Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Alone, but not alone

From the New York Times:

Agencies Warn of Lone Terrorists
"Lone extremists represent an ongoing terrorist threat in the United States," the bulletin said. "Lone extremists may operate independently or on the fringes of established extremist groups, either alone or with one or two accomplices."

This story is certainly worthwhile, and points up a trend among the far right we have in fact been seeing in recent years. But there is an underlying thesis here that's not quite correct: Namely, since these acts are idiosyncratic they are therefore only peripherally associated with ideology; thus, there's no real point worrying about those links to right-wing extremism.
"Many lone extremists have no links to conventional terrorist groups," the bulletin of the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. "In fact, F.B.I. analysis suggests that psychological abnormalities, as much as devotion to an ideology, drive lone extremists to commit violent acts."

There is of course some truth to this, but it is hardly the whole picture. Moreover, the desire to cast these terrorists as "lone nuts" is unfortunately part of the same view that would pretend Tim McVeigh's long ideological associations with right-wing extremists were unimportant. Or that Benjamin Smith's affiliations with the World Church of the Creator were insignificant. In other words, they are succumbing to the entire purpose of so-called 'leaderless resistance' strategies.

Even more important, creating "lone wolf" terrorist actors is specifically a strategy being promoted heavily by right-wing extremists. This trend has been noted many times by groups that monitor the far right. See, for example, this report from the ADL:

Alex Curtis and 'Lone Wolf' Extremism
He envisioned a two-tiered hate movement in which "divisive or subversive" propaganda would be widely distributed and would guide a revolutionary underground. The underground would consist of "lone wolves" - racist warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in "daily, anonymous acts." Curtis saw himself as a propagandist sowing the seeds of a racist revolution, and he predicted that "lone wolves" would reap the harvest.

In a diary entry from 1993, later obtained by police, Curtis wrote, "I plan to make it my life's goal to rid the Earth of the unwanted un-Aryan elements, by whatever means necessary and possible." Curtis openly discussed assassination as a realistic and desirable possibility. Borrowing from former Klan and Aryan Nations leader Louis Beam, who had first promoted the idea, Curtis posted to his Web site a "Lone Wolf Point System" that awarded scores to would-be assassins based on the importance of their victims; the goal was to help readers "intelligently judge the effectiveness of proposed acts against the enemy." Few possibilities for attacking "the enemy" escaped Curtis's attention: he contemplated illegal drug sales as a way to further a racist revolution and even postulated the use of biological weapons.

The reality is that a 'lone wolf' terrorist is highly likely to have been inspired to some degree by right-wing extremists, many of whom have openly proclaimed Sept. 11 as the turning point in their would-be revolution to overthrow democracy. It may not always be the case, but the probability remains high.

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