Friday, December 19, 2003
Off to the wilds of Idaho. Will be back in time for Christmas.
Saving the whales ... from Bush
Thursday, December 18, 2003
Best news I've had in a long time:
- Judge rules for orca listing
A federal judge yesterday struck down the Bush administration's decision not to protect Puget Sound orcas under the Endangered Species Act, chastising federal officials for failing to consider the "best available science."
The U.S. District Court ruling was a major victory for environmentalists.
The National Marine Fisheries Service had justified its June 2002 decision by saying that even if orcas that reside in the Sound and nearby waters disappeared, their place could be taken by far-ranging transient orcas that sometimes visit.
The fisheries service's decision rested on the contention that only one species of orcas exists worldwide -- a finding that Judge Robert Lasnik noted dates to 1758 and that modern scientists consider "outdated and inaccurate."
[Seattle Times version here.]
This could turn out to be a major front in the Bush administration's war on the environment. The Interior Department under Gayle Norton (and most notably, under her top hatchetman, J. Stephen Griles) has refused to issue any endangered-species declarations, and this is one that needs pushing. Now the courts are behind it. The NMFS has a year to come up with a plan.
As I've mentioned previously, the Sound's orca populations are currently teetering on the precipice. If they decline much further they will no longer be biologically viable.
The NMFS argument, incidentally, was laughable, and would have set a devastating precedent had it succeeded, since the same argument could then be applied to native salmon runs.
You can read more about the issue here, here and here.
There's a great deal going on regarding orcas that is directly affected by politics. It's a complex issue and one I hope to blog more about in the next couple of months. Stay tuned.
From the old home front ... Seems my old college stomping grounds of Moscow, Idaho, is still as inhospitable to racist hatemongering as it was when I attended school in the '70s and '80s:
- Motel turns away David Irving
Until he arrived in town, the details surrounding Irving's visit were limited. According to his Web site, he planned to host an event somewhere in Moscow. At approximately 4 p.m. Tuesday, Mark IV manager Jeff Cheser realized his hotel was the chosen location when Irving entered the lobby.
Cheser began to receive inquiries early in the week about an event associated with the Holocaust revisionist. He heard from several people that Irving said he would speak at the Mark IV. When he looked into the situation further, Cheser discovered a reservation for a gentleman by the name of Alfred Holden.
"I called the number listed with the reservation and was told that no one by that name (Holden) lived there," Cheser said. "We will close up early so this event can't take place. It will hurt business tonight, but, in the long-term picture, we won't be identified as a supporter of an anti-Semitic event. This is private property, and we have the right to refuse service to anyone. I'm not going to rent this guy a room."
The Moscow Police Department was notified when Irving tried to check in, but he left before the officers arrived.
[Hope you all check out the police chief's name. No irony there, eh? Bet the poor guy has to live it down a lot in a place like Idaho.]
The Moscow city attorney, Randy Fife, is a dear friend of mine from high-school days. I have no idea if he was involved in this (I'd be surprised, though you never know), but law enforcement sent a pretty clear message here along with the business community. Communities in Idaho, as it happens, are getting pretty good at this.
I hope Howard Dean is paying attention.
Another head on the radical-right serpent rears its head in Texas, this time with a familiar name and strategy:
- Republic of Texas Redux
Six quiet years have passed since anti-government Republic of Texas separatists made headlines during a violent weeklong standoff with police.
The 1997 siege in the Davis Mountains of West Texas left one separatist dead, a hostage wounded and, with the imprisonment of self-styled Ambassador Richard McLaren, seemed to dampen the group's rallying cry that Texas was a fully independent country.
But now a newly revived wing of the Republic of Texas is attempting to stage a visible comeback. The group has planted an 1836 Independence flag and declared the unassuming East Texas rail town of Overton their provisional capitol. The group's so-called "citizens" and elected "President" Daniel Miller set up what they call their provisional government in a 16,000-square-foot building that once was a hospital.
Visitors are invited to apply for passports. Some adherents have blanked out the word "state" on their Texas license plates, in deference to their belief that Texas is not a state. Blue Republic of Texas flags are popping up on homes around town, and hundreds of interested patrons come on weekends for seminars about how the Republic interprets American tax and land use laws.
This is from the same investigative team (Todd Bensman and Robert Riggs) at CBS-11 in Dallas/Fort Worth that brought us that solid reportage on the cyanide bombers case. So we won't ask if it's something in the water in Texas.
Wednesday, December 17, 2003
MSNBC has just demonstrated that it didn't need to have Michael Savage anchoring one of its shows in order to play the approving host to right-wing extremism.
On Tuesday's Joe Scarborough show, national audiences were treated to a good ol' fashioned anti-immigrant hatefest, replete with standup performances by Pat Buchanan and a famous white supremacist named Jared Taylor.
The topic was whether it was time to clamp down on immigration in order to prevent the white majority population from being overwhelmed into permanent minority status. There were token liberals on the program, but they were given the usual liberal treatment -- allowed to speak once briefly before being rudely interrupted, and thenceforth allowed only to shout occasional potshots from the sidelines. Buchanan, Taylor and NewsMax's James Hirsen, with Scarborough busily enabling them, largely dominated the affair. You can read the transcript for yourself.
The most interesting aspect of this is the inclusion of Jared Taylor, as well as his treatment. Some background: Jared Taylor is one of the leading lights in what is known generically as the "academic" wing of the white-supremacist movement. His magazine, American Renaissance, is one of the leading publications in this field. It is also designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of its certified hate organizations (it's under the Oakton, Virginia, listing).
In fact, the most recent SPLC Intelligence Report listed Taylor as one of its "40 to Watch," compendium of the people likely to be at the forefront of right-wing extremism in the next few years:
- In his personal bearing and tone, Jared Taylor projects himself as a courtly presenter of ideas that most would describe as crudely white supremacist -- a kind of modern-day version of the refined but racist colonialist of old.
And indeed, that is the stock-in-trade preferred by Taylor, who carefully avoids epithets, writes in language that approximates that of academia, and generally seeks to put a rational and well-argued face on anti-black racism.
Taylor is a Yale graduate who worked for 17 years in Japan, is fluent in that language, and greatly admires his former hosts. The reason for that admiration is instructive -- the Japanese, Taylor told British journalist Nick Ryan, "think with their blood, not their passport."
Taylor entered the active racist scene in 1990, when he began publishing American Renaissance, a magazine that focuses on alleged links between race and intelligence, and on eugenics, the now discredited "science" of breeding better humans.
"Never in the history of the world has a dominant people thrown open the gates to strangers, and poured its wealth out to aliens," Taylor wrote in his magazine, under the pseudonym Thomas Jackson, in 1991. "All healthy people prefer the company of their own kind." Blacks, Taylor writes, are "crime-prone," "dissipated," "pathological" and "deviant."
Taylor, whose 1992 Paved With Good Intentions: The Failure of Race Relations in Contemporary America makes similar points in a book format, went one further in 1993, speaking at a conference of the racist Council of Conservative Citizens*. (Today, Taylor's New Century Foundation*, which publishes American Renaissance, is intimately related to the council through "common membership, governing bodies, trustees and officers," according to the foundation's tax forms.)
In the late 1990s, he came out with The Color of Crime, a booklet that tries to use crime statistics so as to "prove" that blacks are far more criminally prone than whites. That racist booklet is now a staple of white supremacists like former Klansman David Duke.
One thing that separates Taylor from much of the radical right, however, is his lack of anti-Semitism; he told MSNBC-TV interviewer Phil Donahue in 2003 that Jews "are fine by me" and "look white to me." That view may be related to his wife, who some in the movement have said is Jewish.
Evelyn Rich became well known because of her 1985 and 1986 interviews of Duke, conducted as part of her dissertation research, and was perceived by many as an anti-racist. (The recorded interviews, in Tulane University's archives, were used by anti-Duke forces to make radio ads attacking Duke during his run for Louisiana governor in 1991.) As a result, Taylor's marriage to Rich has shocked many of those who know about it.
Today, Jared Taylor's conferences are well-attended, suit-and-tie affairs that reflect his international reach. In 2002, speakers included Nick Griffin, leader of the neofascist British National Party, and Bruno Gollnisch, who was then second in command of Jean Marie Le Pen's immigrant-bashing National Front in France.
The ADL's report is equally unsparing:
- The stated purpose of the journal was to create "a literate, undeceived journal of race, immigration and the decline of civility." AR held that "for a nation to be a nation -- and not just a crowd -- it must consist of people that share the same culture, language, history and aspirations." Under Taylor's stewardship AR has largely skirted overt racism and stereotypes; its authors use apparently scientific, sociological and philosophical arguments to demonstrate the purported superiority of the white race and the threat nonwhite minorities pose to American society. It has tried, in other words, to make racism appear to be entirely reasonable. Contributors make considerable use of facts and statistics derived from reputable sources, but use them out of context or extrapolate exaggerated conclusions; their articles emphasize information that supports racist positions while ignoring or downplaying information that does not. To buttress their "proofs," Taylor and his colleagues expound on the shared ethnic and racial heritage to which they attribute all of the nation's achievements. Social problems are inevitably attributed to the weakening of this racial heritage by intermarriage.
The emphasis AR places on clear and hierarchical divisions of races leads the publication to bizarre and even grotesque interpretations of history. In August 1992, for instance, AR published an interview with University of California Professor Arthur Jensen -- referred to by the journal as a "pioneer" and "the world's best-known scholar in the field of racial differences in intelligence."1 Jensen attempted to explain why eugenics has fallen out of favor.
- Jensen: I think that World War II was really the main turning point in this... revulsion against the Nazi Holocaust. People pointed to that as an example of what would happen if we recognized our differences. Of course it's very inapplicable really, because the group that was persecuted there was the group that was doing very well in Germany and around the world.
AR: It's my understanding that in fact there's no record that Hitler even said that Jews were inferior anyway.
Jensen: That's right, yes. They had other reasons for their views. But this [the Holocaust] was still given as an example of the result of making racial or ethnic distinctions between groups.
Oddly enough, not a scintilla of this background was made available to any of Scarborough's viewers. As far as anyone watching the program knew, Taylor was an ordinary mainstream white guy from an acceptable conservative magazine. Especially since he had Pat Buchanan firmly in his corner.
At one point in the program, Taylor even offered a defense against the charge that he was racist:
- I have been called a racist twice already, so I would like to respond to that.
What these people are, in effect, saying is that white people do not have a right to be a majority in their own country, whereas, in both of their countries, in Mexico and wherever in the Middle East you have come, Mr. Hamud, you have a majority and you would be furious if people were coming into your country, demographically and culturally changing it.
TAYLOR: You are setting up double standards and accusing me of racism, whereas I simply wish to preserve the country of my ancestors. And there is absolutely nothing wrong of that.
Anyone familiar with either David Duke or the white supremacists in the neo-Confederate movement is all too familiar with this tactic, hiding behind the skirts of legitimate heritage interests in the name of exclusionist and racist policies. But then, that too was the theme of Buchanan's own The Death of the West, which was little more than a repackaging of key portions of David Duke's My Awakening. In fact, Buchanan's thesis -- that "white" American culture is in danger of being overwhelmed by brown people -- had been the centerpiece of Duke's organization between 1992-96.
But you would never know any of this from watching Scarborough's show.
Saddam and Bush
Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Evidently liberal antiwar bloggers like myself are being chastised for failing to do due penance before the altar of the Mighty Babbling Bush in the wake of Saddam Hussein's capture. It seems the right somehow views the event as a kind of vindication of the invasion and the administration's phony justifications for it, as well as the conduct of its continuing endeavors there.
Well. I don't see how anyone with a drop of decency can say that Saddam's capture was anything but a good thing -- a very, very good thing. Indeed, many of us have been looking forward to the day Hussein was brought to justice for many long years -- well before, I might add, even the first President Bush did anything but hand him weapons and enable his atrocities.
Moreover, like the folks at Amnesty International, I think it's absolutely vital that Hussein face a criminal tribunal that at the very least meets international standards -- and as Joe Conason argues, preferably by an international tribunal. But the Bush administration's antipathy to the international courts is well documented as well. If the White House insists on allowing the court being set up by the neocon puppet Salem Chalabi (who enjoys zero credibility among Iraqis) to control hold Hussein's only trial, there will be numerous long-term harms inflicted. Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch has poignantly described the far-reaching effects of Saddam's butchery, and why he needs to stand trial for all his crimes:
- To do these victims justice, their plight should be recorded in a court of law and their perpetrators properly judged and punished. But the Iraqi Governing Council, taking its lead from Washington, last week established a tribunal that is to be dominated by Iraqi jurists. Despite the superficial appeal of allowing Iraqis to try their own persecutors, this approach is unlikely to produce sound prosecutions or fair trials. It reflects less a determination to see justice done than a fear of bucking Washington's ideological jihad against any further enhancement of the international system of justice.
... Despite the obvious merits of an internationally led tribunal, Washington is adamantly opposed, which largely explains the path chosen by the Iraqi Governing Council. But Washington's opposition reflects its ideology, not concern for the Iraqi people. The Bush administration calculates that a tribunal of Iraqis selected by its hand-picked Governing Council will be less likely to reveal embarrassing aspects of Washington's past support for Saddam Hussein, more likely to impose the death penalty despite broad international condemnation, and, most important, less likely to enhance even indirectly the legitimacy of the detested International Criminal Court.
It certainly is in any event a great relief to know the man is permanently out of power, and like every other decent American, I'm pleased that he is alive and will face trial.
That said, the next logical observation is this: The capture is in the long run inconsequential. The problems that America faces in Iraq right now and for the foreseeable future have nothing to do with Saddam Hussein. They have almost everything to do with George W. Bush.
Jim Lobe recently nailed this with a fine analysis for the Inter Press Service News Agency:
- The Axis of Incoherence
Lobe zeroes in on the administration's most notorious recent screwup: the one in which the Pentagon announced that certain nations were being blacklisted for Iraq reconstruction projects -- a day before James Baker was in Europe, pleading with the leaders of those same nations to rewrite their Iraq debts:
- Wednesday's embarrassing and potentially costly snafu is symptomatic of a larger problem faced by an administration that seems increasingly at sea over what to do about Iraq and whose constituent parts are trying desperately to protect their own interests.
This has become especially clear over the past month in Iraq itself where the U.S. military has adopted much more aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in order to reduce insurgent attacks against its own forces, even at the expense of the larger struggle waged by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to win the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis, including the residents of the so-called "Sunni Triangle".
On the one hand, the CPA's job is to convince Iraqis that U.S. troops are there to help them to rebuild and make a transition to democratic Iraq.
On the other hand, the military, which lost a record number of troops to hostile fire last month, is now embarked on a military campaign in the region that increasingly apes Israeli tactics. Razor-wire fences, checkpoints, night-time raids and roundups, bombing, and the demolition of houses and other buildings have never persuaded Palestinians that Israeli soldiers are in the West Bank to help them.
The CPA and the military now have "opposing goals", noted ret. Rear Adm. David Oliver, who just returned from a high-level CPA job. While Gen. Ricardo Sanchez's forces are focused on "tactical and immediate" goals of hunting down suspected guerrillas and maintaining order, CPA chief L. Paul Bremer is trying to win the confidence of the Iraqi people. "The military's goal has nothing to do with the (Coalition's) success," Oliver said.
This incoherence -- or rather the exasperating difficulty of reconciling military tactics to strategic goals -- was best expressed this week by Lt. Col. Nathan Sussaman, the commander of a battalion that that has surrounded the town of Abu Hishma with a razor wire fence. "With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects," he told the New York Times, "I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them."
I'm very glad Saddam's been captured. But from what I can see, it's a band-aid over a festering pustule.
[The Lobe piece via Cursor.]
Treasonous Democrats, the cartoon
[From Michael Ramirez of the Los Angeles Times. Ramirez also has a noted predilection for depicting those he dislikes as various kinds of vermin -- rats, cockroaches, and the like.]
In case there was any doubt: Yes, the terrorists are big Howard Dean fans.
Just like the Nazis were Thomas Dewey supporters.
A fallacy of composition
Tacitus is one of those nice conservatives I described in a previous post as akin to certain kinds of crime victims: they fall prey because they project their own normalcy onto people who are not normal. They just can't believe that any other conservative would act from a base of thought different than their own sane framework.
He recently posted a piece attacking my logic in decrying a particularly vicious kind of demagoguery in the presidential campaign -- namely, the identification of Democrats with the "terrorist agenda", thus revealing the "treasonous" nature of both their candidates and their voters.
In denying that this is taking place -- or at least that it is a serious problem -- Tacitus makes the same logical mistake (from the other side, as it were) as the rabid conservatives who in fact are genuinely denouncing Democrats as treasonous: that is, he confuses an irrational argument with a rational one.
First, there's the irrational argument:
- [T]he meme that a Democratic '04 victory would be good for terrorists, on the grounds that this notion implicitly transforms Democratic voters into "genuine traitors."
This argument, he says, is identical in structure not only to my argument:
- removing "Bush from office in the 2004 election....is not, as the unAmerican rabid right would have us a think, a capitulation to the terrorists. It is in fact the first step to seriously winning the war against them."
But also to his:
- Personally, now that Bob Graham is out of the race, I don't see any Democrat -- save perhaps Wesley Clark -- whose election will do anything but harm the war on terror. There, I said it.
But structurally, these are not identical arguments at all. The latter two certainly are similar both in structure and the respectively partisan base of their content. But the first, irrational argument -- that [one side] or the other would be "good for the terrorists" -- is a smear, partly because it is predicated on two complete unknowns: (a) what the enemy actually hopes for, and (b) what in fact would be good (or bad) for them in the long run, regardless of their thinking on the matter; and therefore is groundless. But most of all it is a smear because it rather crassly demeans the motives of the opponents by associating their political success with that of terrorists. It identifies them with the nation's enemies.
There are two ways of smearing your opponents as traitors: You can call them that directly. Or you can identify them with the enemy. Regardless of your poison -- Ann Coulter or Victor Davis Hanson -- it amounts to the death of real debate. That isn't merely arguing over who would be most effective in prosecuting the war on terror. That's flat-out arguing that one side will simply betray us all. It's a smear, and it should be beneath "decent" conservatives.
One of the more interesting discussions of this came recently in the pages of American Conservative, in a piece by Doug Bandow titled " The Conservative Case Against George W. Bush,":
- Some of Bush's supporters have been even worse, charging critics with a lack of patriotism. Not to genuflect at the president's every decision is treason. In two decades of criticizing liberal politicians and positions, I have rarely endured the vitriol that was routinely spewed by conservatives when I argued against war with Iraq over the last year. Conservative papers stopped running my column; conservative Web sites removed it from their archives. That was their right, of course, but they demonstrated that it was not just the Clintons who were fair-weather friends.
Arguing the wisest policy over the conduct of the war on terrorism -- a war that potentially affects us all directly -- is something all civic-minded Americans should be engaging in. Injecting accusations about the loyalty of one side or the other in the debate has no place in anyone's arguments, because it just shuts it down.
As Tacitus himself says:
- The fact is that some policies -- and some candidates -- are indeed better or worse against terrorism. Honest people can disagree on which is which, but there's hardly anything wrong in arriving at (much less announcing) conclusions on the subject.
What Tacitus seems to miss here is that Democrats have been making essentially the same argument, but from the other side of the fence -- that Bush's policies are ineffective (or worse) in the war on terrorism -- and for simply making those arguments, their motives are impugned as being "helpful" to the enemy. Democrats have so far managed to question Bush without impugning his patriotism -- and as Tacitus suggests (it's the basis of his little joke that "a vote for reelection in '04 is a vote for bin Laden"), it would be ridiculous for them to do so. Republicans, in contrast, have indulged themselves in open smears of the opposition, which appear likely to only worsen as the election approaches.
Most of all, Tacitus wrongly correlates his argument with those I've cited from others, all of which explicitly identify Democrats with the enemy. Let's review.
First, there was Hanson:
- So too we should expect a wave of desperate Saddamite attacks once Iraqis take control in July. October will be difficult as Baathists and al Qaedists hope to demoralize our electorate and bring in a Howard Dean or his clone and with him a quick American exit from Baghdad.
I also thought it worth noting this contribution:
- Of course, Al-Quada and every other major terrorist organization are also rooting for a Democratic victory over President Bush. Do we see a disturbing pattern here? A vote for the Democrats in 2004 is a vote for Al Quada.
And how could this one go unmentioned?
- Here's a hint to you, Eric: The gov't can't do anything to you over that ad, but that's the extent of your protection under the First Amendment.
The rest of us, however, aren't the gov't, in case you've forgotten, and quite few of us would be more than happy to wipe that nervous little grin off your traitorous mug -- with a belt sander.
And then there's this gem:
- Here's a note I got recently from a friend and former Delta Force member, who has been observing American politics from the trenches: "These bastards like Clark and Kerry and that incipient ass, Dean, and Gephardt and Kucinich and that absolute mental midget Sharpton, race baiter, should all be lined up and shot.
And I haven't even brought in Coulter yet.
Of course, it must be observed that this tactic is not solely relegated to Republicans. Some yet-unnamed Democrats are using the same kind of smear to attack Howard Dean as well.
It's despicable, and it has no place in any corner of the debate. We should be able to argue, loudly, over whose policy will be most effective in fighting terrorism. If we believe in our good faith, we should be able to do so without fear of being accused of treason.
It has always been a given that, no matter how much we disagree on policy, we are all Americans, and are all united against our enemies. In the name of good faith, there are certain boundaries we don't cross. Questioning our political opponents' loyalty for doubting policy decisions is one of them. This is especially the case when it comes to the presidency.
Neither Lincoln nor the GOP hinted that a vote for McClellan was a vote for the Confederacy. Neither FDR nor the Democrats even dreamt of suggesting that the Nazis were secretly rooting for Thomas Dewey. The first time the "dissent is treason" meme appeared in a presidential election was in 1972, when Nixon's CREEP crew trotted it out and slimed McGovern with it. Fortunately, it went hiding under a rock, until Nixon's old crew, and sociopathic mindset, had the chance to re-emerge.
Now it's back with a vengeance. And it's being wielded by "marginal idiots" who just happen to be extraordinarily, even disproportionately, influential. And they run the gamut from Misha to Mike Savage to Katherine Parker to Rush Limbaugh to Ann Coulter, with all the many other similarly sociopathic gnomes in between. These people, and not Tacitus, are the voice of modern conservatism. Sad to say.
And this, in the end, is the real logical mistake that Tacitus makes: He sees his brand of conservatism as representative, when in fact it is exceptional. He naturally, and logically, argues that we can agree or disagree as citizens about whose policy is more likely to win in a war without violating the terms of a good-faith debate. As do I.
But many others, in contrast, leap from rational arguments over policy (my policy is more effective in winning the war) to irrational conclusions (his policy benefits the enemy and betrays the national interest; taken even further, he is a traitor and deserves to be hung). It's one thing to say that one policy is more or less effective; it's another altogether to impugn its intent.
[Liberals of course are no innocents to this kind of argument in other arenas; but in the case of the war, their arguments (or at least those of the leading candidates) have been substantively logical. Certainly we haven't seen much in the way of liberals accusing conservatives of being "objectively pro-Saddam" or "soft on terrorism" or "unpatriotic."]
Tacitus' argument boils down to this: I'm a conservative, and I don't think that way. Why would other conservatives?
But they do, don't they? A lot of them do. A lot more, it seems anymore, than those whose don't.
In your logic text, Tacitus, your error is called a composition fallacy. You can look it up.
Monday, December 15, 2003
The frontline mantra for the GOP's army of True Believers in 2004:
- "God wants President Bush re-elected."
Not hard to figure out whose side Democrats are on, is it?
Guess we're not just traitors anymore, folks.
[Via Ezra at Pandagon.]
Missing the threat
The press is starting to figure out just how potentially important the Texas cyanide bomb plot may be. The ABC station in Tyler, KLTV, played catchup other day with a story that contained little new, except this noteworthy nugget of info: "President Bush was given daily briefings on the matter." [The rest of the station's report, it must be noted, neglects to substantiate this claim.]
Obviously, officials in high places knew how problematic the case was. Why they did not make sure the press knew its significance, and thereby that the public was adequately informed, is the question that needs answering.
Dan Levitas, who wrote the recent New York Times op-ed on the case, has even more details, some of it from interviews he conducted with Justice Department anti-terrorism officials on the ground in East Texas. Here's his report:
- -- The sodium cyanide device was fully functional and could have killed anyone "within a 30,000 square-foot facility."
-- Krar's stockpile contained more than 100 explosives, including 60 fully functional pipe bombs, as well as briefcase bombs, land mine components, detonation cord, trip wire and binary explosives; machine guns and other illegal weapons; hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition; and racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment literature, including Hunter and The Turner Diaries.
-- Krar was/is a bona fide tax protestor who has never been indicted for his tax-related offenses. He is from New Hampshire and has numerous ties to white supremacist and militia groups.
-- Edward Feltus, 56, was a member of the New Jersey Militia.
-- Technically, Krar (who pleaded guilty to possessing a dangerous chemical weapon) faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, but in all likelihood will get only 10-15 years -- mostly because they never uncovered the details of the plot (if any) to actually use the device; nor was anyone injured by it.
-- The statute under which Krar was prosecuted has been used only five times or fewer in its entire history because of the rarity of finding individuals with bona fide chemical weapons.
-- Federal authorities have served more than 150 subpoenas in connection with the case, but still remain concerned that others may be involved, and the investigation is ongoing.
As to why this was underreported at first, I think there are several reasons: One, the arrests originally took place exactly around the time of the invasion of Iraq and the media was distracted, to say the least. Two, unlike the numerous arrests of suspected Al Qaeda militants, Attorney General John Ashcroft said nothing about this case.
I concur with the assessment that had the DOJ and early news reports more prominently mentioned "Domestic Terrorism" in bold type, then there would have been greater attention paid to the arrests. However, the terms "chemical weapons" were used and that should have been picked up relatively easily on a search. The bottom line, in my opinion, however, is this:
Had there been a news conference in Washington, D.C., featuring the Attorney General and highlighting the discovery of chemical weapons in the home state of President George Bush, rest assured this would have been a major national news story. For reasons known only to John Ashcroft and the public-relations department at Justice, the decision was made to not give this case the same prominence as other terrorism related arrests. Somehow, I do believe that if suspected Al Qaeda operatives had been arrested with a fully functional sodium cyanide bomb in East Texas this would have been all over page one. Now that Krar has pleaded guilty, and more news is getting out, this case is rapidly becoming quite visible.
Needless to say, I concur with every detail of Dan's assessment. This was a joint failure of the media and the Bush administration, two entities that have proven disinclined to admitting such gross lapses.
But the picture that is emerging is especially troubling, because it clearly suggests that this administration is in fact de-emphasizing domestic terrorism -- which could be, for reasons I have detailed previously, a tragic mistake. It also makes clear, indelibly, that this administration is completely missing out on one of the important fronts of any serious "war on terrorism" -- the home front. Like its adoption of a unilateralist "preemptive invasion" strategy in dealing with international terrorism, this failure stands as mute testimony to its base incompetence.
Armed to the teeth
It may seem that one of the real reasons for alarm about the Tyler, Texas cyanide bombers is the sheer size of the arsenal uncovered by FBI agents: 100 explosives, including 60 fully functional pipe bombs, as well as briefcase bombs, land mine components, detonation cord, trip wire, and binary explosives; machine guns and other illegal weapons; some 500,000 rounds of ammunition; a stockpile of chemical agents, including a large quantity of sodium cyanide and acids such as hydrochloric, nitric and acetic acids; and racist, anti-Semitic and antigovernment literature, including William Pierce's Hunter and The Turner Diaries.
The thing is, by right-wing extremist standards, this arsenal may not even be the most impressive ever.
My friend Mark Pitcavage, who is now the ADL's Director of Fact Finding, compiled the following list of other arsenals seized from right-wing extremists. His pick for the most impressive arsenal:
- May 14, 1998, Washington: Police seize an arsenal of more than 70 pipe bombs, 28 pounds of C-4, as well as 200-300 firearms (including two dozen machine guns), a 20mm cannon, a grenade launcher, 100,000 rounds of ammunition, and 56 hand grenades, from Gregory McCrea, a suspected child rapist. McCrea is suspected of having ties to militia or other extremist groups. According to a former friend, he also had buried fifty 55-gallon barrels (each with a rifle, a handgun, and ammunition) throughout the Pacific Northwest.
The other runners-up, along with Krar, are:
- March 31, 2000, Maryland: During a narcotics raid on the house of Michael Lee Burtner, a pizza restaurant owner, police find 128 guns (including stolen and unregistered weapons), 38,000 rounds of ammunition, drugs, and a variety of antigovernment videotapes and pamphlets. Police suspected Burtner of selling crack cocaine.
March 12, 2000, Washington: Police discover an arsenal of weapons as they arrest Stephen Ferguson in an eastern suburb of Seattle on weapons charges after a neighbor called 911 when seeing the man dragging an ill and unconscious housemate out of his house. Searching the house, they find more than 60 firearms, including 20 fully automatic weapons and machine guns, a grenade launcher, and 50,000 rounds of ammunition; they also discover marijuana plants, books on explosives, and Nazi paraphernalia.
October 8, California: Authorities seeking to arrest probation violator and white supremacist Jeffrey Stuart Martin discover an arsenal of more than sixty-five weapons, including assault weapons, at his house. When Martin refuses to open his door, law enforcement officers force their way inside to find him hiding in the attic. Authorities also arrest his mother, Kathleen Rose Ezakovich, her husband, Charles Ezakovich, and Greg James Hallahan on drug charges, after police find a half-pound of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia. Martin had previously been convicted on a hate-crime violation.
January 3, 2000, Tennessee: Nashville tax protester Rodney Lynn Randolph receives a four-year prison sentence on weapons charges. Randolph, whose house was foreclosed on in 1998 when he stopped paying on his bank loans, resisted an order to vacate the premises. A trespassing charge was filed against him; while searching his home, police found an arsenal of weapons that included a hand grenade, bomb-making materials, and automatic weapons parts, as well as blueprints for silencers, 200,000 rounds of ammunition, and a .50-caliber "anti-tank" weapon. Randolph claimed he was not subject to U.S. laws, but eventually pled guilty.
March/April 1996, Pennsylvania: The ATF raided two homes in March and April, uncovering huge caches of illegal weapons. The two survivalists, both with militia ties, were Russell Fauver, 45, of Evesham, New Jersey, and William Kay, 59, variously mentioned as being from Skippack and Collegeville, Pennsylvania. Fauver had on his property 24 handguns, rifles, assault weapons, shotguns and a flamethrower, as well as 100,000 rounds of ammunition, while William Kay had five Sten machine guns, a Maxim machine gun, two grenade launchers, an Uzi, a hand grenade, and silencers. Fauver was a former member of the Christian Patriot Defense League, while Kay was a chaplain with the Unorganized Militia of Pennsylvania.
February 26, 2002, Kentucky. Charlie Puckett, the head of the Kentucky State Militia, the nation's most active militia group, is arrested on nine counts of weapons violations. According to the indictment, Puckett, a former convicted felon, was found in the possession of various guns, pipe bombs, and nearly 35,000 rounds of ammunition. Puckett's arrest comes just after he finishes an interview with the television show "Unsolved Mysteries," which is doing a story on Puckett's friend and former militia colleague Steve Anderson, currently a fugitive accused of shooting at a Bell County, Kentucky, sheriff's deputy in October 2001.
June 10, 1998, Michigan: Redford Township resident Mark Gaydos is killed in a shootout with township police after a traffic stop confrontation. Gaydos was pulled over for not having a driver's license and told he would be arrested. He fled on foot and fired at police officers pursuing him, injuring one; they returned fire and killed him. Following the incident, police search his parents' home (where he lived) and discover an arsenal of guns, bullet-proof vests, 35,000 rounds of ammunition, a pipe bomb, an upside down flag with the words "Remember Waco" printed on it and other assorted paraphernalia. Also discovered during the search was evidence that suggested Gaydos had been the person who had harassed a state representative's reelection campaign in 1996, shooting up the official's campaign signs and placing them outside his campaign headquarters, as well as making harassing phone calls. The representative had refused to back a concealed carry law.
February 9, 2001, Oregon. A cache of white supremacist literature, illegal weapons, bombs and explosive materials, and illegal drugs are found when Clackamas County sheriff's deputies and federal agents arrest two men and one woman during a raid. Arrested are Forrest Bateman, a former skinhead previously convicted in 1989 of racially intimidating a high school student; Anthony Huntington; and Jennifer Williams. Officers seize a machine gun, a grenade launcher, an assault rifle, a sawed-off shotgun, 3000 rounds of ammunition, ammonium nitrate, homemade C4 explosives, six homemade grenades, dynamite blasting caps, primers, fuses, black powder, and 200 timing devices, as well as fifty marijuana plants. Huntington and Williams are subsequently released and not formally charged, while Bateman is held on outstanding warrants for previous charges of assault and illegal possession of an assault rifle. An investigation is ongoing.
June 13, 2001, Texas. Police in Forth Worth seize "volumes and volumes" of militia and anti-government literature, a number of assault weapons, bomb-making materials, and more than 9,000 rounds of ammunition from a storage unit and motel room rented by Fort Worth resident Michael Joseph Toth. Toth faces charges of possession of explosive components and possession of a prohibited weapon. Toth had been arrested on June 7 after allegedly pointing an assault rifle at the head of a man outside a pool hall. According to police, Toth had enough materials to produce 700 to 1,200 pounds of explosives.
October 4, 2001, Illinois. Local and federal law enforcement officers seize a cache of weapons from a group of Pike County survivalists who call themselves the United Survivalists of America. Authorities say the group had amassed an arsenal of weapons, pipe bombs and other explosives, and more than 12,000 rounds of ammunition. The only person arrested is group leader Thomas Wanick of Jerseyville, charged with unlawful use of a weapon.
When I was working the Montana Freemen case I kept coming across off-the-record accounts of hidden arsenals being stashed by "Patriots" throughout the Northwest. I mentioned one in In God's Country directly related to the Freemen [p. 104] and the unusual circumstances in which it was uncovered:
- While their legal defeats were coming in rapid succession, the Freemen’s recruiting was going well. Another key follower showed up at the Freemen ranch that fall: Dale Jacobi. A Canadian businessman who had moved from Calgary in the 1980s south to Thompson Falls, Montana, Jacobi became involved in the radical right while operating a propane-gas business in the little Clark Fork River logging town just a few miles east of Noxon. He fell in with John and Dave Trochmann, and also became acquainted with another local Constitutionalist, John Brush.
Brush decided to move to Musselshell County in 1994, partly to be closer to the Freemen, so he bought a parcel of land out in the distant woods and set about raising and training horses with his wife and daughter. Jacobi, who became a Freemen follower after Trochmann recommended their four-day courses in the Militia of Montana newsletter that spring, sold his business and moved onto Brush’s land, living in a trailer on the property.
In one afternoon that fall, though, Brush not only disavowed Dale Jacobi but the Freemen as well. He later explained why to John Bohlman, the Musselshell County prosecutor:
One morning, Brush told Bohlman, when he drove into town for supplies, Jacobi took Brush’s 8-year-old daughter, with her dog in tow, out to a remote part of their land. He carried with him a stool and a piece of rope. Under a tree, Jacobi set up the stool and placed the little dog on it. Then he made a noose with the rope, placed it over the dog’s neck, and slung it over the tree. He pulled the open end of the rope tight and held it at a distance from the dog, then told the girl to come stand in front of him. Call the dog, he told the girl. She did. It jumped off the stool and hung itself as Jacobi held the line taut.
The girl was in hysterics when her father returned home. Enraged, he asked Jacobi why he did it. Jacobi told him he felt the girl needed some toughening up, and that this would help her. Brush screamed at Jacobi to leave and never come back. Jacobi packed his things into his car and left. He found an open room at [Freemen leader Rodney] Skurdal’s ranch, and soon was named one of the group’s constables. Brush announced he wanted nothing more to do with that bunch -- and asked Bohlman to remove the arms cache Jacobi had left behind. Bohlman and a deputy went out Brush’s place and found PVC pipes hidden under some brush, stuffed with a few guns and a massive load of ammunition, reloading tools, powder and bullets, enough to make thousands of rounds with. Brush also told Bohlman he knew of similar caches like this in strategic spots throughout the Northwest.
Of course, what really puts the Tyler arsenal on an even higher threat plane than any of these cases is the presence of the sodium-cyanide bomb and the stockpile of materials for making them. Such a bomb, according to the experts, packs an explosive and killing capacity well above that of 28 pounds of C-4; the FBI says it is capable of killing everyone inside a 30,000-square-foot facility within moments of its detonation. Put in perspective, this would typically be a concert or meeting hall that would comfortably seat about 3,000 people.
More on the case momentarily.
Levitas weighs in
Sunday, December 14, 2003
The Texas cyanide-bomber case finally hits the pages of the New York Times, thanks to my colleague Daniel Levitas, author of the The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right, who has this piece up:
- Our Enemies at Home
Americans should question whether the Justice Department is making America's far-right fanatics a serious priority. And with the F.B.I. still struggling to get up to speed on the threat posed by Islamic extremists abroad, it is questionable whether the agency has the manpower to keep tabs on our distinctly American terror cells. There is no accurate way of analyzing the budgets of the F.B.I., Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to discern how much attention is being devoted to right-wing extremists. But in light of the F.B.I.'s poor record in keeping tabs on the militia movement before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, one wonders whether the agency has the will to do so now.
"Unfortunately, keeping track of right-wing and neo-Nazi hate groups isn't necessarily a path to career advancement in the Bureau," a Justice Department official told me not long after the Oklahoma City attack. "Agents get ahead by solving real crimes, like bank robbery, espionage and murder."
... It is also worrisome that the discovery of lethal chemicals in President Bush's home state was not deemed occasion for a high-profile announcement by Attorney General John Ashcroft or other officials trumpeting the arrests of Mr. Krar and his compatriots. This stands in stark contrast to the department's news media onslaughts whenever alleged operatives for Al Qaeda have been apprehended in the United States.
I hope to have some more from Levitas soon.