- A federal grand jury indicted a Woodland Hills man Friday on charges of sending threatening letters with white powder to half a dozen politicians and celebrities, including incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and television personalities Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann.
The 14-count indictment accuses Chad Conrad Castagana, 39, of sending the letters from Sept. 7 through Nov. 9 to those three as well as Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, comedian and late-night talk show host David Letterman and Viacom Inc. Chairman Sumner Redstone. The powder turned out to be harmless.
Especially noteworthy was the motive:
- ... "It appears the individuals were targeted based on what he described as their liberal politics," Assistant U.S. Atty. Donald Gaffney said Friday after the indictment was returned.
"He described himself as a compulsive voter who voted conservatively or Republican and he did not like the politics of these individuals."
The powder in the envelopes, Gaffney said, turned out to be laundry detergent, household cleansers or other products commonly found in the home.
"We have had a number of cases where we have had these hoaxes, whether it was sending fake anthrax in the mail or making a fake bomb threat to a plane," Gaffney said. "These hoaxes consume an enormous amount of investigative time and energy so we take them very seriously, especially when you are talking about a [threatened] chemical or a biological weapon."
Perhaps the inclination to ignore this case, and many others like it involving non-Muslim terrorists, in the media is a product of the kind of pathetic quality of the actual threat. In this case, Castagana sent laundry detergent. Maybe they just see this as a "prank" on steroids or something.
Maybe the editors of the L.A. Times and the producers at various broadcast networks who have so far dismissed this story and relegated it to their black news holes missed the part about the extraordinary amount of law-enforcement manpower these kinds of "pranks" entail.
Maybe they missed the fact that these kinds of incidents are in fact a serious kind of domestic terrorism.
Maybe understanding that this kind of domestic terrorism is part of a piggybacked chain going back directly to Sept. 11 -- maybe that just went over their heads. We'll be generous for now.
What obviously hasn't occurred to the leaders of our national discourse ensconced in prominent newsrooms is the possibility that a half-baked understanding of terrorism in fact leaves us more vulnerable to it. That their perpetuation of the public's ignorance about the broad-ranging, asymmetrical nature of terrorism -- embodied in the blinkered coverage of terrorism that elevates Muslim clerics' removal from an airliner to headline status, while relegating an actual plot to blow up Congress to the nether world of the non-story -- creates a blind spot we cannot afford.
From what we've gathered in the news reports regarding Castagana, he is only the tip of the right-wing iceberg when it comes to these anthrax-hoax letters. As I noted previously, similar hoaxes have been sent to Air America and Bill Clinton -- the latter being especially a matter of concern, since he is a former president.
Yet neither of them has yet been linked to Castagana. Either he was a phenomenally busy terrorist, or there are more people just like him out there, mailing threats to the same new set of victims.
If so, there will be more of these cases. Perhaps then the media will start taking out those blind spots. But I'm not holding my breath.