Remember when the US was collectively shitting its pants over the idea of bringing suspected terrorists to trial? Not our finest moment as it really (imo) gave people a peek behind all the ‘kick ass’ bluster and demonstrated that we might not be all that committed to those founding principles we always praise when the chips are (kind of) down.
Norway provides a pretty interesting alternative. There, a guy who killed almost a hundred people in a sophisticated attack and claimed to be a part of a larger secret organization is being brought to trial. While his guilt may not be presupposed (he admitted to committing the acts) his sanity is and there’s a chance (albeit a small one) that he’ll spend many years in an asylum. Even if found sane he’s looking at around 20 years in prison which means it’s entirely possible that Anders Breivik may yet again walk the streets of Norway.
Max Fisher from the Atlantic compares the two decisions and finds the US wanting.*
David Betz over at Kings of War is a bit uneasy about how well he thinks Breivik is aligning his strategic narrative with popular opinions and within these times of increased connectivity and opportunities for ‘super-enpowerment’.
…Breivik himself is an extremist…but the essential underpinning of his strategic narrative is not. In the past few years, all the major European leaders have made speeches to the effect that multiculturalism is a failed policy–in Angela Merkel’s estimation, as an example, it had failed ‘utterly‘…In other words, at a rough estimate a good half of Europeans would likely agree with a good half of his rationalisation.
Super-enpowerment? That’s the ability for one motivated person to conduct an attack like Breivik did. Or 19 guys to do a 9/11 (admittedly with the support of others). In any case, the ability to do such things (for good or ill) is still a new phenomenon. There’s a reason the Roman Empire stood as well as it did, even though, at various times, there were a whole lot of people who wanted to throw off their yoke. No matter how mad you were at the Romans in 50 C.E., as an individual (or a group smaller than an army) you just weren’t capable of doing that much.
Betz concludes with the following:
The bottom line is that you can expect lots more Breiviks. The techniques are more than adequately demonstrated. The means are readily available if you know where to look. It’s the causes which are more nebulous. ‘Counter Jihad’, in my view, is the most likely to metastasise into something larger and more virulent. But all sorts may give it a try: anti-vivisectionists, radical environmentalists, post-crash anti-capitalists, neo-anarchists…
Although, I don’t think you needed Breivik to make this point. It’s all around us. Both in terms of illicit activity (just look at Anonymous) and legal activity.
Ever heard of Frances Grady? Probably not but Matthew Harwood over at Salon writes about him to demonstrate some of the absurd ways we treat terrorism. Grady tried to burn down an abortion clinic. So…a guy who, because of his ideological beliefs, destroys property in an effort to intimidate or coerce a government or segment of the population. That’s terrorism, right?
Well, yes and no.
Grady was not charged under any terrorism statutes because (according to the prosecutor) he ‘torched an unoccupied room in an empty building.’ The attack took place after business hours.
Oh…so, if you don’t do violence to a person (or in a circumstance where a person could reasonably be expected to be hurt) that’s not terrorism, right?
Well, yes and no.
You see, when we talk about right-wing (and/or Christian inspired) terrorism they often mysteriously don’t get charged as terrorism in cases like this.
But, if you’re a radical environmentalist…boom! You’re the most dangerous terrorist threat in the nation. You see, there are very few instances of environmental or animal extremists (which I’m defining here as those willing to engage in criminal activity beyond ‘traditional’ civil disobedience) actually committing violence in the U.S. But, they do cause economic damage. More importantly, they cause (or threaten to cause) economic damage to monied interests that have significant political influence.
That’s why you get a whole host of laws put in place to classify a guy who sends ‘black faxes‘ to a pharmaceutical company in the same group as al-Qaida.
It’s also why we’ve had ten years of wild fanfares every time the FBI could trick some mildly retarded Islamist to talk about an ‘attack’ he was incapable of conducting if not provided the full cooperation of the federal government.
This is counter-terrorism conducted with at least one eye on political pandering and the other on anything other than the ball.
Mike German, a former undercover FBI agent and now senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, notes that there is no way the FBI would use such aggressive tactics to catch antiabortion extremists, even though they present a violent domestic terrorism threat. Usually, tactics such as these are used almost exclusively against Muslim-Americans. “ evidence that the FBI has sent informants with criminal records into Muslim religious communities, not with a specific focus on particular suspects but rather to spy broadly on the community,”
“Within the last 10 years, the FBI has repeatedly said that the environmental terrorism is the No. 1 domestic threat,” he says. “If you look at the numbers they count, it excludes similar conduct that wasn’t charged to terrorism on the right-wing side.”
I know I should get it by now and just be a full time cynic but the idealist in me continues to struggle for life so I’m continually shocked by this buffoonery.
*I have to admit, I think my post from late 2010 still holds up pretty well and is much more
snarky insightful and entertaining than Fisher.