- The sentencing of Eric Rudolph, who bombed abortion clinics, a gay bar and the Atlanta Olympics, ought to be a milestone in the Global War on Terror. In Birmingham, Ala., on Monday he got life without parole. Next month he’ll stack up a couple more life terms in Georgia, which is the least he deserves. (He escaped the death penalty only because he made a deal to help law-enforcement agents find the explosives he had hidden while on the run in North Carolina.) Rudolph killed two people, but not for want of trying to kill many more. In his 1997 attack on an Atlanta abortion clinic, he set off a second bomb meant to take out bystanders and rescue workers. Unrepentant, of course, Rudolph defended his actions as a moral imperative: "Abortion is murder, and because it is murder I believe deadly force is needed to stop it." The Birmingham prosecutor declared that Rudolph had "appointed himself judge, jury and executioner."
Indeed. That's what all terrorists have in common: the four lunatics in London earlier this month; the 19 men who attacked America on September 11, 2001; Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City, and many others. They were all convinced they had noble motives for wreaking their violence. Terrorists are very righteous folks. Which is why the real global war we’re fighting, let's be absolutely clear, should be one of our shared humanity against the madness of people like these; the rule of man-made laws on the books against the divine law they imagine for themselves. It's the cause of reason against unreason, of self-criticism against the firm convictions of fanaticism.
He goes on to explore something we've discussed often here: the hard reality that terrorism does not always come from abroad, from brown-skinned foreigners, but often from our own midst as well; and that at the root of all of them lies a broad disaffection with modernity; and that truly winning the fight against terrorism requires us to confront and defuse that disaffection.
He also explores how this reality stands in stark contrast to the "war on terror" our current leaders have given us:
- But if the war of ideas that British Prime Minister Tony Blair talks about is going to be won -- and he's right in saying that's the core battle -- then the difference between rationalism and obscurantism should be underlined at every opportunity. And that's not what's happening. Instead, since the detour into Iraq it seems the intellectual compass of those who led us there has gotten lost in a fog of moral pieties, and sweet reason has surrendered to missionary zeal. To be a true believer in the Global War on Terror you are supposed to believe that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq, but that they would never think of fighting back outside of Iraq. Any effort to understand the enemy or his motivations is treated as an apology for what he does. At times we seem to be infected by the very pathology we are fighting against.
In case there's any doubt that domestic terrorism remains a potent force, you can turn to the recent U.S. News and World Report piece outlining just how extensive their activities have in fact been even since Oklahoma City:
- In the 10 years since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing killed 168 people, roughly 60 right-wing terrorist plots have been uncovered in the United States, according to an upcoming report by the Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project. The plots, all foiled by law enforcement, reportedly included violent plans by antigovernment militia groups, racist skinhead organizations, and Ku Klux Klan members to use various types of chemical bombs and other weapons.
It's important to understand that this terrorism was defeated precisely because we undertook a law-enforcement approach to defeat it. Much of the success was predicated on solid intelligence-gathering and threat assessment, as well as appropriate timing for law-enforcement action. In other cases -- especially those since 9/11 -- we simply got lucky.
Some instances from the SPLC report:
- -- May 20, 2005: Two New Jersey men, Craig Orler and Gabriel Garafa, who allegedly belong to neo-Nazi and skinhead groups, were charged with illegally selling to police informants guns and 60 pounds of urea to use in a bomb.
-- Oct. 25, 2004: FBI agents in Tennessee arrested Demetrius "Van" Crocker after he allegedly tried to purchase ingredients for deadly sarin nerve gas and C-4 plastic explosives from an undercover agent. Crocker, who was involved with white supremacist groups, was charged with trying to get explosives to destroy a building and faces more than 20 years in prison.
-- April 10, 2003: The FBI raided the home of William Krar, of Noonday, Texas, and discovered an arsenal of more than 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipe bombs and remote control briefcase bombs, and almost 2 pounds of sodium cyanide, enough to make a bomb that could kill everyone in a large building. Krar, reportedly associated with white supremacist groups, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for possession of a chemical weapon.
In many of these cases, the potential for mass casualties -- probably not as great as 9/11, but equal to or greater than the London or Madrid bombings -- was very high.
Of course, I've also written previously that Oklahoma City was the first major strike against us in the fight against terrorism -- we just didn't recognize it at the time. Maybe, slowly, we'll get there.