Playing Al Qaeda's Game

January 22, 2010

Speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Fort Hood shootings last Thursday Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) announced,  “I for one, I know it’s not politically correct to say it, but I believe in racial and ethnic profiling.”

Sen. Inhofe went on to explain his reasoning:

“When you hear that not all middle easterners and Muslims between the ages of 20 and 35 are terrorists but that all terrorists are Muslims or middle easterners between 20 and 35 that is by and large true.”

In his statement, which you can view in full below, Sen. Inhofe did acknowledge that America had experienced acts of terrorism originating from other sources, referencing the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by the right-wing extremist Timothy McVeigh which killed 168 people. However, he dismissed this threat as a marginal one apparently requiring no governmental response.

Inhofe: I believe in racial profiling

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center US law enforcement officials foiled over 60 domestic terrorism plots between 1995 and 2005. These include plans to bomb or burn government buildings, banks, refineries, clinics, places of worship, memorials, bridges, and to assassinate government officials and civil rights activists. Fatal attacks include the 1995 derailing of an Amtrak passenger train and the 2009 shooting rampage at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In December 2008 police investigating the murder of James G. Cummings in Belfast, Maine, discovered that he had been in the process of assembling a homemade dirty bomb. He had amassed the plans, the parts, the explosives and a small amount of radioactive material including uranium 238 and thorium 232. Cummings, a white supremacist, was reportedly “very upset” about the election of President Barack Obama.

A similarly disturbing incident occurred in April 2003 when federal investigators stumbled across an arms cache assembled by 63-year-old white supremacist William Krar. Krar had collected dozens of illegal firearms, 40 pipe bombs and other explosives, and, most troubling of all, 800 grams of sodium cyanide – enough to kill 1000s of people. He had also sought to obtain fake UN and DoD identity cards.

Make no mistake, domestic extremism poses an existential threat every bit as real and as ruthless as that posed by Al Qaeda. You may recall seventeen children were murdered in the day care center of the Murrah Federal Building by Timothy McVeigh.

One might argue that Krar, Cummings and their ilk are lone actors motivated by a common, if inchoate ideology, but not part of any organization. But the same is also true of Major Nidal Hassan, the perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre, and, as Sen. Inhofe’s intervention aptly demonstrates, there appears to have been no hesitation across the political spectrum in labeling this attack an act of terrorism.

Furthermore Krar and Cummings are part of a movement that explicitly espouses “leaderless resistance.”  This doctrine, popularized by Aryan Nation publicist Louis Beam, urges supporters to form ‘virtual networks’ in which leaders inspire acts of violence but individual actions are conceived and executed by small groups acting alone. A least one academic researcher, Michael Reynolds, claims to have evidence that Al Qaeda is familiar with Beam’s writings.

I would be curious to hear Sen. Inhofe’s proscription for dealing with this threat. Should we round up all white men between 20 and 35 or just those who are registered Republicans? Would listening to Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh be sufficient cause to bring an individual under suspicion?

The bottom-line is that Nidal Hassan and William Krar, underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and James Cummings, all represent tiny minorities, the fringe of the fringe. What all terrorist groups have in common is a desire to provoke the state into overreacting. It is the only existential damage they can actually do and they need our help to do it.

Not convinced? Read some of the earliest terrorist tracts like Russian anarchist Sergei Nechaev’s Catechism of the Revolutionary or the speeches of Michael Collins. Check out Brazilian communist Carlos Marighella’s Mini-manual of the Urban Guerrilla. Or, moving into the modern era, Ayman Al Zawahiri’s Knights under the Prophet’s Banner.

Unfortunately, the real threat comes from shameless fear-mongering and the exploitation of the age-old fear of the other. There are sadly just too many votes in it for unscrupulous politicians to ignore. That is why you haven’t heard of James Cummings and all know about Jose Padilla even though it was Cummings, not Padilla, who actually tried to build a dirty bomb.