia group’s actions at MNWR meet the federal definition of terrorism in 18 USC 2331. I don’t know if that’s true (“acts dangerous to human life” could be twisted a number of ways), but I don’t see why anyone who’s not a lawyer (or a defendant) should care about the legal definition. Remember, this is the same body of law that says putting your own money in your own bank account is the crime of money laundering if you do it wrong. Unless we’re talking specifically about criminal charges, why should we let the technical language of law affect how we talk?

What concerns me about so many liberal commenters insisting that this is terrorism (or this or this or this) is that nothing good will come from encouraging an expansive definition of terrorism.

If you look at the huge list of things described as terrorism in the Patriot Act, almost every one of them is already illegal. So calling these things “terrorism” doesn’t make them illegal — they’re already crimes — it just allows prosecutors to demand ever harsher penalties. Since we already have a larger percentage of prisoners than any other country, is it really wise to encourage prosecutors to be harsher?

Ever since 9/11 (or maybe the Oklahoma City bombing) law enforcement and national intelligence agencies have been trying to make themselves seem more important — and not incidentally get more funding — by defining terrorism down to include all kinds of crimes. Hacking into a corporation’s servers is now “cyberterrorism” and cutting fishing nets and freeing captive animals is called “ecoterrorism”. In the media, people are calling Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists” and claiming that blocking entry to the Mall of America is “economic terrorism.” In California, being in a gang or helping a gang member commit a crime is called “street terrorism.” Kids who post violent rap lyrics on Facebook are now charged with making “terroristic threats.” Some of those actions are definitely crimes, and others might be, but it’s a ridiculous stretch to call any of these crimes “terrorism.”

As for the armed white guys occupying the wildlife refuge, I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure the authorities could charge them for breaking into the building, for staying after being asked to leave, and for keeping other people out with threats of violence. Some of those crimes probably have gun enhancements, and there are probably conspiracy charges all the way around for the leaders. And that’s without a shot being fired or anyone getting hurt. Tacking on terrorism charges is unnecessary overkill.

Well, I’ve been complaining about the over-criminalization of practically everything for a long time here at Windypundit, usually in the context of the War On Drugs. This isn’t the best time, it’s just one more time.

Perhaps a better question is why do I think nice liberal people should back off on demanding that the situation in Oregon be called “terrorism”? My answer is that when it comes to tough-on-crime attitudes, what goes around, comes around.

Dwight and Steven Hammond, the jailed farmers at the center of this conflict, may be learning this the hard way. I’m just guessing, but I’ll bet that when legislatures first started passing harsh mandatory minimum laws, the Hammonds and most of their right-wing supporters in the wildlife refuge thought it was a great way to to put thugs in jail. And when Congress passed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, the Hammonds and their supporters probably approved of getting tough on terrorists. They must have been surprised as hell to learn that the AEDPA meant they would be facing five-year minimum sentences because fires they started on their own land got out of control.

For the folks on the left, it’s all fun and games watching right-wing white guys get in deep trouble, but getting tough on crime has a funny way of turning into massive incarceration of young male minorities. If the nice liberal people crying “terrorism” get their way, it could end up influencing the way prosecutors charge crimes, and it could encourage lawmakers to pass tough new laws to fight “right-wing anti-government terrorism.” Then a few years from now those same nice liberal people will be angry that 18-year-old black kids are being charged with some new crime called “terroristic damage to federal property” because they broke in and spray painted “Black Lives Matter” on the walls of a post office.

What the Nobel Peace Prize Winner is Up To These Days

Andrew Napolitano describes it this way:

The leader of the government regularly sits down with his senior generals and spies and advisers and reviews a list of the people they want him to authorize their agents to kill. They do this every Tuesday morning when the leader is in town. The leader once condemned any practice even close to this, but now relishes the killing because he has convinced himself that it is a sane and sterile way to keep his country safe and himself in power. The leader, who is running for re-election, even invited his campaign manager to join the group that decides whom to kill.

This is not from a work of fiction, and it is not describing a series of events in the Kremlin or Beijing or Pyongyang. It is a fair summary of a 6,000-word investigative report in The New York Times earlier this week about the White House of Barack Obama. Two Times journalists, Jo Becker and Scott Shane, painstakingly and chillingly reported that the former lecturer in constitutional law and liberal senator who railed against torture and Gitmo now weekly reviews a secret kill list, personally decides who should be killed and then dispatches killers all over the world — and some of his killers have killed Americans.

Read the whole thing.

Clowns Of the Left, Jokers Of the Right

Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist attacks in Norway are bringing out the idiots. For example, from the (more-or-less) right, there’s Cheradenine Zakalwe at Islam Versus Europe in a post titled “Why the Left Shouldn’t Gloat about Anders Breivik”:

Reading through Anders Behring Breivik’s comments on the website, it’s clear that he was on the verge of giving up on democracy. … That’s what drove him to despair and to an act of apocalyptic violence. He felt there was a conspiracy among the media and political elite to suppress any derogatory information about Muslims or mass immigration. And, of course, he was right. …

He was particularly struck by the Andrew Neather revelations about the Labour government’s conspiracy to flood Britain with immigrants in order to “rub the right’s nose in diversity.” The left rubbed Breivik’s nose in diversity and he rubbed theirs back in blood. Well done Neather. Well done Blair. Well done Rusbridger.

It is the left-wing that is responsible for this outrage, not the right-wing. This act of violence is the consequence of a deranged political elite attempting to demographic re-engineer an entire continent against the wishes of its people; exploiting imperfections in the democratic system so that the people are never allowed a real choice; passing laws to criminalise free speech so that honest discussion is scarcely possible any more; and a media conspiracy (embodied in laws or informal agreements like the NUJ Guidelines on Race Reporting) to systematically suppress information about the negative consequences mass third-world immigration, and particularly the Muslim component of it, is having on Europe.

Personally, I think responsibility for Anders Behring Breivik’s actions begin and end with Anders Behring Breivik. I’m willing to change my mind if the ongoing investigation manages to link his actions to any other organizations. Right now, however, he’s just a lone wacko.

To the idiots on the (more-or-less) left, that makes me part of the conspiracy, as illustrated by Roger Cohen in a New York Times op-ed title “Breivik and His Enablers”:

LONDON — On one level Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian responsible for the biggest massacre by a single gunman in modern times, is just a particularly murderous psychotic loner: the 32-year-old mama’s boy with no contact with his father, obsessed by video games (Dragon Age II) as he preens himself (“There was a relatively hot girl on [sic] the restaurant today checking me out”) and dedicates his time in asexual isolation to the cultivation of hatred and the assembly of a bomb from crushed aspirin and fertilizer.

No doubt, that is how Islamophobic right-wingers in Europe and the United States who share his views but not his methods will seek to portray Breivik.

We’ve seen the movie. When Jared Loughner shot Representative Gabrielle Giffords this year in Tuscon, Arizona — after Sarah Palin placed rifle sights over Giffords’ constituency and Giffords herself predicted that “there are consequences to that” — the right went into overdrive to portray Loughner as a schizophrenic loner whose crazed universe owed nothing to those fanning hatred under the slogan of “Take America Back.” (That non-specific taking-back would of course be from Muslims and the likes of the liberal and Jewish Giffords.)

Look, some people think Islam is a religion with a substantial history of violence and oppression. Others think this is yet another case of panic about immigration. Whatever the case, unless you can find an actual conspiracy — people, organizations, plans, money, that sort of thing — it’s ludicrous to say that either side is responsible in any meaningful way for Breivik’s crimes.

Suspicious Activity Reporting, You Decide

John Farmer Jr., a dean at the Rutgers School of Law and former senior counsel for the 9/11 commission, has a New York Times op-ed promoting the Justice Department’s new Nationwide Suspicious Activity Reporting (SAR) Initiative, which basically encourages Americans to report each other to the government if they see anything suspicious. Farmer offers the following scary scenario in support of SAR:

A young man walks into a Home Depot and buys a large quantity of acetone. Later, a young man walks into a beauty supply store and buys hydrogen peroxide. Still later, a young man is observed parked outside a nondescript federal building in a rented van, taking photographs.

No crime has been committed. But should any of these activities (acetone and hydrogen peroxide can be components for explosives) be reported to and evaluated by law enforcement officials?

Let’s suppose the answer is “Yes.” What do you think happens next? You pick:

Ending A: The tips are logged and encoded into the SAR database. Minutes later, advanced datamining algorithms scan both incidents and discover a link. The items are flagged for human processing. An analyst determines this is actionable intelligence and forwards it to the FBI counterterrorism coordinator. Within hours, a warrant is issued by a special federal court and the FBI’s SWAT team is kicking down doors. A major terror attack is averted, thanks to alert citizens.

Ending B: The tips are logged and encoded into the SAR database. Fourteen weeks later, a police detective temporarily assigned to his city’s Joint Terrorist Task Force’s Investigations unit spends eight minutes interviewing each person who provided a tip, carefully filling out the proper Homeland Security interview forms. Four weeks after that, a clerk types his answers into another database, and seven weeks later another analyst clicks the “Reviewed” box on his computer. Two months later, then again at the end of the year, a line in an SAR summary report has a number that is larger by one. Nothing else is ever done about either of these tips, and there is no resulting terrorism incident.

I’m pretty sure I know which ending is more realistic…

(Hat tip: Scott Greenfield)

More On Subway Searches

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged my criticism of a Washington Post editorial in favor of the new random bag search policy on the D.C. subways. It was deriding the fine folks at Flex Your Rights for encouraging people to refuse the searches, and I argued the importance of privacy rights.

There’s another issue I didn’t address, which is that subway searches are pointless. Suppose we grant, for purposes of argument that a thorough bag-searching policy would stop terrorists from attacking Americans on the subway.

That would force the terrorists to adapt, perhaps changing their preferred target from subway trains to public buses or Greyhound buses or school buses or church buses or mini vans with families in them. Or maybe instead of attacking vehicles, they’d attack high schools or grade schools or preschools or daycare centers or family restaurants or toy stores or music stores or shoe stores or grocery stores or department stores or shopping malls.

Or hotels.

They could also attack doctors’ offices or banks or post offices or police stations or firehouses or unemployment offices or homeless shelters or gas stations or paint stores or chemical warehouses or power distribution centers or telephone exchanges or water plants or sewage plants or gas pipelines or oil trucks or railroad tank cars or oil tankers or liquid natural gas carriers or ferry boats or cruise ships.

But I guess it’s worth giving up our privacy to secure the subways, huh?

Update: I almost forgot to mention office buildings and business conferences and trade shows and casinos and strip clubs and comedy clubs and porno shops and amusement parks and sports stadiums and music arenas and theatrical stages and night clubs and movie houses and sports bars and restaurants and banquet halls. Also bridges, tunnels, and dams.  And hospitals, retirement homes, funeral parlors, libraries, and construction sites.