Finishing work on Friday evening I was in high spirits- my tour had gone well, the weather was agreeable, and I was on my way to meet some friends for burgers and beer at one of Portland’s local hipster holes. The streets of downtown were crowded with people who had showed up for the Christmas tree lighting in Pioneer Courthouse Square, and every third person seemed to have a green blinking light on their person. (They must have been handed out as a promotional item.) I passed the Square, took a look at the tree, and a huge crowd of people were still there singing carols. Jogging a few blocks over to Burnside, the newly-lit White Stag/Made in Oregon/ Portland, Oregon sign lit up the night. All was wonderfully festive.
And the next morning I opened my browser to discover that someone had tried to blow all of that up.
The facts of the case are widely reported, so I won’t bother reiterating them here. I’m quite happy they got this guy, and all for stings, but there are two things that I can’t stop thinking about:
Firstly: As a matter of personal policy, I refuse to be frightened by this. Like the poster says, I’m going to keep calm and carry on.
Secondly: Law enforcement (at least based on reported anecdotes) seems to be targeting foreign-born individuals who have become radicalized. Most of the time, it seems that these guys probably couldn’t pull off their desired schemes themselves. The feds are with them every step of the way. Left to his own devices, I wonder Mohamud would have gotten the materials he needed.
Again, I like the idea of stings. It’s a great thing to keep potential criminals off balance. Potential terrorists don’t know if they’re talking to an actual Jihadist or a federal agent. Sowing that kind of overcaution, confusion, and fear among these criminals is great, strategically.
And yet, I wonder how many unbalanced guys the FBI would catch if they targeted the militias in Montana, the self-appointed border guards in Texas, or the white supremacists in Idaho. How many other Tim McVeighs are out there that could be stung into arrest? How many native-born, equally bloodthirsty, equally unbalanced white Mohamuds are there?
I have no kind of sympathy for adherents to radical Islam. They are, at the very best, foolish. However, history tells us that they are not alone. Prior to September 11th, 2001, the largest terrorist act in American history had been carried out by a radical white Christian. McVeigh’s kin, gun-toting religious radicals who are doubtless incensed by the very existence black president, are still out there.
What could we reap with a focused effort? Given the collaboration, encouragement, and resources of an undercover FBI agent, what kind of potential violence could we find welling from religious white America? I don’t doubt that Mohamud (may he spend his remaining days ingloriously in prison) has an equal and opposite out there, a kind of inverse brother born not in Somalia but in Kansas, reading not a Quaran but a Bible, and just as filled with impotent unarticulated rage, and dreams of violence.