A Sort of Terrorism

Okay, fine, it was terrorism:

The FBI said Friday that it is investigating the San Bernardino, Calif., massacre as an act of terrorism, with officials revealing that the Pakistani woman who teamed with her husband in the slaughter went on Facebook afterward to pledge her allegiance to the leader of the Islamic State.

Investigators are trying to determine if the husband-and-wife killers acted alone – inspired, but not directed, by foreign Islamist radicals – or were involved in a more elaborate plot.

Hundreds of federal agents, in the United States and overseas, are looking for any contacts that the shooters – Chicago-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 29, and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, 27 – might have had with terrorist groups.

But they’re not finding anything. These two may have been no more than enthusiasts, for which we have no category:

For two days, FBI officials – as well as President Obama – had expressed uncertainty about whether the rampage at the Inland Regional Center was terrorism or an unusual case of workplace violence. But new evidence pointed to an ideological motivation rather than a workplace grudge. Law enforcement officials said that, after the shooting, Malik went on Facebook and pledged her allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, the militant group that says it has established a caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

She pledged her allegiance to the cause, but they seem to have never heard of her:

Investigators said the couple had managed to stay off the FBI’s radar. There is no evidence that they tried to make contact with Islamic State operatives overseas.

“This is not Jihad 101,” a senior law enforcement official said, noting that the shooters had not taken steps commonly seen in previous terrorist attacks, such as attempting to make contact with Islamic State militants or sharing the group’s propaganda. …

In Saudi Arabia, intelligence agencies are investigating Malik’s time in that country. The Saudi government has not confirmed when she lived there or whether she left with Farook when he visited for nine days in the early summer of 2014. A Saudi official said that Malik’s name does not appear on any watch list there and that no evidence has been uncovered of contacts between her and any radical individual or group during her time there.

Of course this raises the Lady Macbeth scenario – the ambitious, power-mad, bloodthirsty wife who shames her man into murdering the appropriate political enemies to gain a particular political outcome. Much has been made of how Syed Farook seemed to have been a nice young man, who met this woman on the internet, then went and met her for real in Saudi Arabia, then brought her here and married her here, and then suddenly changed into a brooding and mysterious fellow. She might have been whispering murderous thoughts in his ear – not what he expected at all – thoughts that turned his own thoughts murderous. She might have been an ISIS plant, groomed by ISIS to do just that – a sleeper agent of sorts. Syed Farook might have been trapped. Was he man enough to do what must be done? Is this a dagger I see before me?

That’s a bit fanciful, but it is a way to fill in the gaps when there’s nothing to work with and has been discussed. Digby (Heather Parton) transcribes a bit of that discussion on MSNBC, starting with Richard Engle:

Tashfeen Malik’s international background, she had spent most of her life in Saudi Arabia from a Pakistani family, moved to Saudi Arabia when she was about two years old, And then about five or six years ago went back to Pakistan to study to become a pharmacist and then met her husband and moved to the United States with him and went through all the security checks required to get that fiancé visa which is a rigorous process.

So there is not any indication that this is a sleeper cell – that this someone who was planted by ISIS, that was years in the making. More likely it was someone in the United States, unhappy with the way they were living, unhappy with the way they were seen, became radicalized there and founded, was part of a cell in the United States.

That’s actually worse:

This is exactly the scenario that intelligence and law enforcement have been warning about. And they’ve warned specifically that the United States has a unique danger because of the easy access to weapons to firearms. It’s not like a country where it’s hard to get guns to carry out an attack as devastating as this one on their own.

Still, this is not Jihad 101:

It is still, at the end of the day, the work of amateurs. If you compare this to Paris there is an enormous difference. In Paris you had teams of skilled assassins who were operating with a coordinated plan with a mastermind, with ISIS clearly involved from the get-go, and these were trained killers who had a plan and operated according to plan. This couple didn’t seem to know what they were doing. They had a bomb that didn’t go off. They left most of their ammunition at home. They attacked one target and were perhaps going to another target but if you compare it to Paris it was clearly a much less professional kind of operation.

Kate Snow, the host that hour, still wanted everyone to worry:

Just to check one other thing there are reports that ISIS, now that this Facebook post has come out that perhaps an ISIS supportive media outlet is claiming at least some responsibility, not responsibility but claiming “yes, that was one of ours.”

Engle was having none of that:

Not exactly – and it’s a clear distinction. After Paris, moments after Paris, ISIS starts claiming responsibility. “We did it. That was out operation.” And then after a few days, it seems like every ISIS member in Raqqa, the ISIS capital in Syria, who could speak French put out a video and they were bragging about it and threatening and putting out videos celebrating this.

This case, ISIS has been very far behind. They’ve been following media reports. Initially the reports from ISIS supporters talked about three attackers, because if you’ll remember very early when this news broke there was talk about three shooters and now they are saying two and that they’re “one of us” – so ISIS supporters are just saying this seems to be the act of “ISIS supporters” – which has also been reported in the news media – so it could be just circular reporting.

There’s a lot of that going around, and Digby adds this:

Everyone is getting very, very excited over the idea that this was some kind of Manchurian candidate scenario with Tashfeen Malik groomed for years to marry an American Muslim so she could come into the US, seduce her husband into becoming a radical and carry out a terrorist attack. Lindsey Graham pretty much said so on television this morning.

But ask yourself an important question: if this was a sophisticated plot, years in the making, does targeting a Christmas party full of county bureaucrats in San Bernardino really make a lot of sense? If this “sleeper” had been trained and groomed for this job, you’d think she would have come up with something with a little bit more political impact.

No, this is probably exactly what Engle says, an amateur pair of Lone Wolf killers in a land where they can easily get their hands on as much firepower as they want who carried out their own little jihad. It’s no less devastating to the victims of their insanity, of course. But everyone needs to take a breath and recognize that this is likely no different than all the other mass shootings we’ve had this year.

Everyone may need to take a deep breath, but that’s not going to happen. Salon’s Sophia Tesfaye points to a new video release from the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre:

“The age of terror”: NRA’s new fearmongering ad campaign equates American exceptionalism to more guns …

The ninth installment in the NRA’s “Freedom’s Safest Place” campaign features the group’s leader, Wayne LaPierre and is titled, “Demons at Our Door.” The ad was released just days after 56-year-old Robert Dear entered a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood and shot 12 people, killing three, and days before this latest shooting rampage in San Bernardino. In it, La Pierre makes specific reference to “the age of terror” and goes on to fear-monger over the threat of terror and violence to promote the NRA. The ad is currently running prominently on Fox News.

“Innocents like us,” LaPierre says, addressing his NRA members directly to camera, “will continue to be slaughtered in concert halls, sports stadiums, restaurants and airplanes.”

“They will come to where we worship,” LaPierre warns as ominous music waves over blurred images of American everyday life, “where we educate and where we live.”

“But when evil knocks on our doors, Americans have a power no other people on the planet share,” LaPierre proudly proclaims, touting the Second Amendment. “Let fate decide if mercy is offered to the demons at our door.”

Yep. We are a nation of vigilantes. Forget the police and the courts, and the law, and forget the FBI and Obama. We all have guns, or should have – that’s our unique American right. We can take care of this – no muss, no fuss.

That seems anarchic – just shoot who scares you – but Wayne LaPierre senses what’s going on out there, as this New York Times story shows:

As the long roll call of mass shootings added a prosaic holiday party in San Bernardino, Calif., to its list, a wide expanse of America’s populace finds itself engulfed in a collective fear, a fear tinged with confusion and exasperation and a broad brew of emotions. The fear of the ordinary. Going to work. Eating a meal in a restaurant. Sending children to school. Watching a movie.

Wendy Malloy, 49, who lives in Tampa, Fla., said she now worried about being caught in an attack on a daily basis, just doing what anyone does. “When my son gets out of the car in the morning and walks into his high school,” she said. “When I drop him at his part-time job at a supermarket. When we go to the movies, concerts and festivals. When I walk into my office. It is a constant, grinding anxiety. And it gets louder every single day.”

There’s a lot of that going around:

In the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, coming close on the heels of the Colorado killings, The New York Times invited people to respond online about their fear of a mass shooting. More than 5,000 wrote in. In addition, many others were interviewed on Thursday around the country: teachers and students and office workers, even some Army veterans who confided that they felt safer in war zones than on the streets of the United States.

People spoke of being spooked by gestures once ignored as utterly unremarkable. As one young woman from Massachusetts put it: “The guy in the corner always looking at his watch, or the woman reaching into her bag too quickly.”

We have learned:

People are able to recite with precision how often they think about a mass shooting touching them. Every day. Twice a week. Up to four times a day. Every other day. Every two weeks. Every time they’re in a crowded space. Whenever her teenagers are out. Every time she walks into her office and back to the parking garage. Every day. Every day. Every day.

For a 16-year-old in Berkeley, it is “almost constantly.”

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog finds this curious:

To some extent, I understand the fear. On the other hand, I was here in New York for 9/11 and anthrax, not to mention the crack years a decade or so earlier. I got here in the bad old 1970s, and I’d grown up in Boston, which actually had a higher per-capita murder rate at the time. Part of me thinks, “You now know that you could theoretically be killed at any moment?”

Welcome to my world. But I’m white, and I was always able to live in neighborhoods that, if not exactly safe, weren’t the epicenters of fear. It wasn’t that bad.

I don’t know what to say about this. Yes, folks, you could draw the worst hand. This could happen to you. On the other hand, the odds are still in your favor. So live your lives.

That’s not going to happen now:

Conservatives have mastered the art of stoking fear and offering right-wing solidarity, or something similar, as the bulwark against the fear that’s stoked. Want to be protected against marauding urban superpredators or undocumented Mexican rapists or terroristic Syrian toddlers with Ebola? Vote Reagan. Vote Trump. Buy gold. Stockpile dried food. And surround yourself with as many guns and rounds of ammo as you can possibly afford.

Now, if you keep the guns and ammo flowing the way the NRA insists we must, evildoers can eagerly join the arms race – a group that now clearly includes homegrown terrorists. I keep being told on Twitter that the problem in San Bernardino wasn’t guns, it was terrorism. Actually – as any idiot can see – it was both.

But fear is the national mood. The NRA ad says, “I feel your fear” – and adds that the gun demimonde is “freedom’s safest place.” In San Bernardino and Colorado Springs, it was terrorism’s safest place, but never mind.

Of course there’s this:

The New York Daily News is calling the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre a “terrorist” on its front page on Friday. The cover features the word “TERRORIST” in large letters as well as images of the gunmen in other recent mass killings, including Syed Farook, one of the two San Bernardino shooters.

“Syed Farook joins long list of murderous psychos enabled by the NRA’s sick gun jihad against America in the name of profit,” the cover reads.

The Daily News says it has offered LaPierre a chance to respond, but he has so far refused.

These folks have always defined “terrorist” in an unusual way:

The Daily News has been going after LaPierre for years, calling him the “Craziest Man on Earth” on a front page published shortly after the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children and six adults at a Connecticut elementary school.

And just 10 days before the latest mass shooting, the Daily News called him “Jihadi Wayne” in a cover story about the NRA’s efforts to block gun control measures.

The latest front page comes just a day after the Daily News went after lawmakers who called for prayers after Wednesday’s mass shooting, in which 14 people were killed and 21 others wounded. “God isn’t fixing this,” the paper’s front page said.

So, who is terrorizing who? Maybe it is best to just live your life, but this San Bernardino thing has spooked everyone. Slate’s Will Saletan says there’s a good reason for that:

This is where terrorism is going. In an age of instantaneous, decentralized global communication, it’s often difficult to ship supplies or people. But it’s easy to transmit ideas. Governments can inspect cargo, prohibit migrants, and build Trump-like walls along their borders, but they can’t stop the flow of ideas. In the West, politicians often say this as a boast, as though the only irrepressible ideas are good ones. But killing infidels is just another message you can spread with a phone and an app. We can monitor networks of terrorists or extremists. But when the network never contacts the killer – when the only connection between them is a susceptible mind hearing a worldwide plea – how can we find and stop those who are about to strike?

San Bernardino illustrates the problem. To get a visa to the United States, Malik – who reportedly pledged her allegiance to ISIS in a Facebook post during Wednesday’s attack – had to go through an in-person interview, biometrics, and checks against terrorist watch lists. The review included her workplaces, travel history, and family. The process is supposed to be especially rigorous for people from extremist-infested countries such as Pakistan, where she was born. Then, to get a green card, she had to go through additional national security background checks using data from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. She passed both screenings, most recently in July. Now Pakistanis are trying to blame Saudi Arabia for radicalizing her while the Saudis claim to have no information linking her to militants.

And there’s her husband:

Farook was born in Chicago and grew up in California. Since the attack, investigators have discovered that he had contacts with people “associated” with the Nusra Front (a Syrian al-Qaida affiliate) and Somalia’s al-Shabab. But investigators anonymously concede that all of these contacts are years old, “not substantial” (for example, liking a Facebook page), and not with anyone of “significant investigative concern.” As of Friday night, no one has found a connection to ISIS. The bottom line, according to FBI Director James Comey, is that “we have no indication that these killers … are part of a network.”

And there’s not much we can do:

You can monitor mosques, and we do. According to the Wall Street Journal, Farook’s mosque “had established regular contact with law enforcement.” But nobody picked up any warning signs from him. The mosque’s director says Farook never conveyed anger about his job or about politics. Malik didn’t even attend mosque regularly. She was so quiet that even her in-laws say they didn’t really know her.

You can tell people, “If you see something, say something.” But at Farook’s office, aside from the beard he grew after returning from a short trip to Saudi Arabia, there wasn’t much to see. His colleagues thought he got along well with them. Just two weeks before the attack – presumably, long after he had begun to stockpile ammunition and pipe bombs – he reportedly tried to explain, during an office conversation, that Islam was a peaceful religion.

There was, really, nothing to see:

From Farook’s posts online, you’d never have guessed he was radical. He talked about Michael Jordan, vintage cars, and enjoying restaurants and hikes. In dating profiles, he called himself “very liberal” (though also “religious but modern”) and said he was open to a relationship with a non-Muslim. Farook’s brother, whose name is almost identical, served four years in the Navy.

At most, you might have learned that Farook was into guns. According to one of his online profiles, he liked to “just hang out in [the] backyard doing target practice.” And if you’d had access to his purchase records, you might have figured out that some of the stuff he was buying could be used to make pipe bombs.

But you might not have figured that out, so the original problem remains:

If you can’t stop ideas from crossing borders – if you can’t surveil every node of every network, peer into every soul, and know in advance who’s becoming radicalized – then you have to look for some other, more material transaction to monitor or control. The most obvious such transaction is the acquisition of weaponry. In the ideal world of the National Rifle Association – a world in which guns are freely available and our sole method of regulating their use is through mental health treatment, or sometimes through criminal background checks – anyone with a clean record can buy all the guns and ammo he wants, without raising any alarm – including Syed Farook. …

But if you’re not willing to pursue some kind of gun registration or gun control, then you’re left with the psychology of the shooter. And what San Bernardino just demonstrated, in the grisliest way, is that we’re even less capable of tracking psychology than we are of tracking guns.

So if you want to blame radical Islam, go right ahead. And tell us how you’d monitor the flow of radical Islam from Syria to California. And if you can’t answer that question, then ask yourself whether you love liberty so much that you’re willing to defend the right of everyone, including aspiring jihadists, to stockpile and bear unregistered arms.

Okay, Wayne LaPierre really is the terrorist here – or at least he and his NRA enable amateur unaffiliated terrorists to operate here, fully-armed, and then encourage us, fully armed, to terrorize them right back, no matter what the law says about how you’re not allowed to simply shoot anyone who scares you. There are all sorts of terrorists. Lady Macbeth of San Bernardino was only one of them. Maybe the label isn’t even useful any longer.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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