Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fringe Terrorists vs. Mainstream Terrorists

If you believe the FBI, the top domestic terror threat comes from environmental and animal-rights activists. According to John Lewis,

"There is nothing else going on in this country over the last several years that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions," Lewis said.
If you're racking your brains trying to think of an example of a deadly strike by one of these groups, don't bother; there haven't been any. Nonetheless,
Lewis said the FBI concluded those groups were more of a threat after comparing them with "right-wing extremists, KKK, anti-abortion groups and the like." He said most animal rights and eco-extremists so far have refrained from violence targeting human life.
So what sort of terrorism are we talking about? Arson and property damage, mainly. These are serious crimes, but anti-abortion terrorists resort to both tactics as often as any of the most radical environmental groups. Still, let me make it clear that people who would set fire to a lot full of SUVs in order to protest "pollution" are about as stupid as it's possible to be; they're a danger to themselves and others, and are a legitimate focus of law-enforcement efforts. I'm not arguing that eco-terrorists are harmless and ought to be coddled; I'm arguing that they're not the most dangerous domestic terrorists by any sane person's reckoning.

Other cited examples of eco-terrorist activity include releasing captive animals (definitely illegal, and often counterproductive from an environmentalist perspective, but hardly terrorism), and making harassing phone calls (which, I suppose, makes Fox News a terrorist outfit).

Let's compare all this to anti-abortion terrorists. Clayton Waagner identified himself as a terrorist - apparently unaware of the fact that former FBI head William Webster proclaimed in 1984 that it's not terrorism to attack abortion clinics - and openly declared war on the United States. Among other crimes, he mailed hundreds of fake anthrax letters to clinics and doctors around the country. The cost to society of responding to such letters is staggering, because each letter has to be treated as though it actually contains anthrax.

That, of course, was the action of one man; has a useful year-by-year chart of anti-clinic violence and threats of violence by the Christian Right, as does the site referenced immediately above. Regardless, violent radicals like Randall Terry and Paul Hill have routinely been treated as respectable ethical beings by the media; you're not going to see an advocate for radical eco-terrorism mainstreamed by way of a polite discussion with Ted Koppel. This media blackout curtails the ability of eco-terrorist groups to gain new recruits.

Next, let's consider meth labs. Meth labs are very likely to explode or catch fire. Meth chemists often dump dangerous chemicals in public places. People who run meth labs frequently boobytrap them with bombs, incendiary devices, tripwired shotguns, or ricin. Meth is often produced by members of white-power groups. And in some cases, the proceeds from meth labs may fund such groups. In addition, meth chemists represent a pool of "talent" that can be hired by white-power groups to produce sarin, anthrax, and other forms of WMD. Meth labs, I'd argue, should be considered important loci of domestic terrorism, and are definitely a bigger threat to American lives and property values than all eco-terror groups combined.

To my knowledge, no environmental or animal-rights group is known to have plotted chemical or biological warfare against society at large, with the exception of the obscure and abortive RISE group, which was dreamed up in 1971 by a pair of hapless teenagers. One may well speculate whether current groups might harbor similar ambitions, but it's well known that right-wing groups have salivated over both forms of terrorism for years, and that instructions on launching chemical and bacteriological attacks are widely circulated by right-wing sites on the Internets, and at gun shows.

All of this is pretty goddamn obvious. So why are these environmental fringe groups the top target of the FBI's domestic-terrorism efforts? Here's a likely explanation:
Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the panel's chairman, said he hoped to examine more closely how the groups might be getting assistance in fund raising and communications from tax-exempt organizations' "mainstream activists" not directly blamed for the violence.

1 comment:

Eli said...

I see. Setting fire to SUVs, is, like, a gateway attack that will eventually at some point in the indeterminate future almost certainly lead to some kind of murder-death-kill terrorist act, because everyone knows how dangerous and unstable and violent those crazy hippies are.

So, I guess, basically, anyone who isn't a Republican is a terrorist now, right?

Allah akbar!!! Which way to Ace Hardware?