On Defeating Terrorism

This is how to do it:

Image courtesy of Enid Alvarez/New York Daily News
Image courtesy of Enid Alvarez/New York Daily News

Today, the 10th of May 2013, the spire was added to the top of One World Trade Center, bringing the building to a symbolic height of 1,776 feet and making it the tallest structure in the western hemisphere.

The New York Post reports:

The silver spire topping One World Trade Center on Friday was fully installed on the building’s roof, bringing the structure to its full, symbolic height of 1,776 feet.

Loud applause and cries of joy erupted from assembled construction workers as the spire was gently lowered and secured into place.

“It’s a pretty awesome feeling,” said project manager Juan Estevez from a temporary platform on the roof of the tower where he and other workers watched the milestone.

“It’s a culmination of a tremendous amount of team work … rebuilding the New York City skyline once again.”

And this is how not to do it:



This is Fox News talking head (and supposed token liberal) Bob Beckel cowering like – well, a pathetic coward – and arguing that all foreign student visas for muslim students in the United States should be revoked, and no new visas issued for a period of five years, in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing.

It’s not clear from Beckel’s “sober and solemn” pronouncement whether he means to target anyone from outside the US who self-identifies as a muslim, or students from predominantly muslim countries (whether they self-identify as muslims or not), or through some other method of profiling. Probably because he hadn’t thought it through before going on live television and acting the part of a terrified little girl in the face of a lone act of terrorism.

So there we go. One case study in how to face up to and defeat terrorism, and another in how to cower in the face of terror.


“Patriot” Watch

Let me whisk you on a journey to an alternate universe.

A dark, scary universe where the government bombs their own citizens in “false flag” terrorist attacks in order to create an excuse to curtail civil liberties.

A threatening world where most people are “sheeple”, unwittingly controlled by the shadowy leaders of the New World Order, and only a few brave “patriots” know the truth and stand up for their freedom.

A world where your every spare dollar should be spent on firearms and ammunition, survival seeds, water purification systems, freeze-dried food rations and your subscriptions to the few media outlets brave enough to tell you the truth.

Welcome to the world of Alex Jones, and InfoWars:


This is a typical Alex Jones show, though I could easily have shown any other – the message is always the same, and the “urgent breaking news” the same recycled expositions carried over from one show to the next. Here’s the most recent:


To watch Alex Jones at work is to enter into a world where you are under permanent siege by the forces of darkness – it is by no coincidence that the Imperial Death March from Star Wars is used to open many of the segments.

I must admit that the show is strangely addictive, and without wishing to sound condescending to all of the true believers and regular listeners, I can understand the appeal. It’s nice to think of oneself as being part of a small band of people who understand the truth, who know what is coming and who are getting prepared. It’s nice to have that feeling of camaraderie and belonging. And when startling, inexplicable events such as the recent Boston Marathon bombing suddenly explode into the news, it can be comforting to be able to neatly fit the bad things that are happening into a pre-existing narrative that some of these conspiracy theories provide.

If one can understand the appeal of these conspiracy theories to the people who believe them, one can certainly understand their appeal to the people and outlets who ply their trade in peddling them. The idea that the Boston Marathon bombing was a deliberately staged “false flag” attack isn’t a widely held opinion, but the people who do believe things like this represent a very lucrative market for certain right-wing media outlets.

Aside from making money selling subscriptions to your news outlet by telling people that you are the only one that can be trusted to deliver the truth, you can also make money selling advertising space to the people who sell survival seeds and emergency food rations, and body armour, and home security systems, and all manner of things. There is a hugely vibrant economic ecosystem at work here. It reminds me somewhat of South Park’s hilarious takedown of the Jewellery Channel Shopping – Cash4Gold store cycle:


I think Rachel Maddow sums it up the best in her analysis on her MSNBC show. She basically concludes that as long as these fringe conspiracies remain at the fringe, they do no real harm (at least not to those who don’t buy in). But the problem comes when a conspiracy becomes too lucrative and tempting, and starts to be embraced by a major political party, as has recently been happening with the InfoWars-style theories and some elements within the US Republican party.


As Maddow notes, even notable politicians such as former Congressman Ron Paul will sometimes go on the Alex Jones show; not, I believe, because they truly buy into all of the conspiracy theories themselves (you can listen to Ron Paul squirm and prevaricate as Jones tries to gain the Ron Paul seal of approval for some of his wackier ideas in the segment below), but because they know they can pick up valuable support and engagement from the audience who do buy into the whole package:


This is disappointing from Ron Paul, a man whose stance in favour of liberty I respect immensely, and whose insurgent campaign for the Republican nomination for president I strongly supported. When good people like Ron Paul flirt with outlets like InfoWars, it weakens their message and makes supporters such as myself look stupid by association.

Nonetheless, I shall continue to join Alex Jones and his merry band for a few minutes every week, for the amusement value of the whole experience. It makes perfect background noise whilst doing something more profitable. You can leave the room while he is talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order. And when you come back, he will still be talking about secret underground biological weapon labs underneath shopping malls, the perils of the Large Hadron Collider, the imminent declaration of martial law, FEMA prison camps, the dangers of water fluoridation, or the New World Order…

There is a kind of beautiful, self-contained symmetry to the whole experience.

So think of me tonight, peeking through my drawn curtains, baseball bat at the ready, drinking my filtered water and eating my freeze-dried meal, and communing with America’s real patriot community.

The Cowardice Of The American Right

It was recently confirmed that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation, has been presented with criminal charges for his actions.

Predictably, this has made many people on the American right wing very unhappy indeed.

Fox News had devoted hours of coverage post-capture to whether or not Tsarnaev should be read his miranda rights, and the talking heads are not pleased with this turn of events, which will see the suspect given access to legal advice and representation if he chooses to avail himself of it.

The ever-opportunistic Lindsey Graham has been vigorously agitating for Tsarnaev to be treated as an enemy combatant, despite being a United States citizen detained on US soil.

And Donald Trump – whom Republicans actually toyed with the idea of making their presidential nominee in 2012 – took to Twitter in high outrage, and was already dusting off his waterboard in order to torture the suspect before the criminal charges were filed.

All of these things happened, and were easily predictable, because the Republicans are the ones with the strong national security credentials, right? They are the ones that make the tough decisions required to keep us safe.

No. All of these things happened because the Republicans who espouse these views are cowards.

Cowards, cowards, cowards.

Of course, this form of cowardice has to masquerade as macho strength and firmness, but cowardice is what it is, and cowardice is what I will call it today.

There is no evidence as yet that the evil plot to kill and maim innocent civilians as they watched and ran in the Boston Marathon was part of a wider international conspiracy. It may be the case that the suspects acted under foreign direction, or received their radicalisation or training from abroad, but no evidence of this has yet been presented.

Neither is there any credible intelligence that these attacks were the first action of a broader wave of related strikes on the US mainland. Yes, there followed some suspicious mail packages in the following days, as happened after 9/11, but these are not thought to be related.

Nor does anyone yet know the motivations for the attack (not that this should matter – as with capriciously invented “hate crimes”, we should be punishing the act, not the motivation), whether it be jihadist in nature, domestic grievances or the alienation and evil act of specific individuals acting alone.

None of this is known.

And yet the Republican party – this group of people who routinely and unabashedly wrap themselves in the American flag and proclaim themselves the only real “patriots” and defenders of the constitution, would happily, eagerly, throw away some of the most fundamental rights granted to US citizens under the constitution.

It is absolutely astonishing that no one calls out the GOP for the rank hypocrisy which has emanated from the mouths of some of their members in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings.

That the same party who proclaimed “I Stand With Rand” when Senator Rand Paul mounted his laudable filibuster to register his objection to the idea of aerial drone strikes being used to kill US citizens on US soil denied those very same principles and agitated for the government to strip those same citizens of the right to a civilian trial.

These are the people, remember, who like to pump up their base with talk of second amendment remedies – because if you can’t beat Obama at the ballot box, the answer, of course, is to strap on your guns, rise up and overthrow his democratic mandate by force.

This is the party that says “you can pry my rifle from my cold dead hands” whenever anyone questions the modern applicability of, or limits to, the Second Amendment.

These are the people who take the fight to the enemy, who pre-emptively launch wars in order to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here”.

In other words, those on the neo-conservative right in America like to play the hard man, and strut around as though there were a very large, impressive appendage between their legs whenever they talk about foreign policy or national security. Right up until the moment that something happens to spook them close to their own back yard.

But when the nation suffers an attack such as that which took place last Monday in Boston, all of the tough talk disappears and these Republican armchair warriors rush to shelter behind the legs of the Big Government that they love to trash at all other times, and they urge that erstwhile-“tyrannical” government to use the full weight of its vast might, plus an added heap of unconstitutionally appropriated power, to hurt the Bad People and make them go away. Even if the Bad People are US citizens. It’s pathetic.

Weak, weak, weak.

Andrew Sullivan says it best today on his blog, and I quote in full:

The first US citizen, Jose Padilla, was captured on US soil, detained without formal charges, accused of plotting a dirty bomb, and then brutally tortured until he was a human wreck. Eventually, the dirty bomb charges were dropped in the legal process. And there was a serious question about whether, after such brutal torture and isolation, he had been psychologically brutalized by his own government to the point of insanity.

Tsarnaev, in contrast, was formally charged this morning, will be tried in a civilian court, go through due process, and face a weight of evidence against him.

This is why we elected Obama. To bring America back. To defend this country without betraying its core principles.

Hear, hear.

A Terrorist In The Family

Like everyone, I have been watching the troubling events unfolding in Boston with mounting concern and alarm.

At this early stage, there is not much to be said on this blog that cannot be easily read on Twitter, or seen on the wall-to-wall television coverage. But this video – an audio recording of the uncle of one of the Boston Marathon bombers reacting to the news of the death of his nephew, and the circumstances in which it happened – is very sobering indeed:


It appears that both men were enjoying asylum which had been granted to them by the United States of America, but at some point (either prior to or following their arrival) had become radicalised. Which can only lead us to wonder, given the apparent ease with which one can assemble a bomb using a pressure cooker and nails to maim the maximum number of people with the minimum of difficulty – how many other such angry, radicalised young people are currently living among us? And what can possibly be done to prevent a recurrence?