Tuesday, November 14, 2006


Well, either Chad Castagana has been a very busy fellow indeed, or he's already inspired a round of imitators. In either event, he's already taken his place in the chain of piggybacked terrorism in a line straight back to 9/11.

Fresh on the heels of yesterday's arrest of Castagana, an avid Freeper who mailed hoax anthrax threats to various liberal figures, including Keith Olbermann, we now learn that Air America has been hit with a similar hoax.

We also have to wonder if last month's hoax anthrax attack on the offices of Bill Clinton was Castagana's handiwork as well. The Clinton threat was not mentioned in any of the reports of Castagana's arrest -- and as it involves a former president, it almost certainly is of even greater interest to federal authorities.

What Castagana's case demonstrates, clearly, is the way terrorism functions. Initial attacks always inspire subsequent rounds of echo attacks that intentionally feed off the terror created by the earlier rounds. It's called "piggybacking," and it has been an explicit strategy of the extremist right for two decades and longer.

The shape of Castagana's threats -- sending white powder in an envelope and including threats suggesting the powder is anthrax -- has been around for awhile. He almost certainly got the idea from its earlier perpetrators, most notably Clayton Waagner, who terrorized hundreds of abortion clinics with similar hoaxes.

Waagner's threats, in turn, piggybacked off the very real anthrax terrorist who killed five people, sickened dozens more, and scared the bejeesus out of the media for a couple of weeks, until they figured out that it most likely was a domestic terror attack.

And the anthrax terrorist, likewise, clearly piggybacked off of 9/11: the attacks occurred two weeks later, and the rampant speculation in the media for quite awhile was that this was another Al Qaeda attack, or perhaps one from Iraq.

Terrorists of all stripes -- foreign and domestic, Islamist and white nationalist, competent and incompetent -- have a symbiotic relationship with each other: one attack creates an "echo" that often has its own idiosyncratic purpose, but simultaneously enhances the intent of the original terrorist attack. The one thing all terrorists have in common, after all, is a general intent: to destabilize public confidence in the government and thus topple it. In the case of far-right domestic terrorists, they hope to present themselves as an authoritarian alternative to a system unable to keep its citizens secure.

This is the true nature of the terrorist beast, not the purely Islamist creature who lurks in the imaginations of the right-wing blogosphere. As I've said before:
Thanks to a combination of technology and increasingly virulent and violence-prone forms of extremism, it's now possible for just a tiny number of people -- in some cases, one or two -- to wreak major damage, killing hundreds, even thousands of innocent civilians. That was as true of Oklahoma City as it was of 9/11.

It's too bad it took an attack committed by a previously small faction of Islamic extremists -- who, as it happened, were both foreigners and brown-skinned, unlike the Oklahoma bombers -- for us to declare a "war on terror." The question I've always had is this: Why didn't we declare it after April 19, 1995, instead of September 11, 2001? Because it was the former date that actually hailed the arrival of this threat on our doorsteps.

Unfortunately, it is that same lack of perspective that allows us to pursue wars of power, invading other nations under false pretext, all in the name of the "war on terror." It's this same failure to understand the nature of the beast that leads us to blithely create a cauldron for breeding a fresh generation of terrorists in Iraq.

When Democrats get ready to step up and present their own battle plan on the "war on terror," let's hope they bring that understanding to the table.

In the meantime, we all can probably look forward to a fresh round of white-powder-in-the-mail stories, all inspired by exploits of Chad Castagana. That's the way it always seems to work.

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