Saturday, January 17, 2004

Cyanide bombs

A longtime friend and expert on right-wing extremists -- who wishes to remain anonymous, but who, I should explain, was a significant source of information and help in writing In God's Country -- writes in to shed further detail on the the Texas cyanide bomb case:
Krar's sodium cyanide bomb is dangerous because of how lethal this stuff is when dumped into a strong acid such as H2SO4. It releases hydrogen cyanide gas. Very small amounts can kill a lot of people and very quickly. For instance, an average vending machine candy bar weighs about 50 grams, which is 25 times more by weight than the amount needed to kill a 150-pound human in under one minute. It is even more dangerous than Sarin, the organophosphate nerve gas used by Japanese domestic terrorists in the Tokyo subway. [See here for more details.]

If you want to explore this issue further, use this search string in Google:

MSDS LD50 "sodium cyanide"

MSDS stands for "material data safety sheet," which is the occupational health information for chemcials. LD50 stands for the "lethal dose" for 50 percent of any exposed population of test subjects, usually laboratory rats. Lethal dose is expressed as mass of the chemcial in milligrams as a function of the weight of the subject organism in kilograms. Extrapolation to a human weighing 150 pounds is linear.

The Environmental Protection Agency says this about sodium cyanide's lethal characteristics:

"Super toxic; probable oral lethal dose in humans is less than 5 mg/kg (less than 7 drops) for a 70 kg (150 lb.) person (*Gosselin 1976). Sodium cyanide is poisonous and may be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Contact with sodium cyanide may cause burns to skin and eyes (*DOT 1984)."

You quoted on your blog, and later said on Fox News, that the U.S. attorney said Krar's device would "kill everyone in a 30,000 square foot room." Assuming this is floor area, let's take a look at how small, and portable, thus easy to hide, Krar's weapon is given that figure.

A 30,000 sq ft. floor area building is roughly 174 ft. on a side, which is, interestingly enough, the size of a typical food eatery. In order to avoid associating brand names with this analysis, just look at some of the leaders in the industry to see what I am talking about. On an average noontime there might be 100 people inside of one of these eateries.

So, a terrorist choosing to kill 100 people in a fast-food restaurant with sodium cyanide and acid as a binary weapon, with an M-80 as the detonator, would need the equivalent of just two average size candy bars, in terms of mass, to carry out a horrendous act of mass murder. He'd put the sodium cyanide in one glass bottle and the acid in the other. When the firecracker goes off, the two glass bottles bound together break, the contents mix, the gas is created, and people die horrible deaths. You could hide this inside a lunch sack that held a burger, fries, and a soft drink.

Interestingly enough, Krar's defense attorney is quoted in the news media as saying that Krar's sodium cyanide device was the size of a "pharmacy bottle." If I put a cough syrup bottle and two candy bars next to each other, they look like they are roughly the same volume.

Is it a coincidence that the U.S. Attorney's public estimate of the killing power of Krar's device and Krar's defense attorney's characterization of the device itself are nearly identitical?

Am I glad Krar is behind bars? You bet.

Am I scared because we don't know what Krar planned to do with his arsenal? And how.

It is worth noting, of course, that a bomb like Krar's is only effective inside an enclosed space. Its lethality would be extremely limited in a place like, say, the Super Bowl. But one could expect at least a thousand deaths at a sports facility like a typical NBA arena -- with a bomb no larger than a small paper sack.

Environmentalism and white supremacy

I've noted previously that chief among the progressive organizations being targeted by the far right anti-immigrant crowd for recruitment purposes is the Sierra Club. I mentioned that the attempt to load an anti-immigrant agenda onto the group's back, organized by white supremacist John Tanton, was fortunately repelled a few years ago.

It appears now that the effort was merely dormant. The same forces are now trying to stack anti-immigrant stealth candidates onto the Sierra Club's board. (Read the details here.)

The name most familiar to me in this group is Paul Watson, the leader of the Friday Harbor-based Sea Shepherd Society. I had some direct experience with Watson a few years ago when he was busy tromping all over the Makahs' tribal whaling rights. I've never ancountered any hint that Watson is racist other than that his own agenda obviously trumped the tribes'. However, being anti-immigration and in bed with the Tanton types is obviously a problem.

Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center is now running for the Sierra Club's national board in an attempt to short-circuit this effort. The press release from the SPLC details the extent and nature of this takeover attempt.

Unsurprisingly, the would-be takeover artists are responding with unusual viciousness. (See here and here for some samples. You can also get a taste for the nature of these opponents as well.)

I've been a Sierra Club member for years now, and currently am one of the group's regular monthly donors. Not only will I renounce my membership if this takeover comes to pass, but I'll do my best to organize a nationwide boycott.

It's always the truth that hurts

Judging by all the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from the RNC over the two Bush/Hitler ads, you'd never have guessed that "Hitlery" and "feminazis" rolled off Republican tongues with the same ease as "tax cuts."

Many others have already observed the GOP's marvelous hypocrisy on this score, but (via Avedon Carol) this summation by Kathryn Cramer really hit the nail on the head:
Hitler was Hitler for decades before killing millions. If we learned anything from the Nazi era it should be to stop fascism before it gain control. Many of those comparing Bush to Hitler are not simply out to defame him, but rather want to halt America's emergent fascism.

It's clear why the GOP is so intent on killing this meme. They really hate having reality pointed out to the public.

Emboldened bigots

More on the National Alliance targeting Florida lawyers:
Hate mail targets lawyers

It's worth noting that this isn't specifically "hate mail," which is mail intended to intimidate and express hatred toward the recipients. This is recruitment mail.

Indeed, if it were genuine "hate mail," then the Florida bar would have every reason not to allow the National Alliance access to its mailing list, since it would be condoning an actual crime.

On the other hand, this does raise an interesting question: Certainly, as my friend Bernie pointed out on a listserv I subscribe to, there is no shortage of Jewish and other minority lawyers on the Florida. And their receipt of literature rife with anti-Semitic hate speech certainly borders on a mailed threat.

Perhaps that is why the president of the Florida Bar apologized to his members.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that this is only the latest example of National Alliance brazenness. As I've previously observed, this in fact is a national trend for the group. They also recently raised a ruckus in Omaha, Nebraska. Here is the most recent report on that incident, which spurred a community meeting at which ADL leaders explained the group's agenda to local citizens.

Interestingly, the NA did not perform its usual cockroach imitation and hide under the rocks. Instead, they showed up at the meeting:
Members of the National Alliance rarely make public appearances, but a few members of the group showed up at the meeting. They said they came to the meeting to laugh at Wolfson. One walked through the parking lot, putting fliers on car windows.

The flier had several statements defending the National Alliance. Regional leader Shaun Walker said he attempted to contact the mayor's office several times about debating with Wolfson at the meeting, but no one returned his calls. He said Omaha members attended to take notes about public reaction to alliance activities. He also said it is not a rule for members to remain anonymous, but it is encouraged because of the risk of persecution for openly voicing politically incorrect ideas.

Ah, yes, nothing like being "politically incorrect." No doubt this is what Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter mean when they use the term as well.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Political and personal fascism

Via Crooked Timber (and a tip from Jim Flannery), comes this remarkable and chilling piece from about the dangers of festooning one's vehicle with Howard Dean bumper stickers:
Bad dogs

Not long ago, almost as a joke, I stuck a Howard Dean bumper sticker on my brother's 25 year old, buttercup yellow, diesel Mercedes sedan. He's not very political, but didn't object to the sticker. I stuck one on his Republican girlfriend's car too, over the Bush/Cheney sticker already there, but that's another story. Let's just say she didn't appreciate my sense of humor.

Over the Christmas holiday, my brother left Atlanta for Louisiana with his two Catahoula hounds loaded in the back seat of Buttercup. Ordinarily, he could reach the relative civilization of Covington before needing to refuel the diesel, but that's without the dogs. Shortly after entering Alabama, he pulled over at a rest stop and followed the signs for pet owners. As he got out of the car, a redneck trucker parked close by began to heckle him. Less than a minute later, the rest stop attendant zipped up in a golf cart and told him to move. Not wanting a confrontation, he piled the dogs back in the car before they had a chance to "go", and headed down the road.

A few miles further, he pulled over on the side of the road to let the dogs out. As he got out of the car, he noticed a different trucker (but one he'd also seen at the rest stop), pull off the highway, onto the shoulder and head straight for his car. As he tried to pull the dogs away from the car, the trucker veered off at the last millisecond, just before hitting them.

A couple of hours later, while still in Alabama, but close to the Mississippi border, he stopped at a gas station for a drink. As he got out of the car, a team of three crackers approached him and tried to pick a fight. Seeing the large dogs, they backed off, but by this point he'd had enough. Before entering Mississippi, he pulled off the road and ripped the Dean sticker off his bumper. I can't say as I blame him.

I can attest that this is not simply a phenomenon in the South. This is largely the situation in most rural places in America right now.

I travel a lot to rural quarters. I talk to a lot of people there. I gave up some time ago putting any kinds of bumper stickers -- beyond the obligatory Sonics and Vandal fare -- on my vehicles. Even those reveal more than I want sometimes.

But I've been waiting for the liberal-bashing rhetoric to escalate into action for some time now, and have long figured that it will arise in small ways, and more than likely around the defense of George W. Bush's tenuous hold on power. If I had to guess, I'd say that little incidents like these are more than likely occurring with greater frequency and are simply not showing up on the radar because the harassment, threats, and assaults aren't being reported. Yet.

This kind of behavior, obviously, is what Ann Coulter referred to when she extolled the virtues of exploiting the physical intimidation of liberals: "My libertarian friends are probably getting a little upset now but I think that's because they never appreciate the benefits of local fascism."

If any of you hear about incidents like these, please be sure to report them here. I'll at least give them some broadband.


I'm guessing it would be impolitic to fail to note that I'm a nominee in several categories in this year's (lefty bloggers) Koufax Awards at Wampum. I'm not usually given to paying attention to awards, but they can be fun, and a nice way to honor good writing. There are also a lot of people nominated who really deserve some recognition. And besides, the folks at Wampum are first-rate. So I'm paying attention this time around.

I'm a nominee in the Best Blog, Best Post, Best Series, Best Writing, and Best Single-Issue Blog (!) categories. I'm a little surprised at all this, and humbled, since I'm in some fine company. Thanks to everyone who nominated me.

I won't be voting in those categories, and I'd really urge everyone to go through them and at least try to read most of the nominees' work before voting. There's a lot of great writing there -- in fact, I'm always a little surprised to be up for writing awards, since I consider my writing to be more solid, steady and plodding than really good. I read sites like Pandagon, Tbogg, Digby, and World O'Crap and always come away a little envious.

In any event, I will be voting in the remaining categories: Most Humorous Blog, Best Group Blog, Best Expert Blog, Best Blog Design, Best Conservatve/Non-Liberal Blog, Most Deserving of Wider Recognition, and Best Commentor. There's a lot of tough competition there, and well worth your time casting votes. A lot of these bloggers deserve some recognition for making the blogosphere safe for democracy. Do your part.

Political and personal, again

I've been remiss in pointing out that the Webzine Skreed has picked up my essay, "The Political and the Personal," and published it in lightly edited form, with nice art and in a much more readable format than the original. [This is now the second zine to republish it.]

Many thanks to Editor Bob at Skreed, which is a great read.

They just don't fit in

Speaking of the far right's manipulation of the immigration issue, the most recent WorldNetDaily screed by Patrick Buchanan is worth checking out:
"Who cares where people come from?" comes the retort. "The Melting Pot will make them all Americans, as it did the 18 million who came from Eastern and Southern Europe from 1890 to 1920."

But those were European peoples coming to a country run by descendants of Europeans. They came to a land that enforced assimilation in its schools. They learned and were taught in the same language, read the same books and magazines, went to the same movies, listened to the same radio, went through the Great Depression together and served in the same Army in World War II.

And after the great wave ended in 1920, we had 45 years of low immigration to assimilate and Americanize the children of the immigrants who had come here.

But America's population has doubled since 1945. Instead of the 16 million people of color we had in 1960 -- almost all of whom were black Americans immersed for centuries in American culture -- there are 80 million people of color here now, from 100 nations.

Yes, clearly, all those people of color are a real problem. They can't (or won't) become real Americans.

This cornerstone of Buchanan's anti-immigrant "logic" was in fact a common belief in America in the years 1900-1950, particularly when it came to Asian immigrants, who during that period were forbidden to apply for citizenship. Note that Buchanan conveniently overlooks their existence. Perhaps that is because in the ensuing years, it has become more than apparent that, contrary to the bigotry of the Patrick Buchanans of that era and this, Asian-Americans have proven fully assimilable, Americans to the core, and valued contributors to our cultural melange.

Of course, this bigotry is being purveyed today not only by the Pat Buchanans and Jared Taylors of the world, but by a hundred smaller anti-immigrant groups, each posing as "reasonable" conservatives. I particularly noted the activities in Arizona of a group called "Coalition United for a Secure America," which, according to the Arizona Republic, has been running TV ads connecting Latino immigrants to crime:
In the ad, a narrator cites an increase in homicide and home-invasion rates, then states: "Police say it's caused by illegal immigration."

Note also the members of the sponsoring coalition:
The coalition is made up of several national groups that favor reducing immigration and population growth: Americans for Better Immigration, the Federation for Americans for Immigration Reform, Americans for Immigration Control and Pop.Stop.

It's important to note that police indeed agree that stopping illegal immigration would lower the occurrence of these crimes. But the ads' demonization of Latino immigrants rather nakedly plays on people's fears and deepens the stereotypes that come into play in the immigration debate. Particularly the belief that they will never become good Americans.

Immigration: The Bush dimension

Reader Paul Donnelly writes in:
FWIW, there's a kind of embedded confusion in your post about immigration extremists. It really is difficult to get a handle on the mess without some reference to the facts of the debate, which is why libertarians, lawyers and the ethnic letterheads with foundation grants are so reluctant to talk in terms of the facts. But they have good reason:

Basically, lawyers like complex rules that don't work. A system with more exceptions than rules is one that rewards lawyers. The key to making more exceptions than rules is Congress making more promises than it keeps.

Liberals (and ethnic based organizations) want more promises. They care somewhat less about delivering on those promises, because to do that would require rules that work -- and thus, choices about things like worksite verification and who gets green cards vs. who gets thrown out of the country, or even kept out in the first place. Liberals and advocacy groups are not in the business of forcing Congress to make choices between more of this, and less of that.

Libertarians don't much care what the rules are, so long as they don't work, because in practice that means employers get to hire cheap labor. They make common cause with both lawyers and liberals (contradicting in the first place, their principles, and in the second their ostensible politics) on immigration issues, primarily because on these issues they are bought and paid for lobbyists for employers who want a subsidy.

The constellation of low-immigration groups ranges from the population control folks (Zero Population Growth, etc.) to the environmental crowd (including, almost, the Sierra Club) to the various anti-foreigner know-nothing folks you talk about, chiefly FAIR -- but it also includes the Center for Immigration Studies, which while it is Scaife-funded has scrupulously tried to "wash the stain of FAIR" out of its drawers, as its director said to me once. They're not all white supremacists, and so the dynamic of how bigotry gets into the mainstream isn't quite how you picture it.

The simplest tests, I suppose, are whether a group that opposes current levels of LEGAL immigration also supported the welfare ban, and if their reasons for opposing a guest worker program is that guest workers and illegals are not allowed to vote.

I know of a CIS guy who approached a CATO fellow not long ago, and challenged him: Look, he said, you guys are proposing to bring in literally millions of low-earning 'immigrants', who sooner or later are going to vote for the kinds of high-tax, high government spending government that you oppose. What gives?

To which the CATO guy responded: Just because we let 'em in, makes you think we're going to let 'em vote?

That's the very effective compromise between the groups you describe and the 'mainstream', because it's not news that the know-nothings are being taken for a ride. What OUGHT to be more widely known is that -- so are the 'pro-immigration' folks who actually give a damn about citizenship and family values.

Paul's point is very well taken. Obviously, not all of these groups are white supremacist. Indeed, the very lack of that characteristic is essential to their "reasonable" front.

The far right has become extremely adept at cloaking itself in recent years. It's become very adept at fronting "conservative" organizations that are adept at echoing their own agendas. You can, however, see the far right's influence in the end result of these groups' positions. As with other "transmissions" where extremist beliefs are advocated in the mainstream, the underlying origins of the organizations, or their funding sources, or their open associations with extremists, or any combination of these, reveals the core agendas at work.

After awhile, it becomes clear enough what is happening with a large number of the anti-immigrant groups. White supremacists have been going to great pains to camouflage their activities since the early 1990s, and this is one of the important ways they do it. In the meantime, you have guys like Michael Savage and Jared Taylor getting on the airwaves and reminding everyone what degraded, nasty citizens those brown people are.

Of the examples Paul cites, it is also important to note that though the CIS -- which indeed has taken pains to distance itself from the know-nothings -- nonetheless is the brainchild of the extremist John Tanton, whose activities and advocacy have on several fronts exposed the racism lurking beneath his modus operandi. If the CIS is trying to wash out its "stain," then perhaps it should avoid activities like this:
Patrick McHugh of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies, which purports to be a squeaky clean think tank that rejects racism, was there pressing the flesh along with Barbara Coe, head of the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, who repeatedly referred to Mexicans ? as she has for years ? as "savages."

In any event, it should be clear that anyone who assumes that Bush's plan will actually help Hispanic immigrants become citizens with full rights is being suckered. I didn't really delve into what was wrong with Bush's plan -- if only because it is so reasonable in contrast to the anti-immigrant folks. However, even if we take it on its face as a good-faith effort to resolve the problem, its problems are more than abundant. Other bloggers, including It's a Crock and Nathan Newman [notably here, and here] and Daily Kos have delved those issues admirably.

I can't say I've studied the issue thoroughly enough to know exactly what policies I favor when it comes to immigration, in no small part because the issue is profoundly complex. I have no problem with reasonable reform, and I remain convinced the problem will never change as long as the autocratic forces that are responsible for the economic mess in Mexico remain in power. The obvious solution is to ameliorate the "push" aspect of illegal immigration. Unfortunately, some of those same autocrats -- especially the American contingent -- are the people who are footing the bill for these anti-immigrant groups.

All I know is that I know exclusionism, bigotry and selfishness when I hear it. And the far right's reaction -- even under cover of "reasonable" racists like Jared Taylor and John Tanton -- is, at the end of the day, all of the above. Not even all of the examples Paul cites are free of this taint, either. The Sierra Club's near-descent into anti-immigration policy, in fact, was the product of a covert Tanton campaign.

If nothing else, the Bush plan should give impetus to a serious national debate. If we cede the field to the corporatists and the know-nothings, everyone is going to lose.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Missing the connections

It's been largely speculation, up until now, that domestic terrorism is not a significant component of this administration's "war on terror." But in its handling of the Texas cyanide bomb case, it's becoming especially apparent that this is precisely the case.

Either that, or the nation's intelligence problems related to terrorism have gotten, if anything, worse since Sept. 11.

See, for instance, this recent news piece out of Winchester, Va., in which it emerges that the FBI hasn't even communicated with its own offices in locales where these extremists supposedly met:
Winchester Named as Site For Meeting of Suspects

Documents naming Winchester as one of 10 potential meeting places for suspected domestic terrorist conspirators were found a year ago, but most local law enforcement officials did not know about it until Thursday.

Federal officials first discovered that Winchester could be a meeting place for home-grown terrorists after a Tennessee State Police trooper found documents listing 10 cities along interstates in the eastern part of the United States during a January 2003 traffic stop.

The driver, William Krar, 62, of Noonday, Texas, has since pleaded guilty to a chemical weapon charge and is connected with illegal weapons and white supremacist and anti-government literature - and federal officials believe other conspirators may be at large, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The list in Krar's car included Winchester and Roanoke; Harrisburg and Scranton, Pa.; Chattanooga, Bristol, and Knoxville, Tenn.; Jackson, Miss.; and Shreveport, La.

One year later, local law enforcement officials are in the dark.

"I have received no information from anyone prior to this that Winchester was a designated meeting area for terrorists," city Police Chief Gary W. Reynolds said on Thursday. "This particular incident, if true, certainly needs to be fixed."

No kidding. What's especially disgraceful is that this could occur in the post-9/11 environment. As their own agents even observe:
The FBI office in Dallas led the investigation, said Lawrence Barry, chief division counsel for the Richmond Division of the FBI.

Though his division did not handle the investigation, information-sharing among law enforcement is supposed to have become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001, Barry said.

It's bad enough that the public is so ill-informed about the case -- even though, as previously noted, we have now officially found more weapons of mass destruction in the hands of fanatical extremists in Texas than we have in Iraq. Maybe now that Bush has quietly abandoned the latter search, he could direct that team to his home state.

But what's really problematic is the kind of intelligence-gathering gap this lack of communication actually represents. Certainly it raises questions about how thoroughly, and with what energy, the current investigation is being pursued. It's especially important to determine whether there are more of these bombs out there, as several of the news reports so far have suggested.

Once again, one can only wonder how this case would have been handled had these been Islamist extremists.

At least the story is receiving wider circulation -- spurred, probably, by the recent Los Angeles Times and New York Times reports. Of particular note was this piece, from the San Antonio Express-News:
Noonday shows danger walks among us

Especially noteworthy was this passage:
Between 1980 and 2000, the FBI recorded 335 incidents or suspected incidents of terrorism in the United States, according to the Congressional testimony in February 2002 of Dale L. Watson, then the assistant director for counterterrorism and counterintelligence for the FBI.

"Of these, 247 were attributed to domestic terrorists, and 88 were determined to be international in nature," Watson said.

Watson's prepared remarks did not provide details, but he noted that right-wing extremism in the 1990s overtook left-wing terrorism "as the most dangerous domestic threat to the country."

Mark Potok suggests in this piece, correctly, that there only needs to be a few of these fanatics to wreak a great deal of havoc, as both Oklahoma City and September 11 demonstrated. The technology available to them, as Robert Wright has observed, guarantees that.

The story has gotten play elsewhere, notably at Working for Change, with a nice summary from Bill Berkowitz:
'Whither America's homegrown terrorists'

And the New Orleans Times-Picayune picked up on the story on its editorial page:
Another Oklahoma City?

The L.A. Times piece is apparently getting a lot of distribution at smaller papers. I even heard from my parents that in ran in their hometown Boise paper. So the case, at least, is slowly gaining in public awareness.

Now if only the same were true of the investigators.

Back in the saddle agin

Many apologies for the past few days' silence. Posting on the road was difficult to begin with, and I wound up too busy to even log on anyway. Finally returned home last night, so I'll be trying to get things back up to speed.

The travels forced me to neglect something here that happened over the weekend: Namely, the debut of The American Street, the group blog in which I am a participant.

The blog is the brainchild of Kevin Hayden of the ReachM High Cowboy Network Noose, which has long been on my blogroll as one of my favorite reads. Just as he did at Open Source Politics (another group site he had a big hand in creating), he's put together a really attractive site that's very effective.

I was reluctant initially to get involved, mostly because (as regular readers here know all too well) I have enough trouble keeping fresh material flowing on my own damned blog. But Kevin's concept -- to bring together a set of talents focused on removing George Bush from office, and to zero in on the electoral politics of swing states -- was quite good, I thought. Moreover, I couldn't resist when I saw the terrific collection of talent he'd brought to the table: Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft, Dave Johnson of Seeing the Forest, the inimitable Digby, Mark A.R. Kleiman, Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Colorado Luis, Angry Bear, and Mary Ratcliff ... well, let's just say that I felt honored to even be invited to join.

And besides, any blog that uses an image of Faulkner in its masthead wins my instant approval.

My first post ran Sunday, and it's titled "Slouching Towards Manzanar". Somewhat predictably, it's long. In fact, it's the first of a four- or five-parter.

The piece is an updated and re-edited version of an article I wrote last spring for Salon, but which they did not use, since it came in at about 10,000 words, much too long for them. Since then, I've tried shopping it around and can't find anyone interested in the topic, which is the relation of the Japanese-American internment camps to the post-9/11 environment -- even though, as you read it, you may find (as I did) that it's extremely relevant.

As you may guess, the article is something of an outgrowth of the work I did in writing Strawberry Days: The Rise and Fall of a Japanese-American Community, about whose publication I hope to make an announcement soon.

I wanted to help get Kevin's blog off to a roaring start, and I thought the best way to do so was to start out with something meaty. But as you can see, my fellow Streeters are already making it a kick-ass blog regardless.