Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LTG 03-31-10: NOW can we call them terrorists?

Earlier this week, several members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan were arrested for conspiring to kill police officers. According to prosecutors, the group planned to make a fake 911 call to lure police officers into an ambush and then use bombs to attack the funerals of the officers slain in the original ambush.

What’s even more chilling is the reasons attributed for these attacks. According to federal authorities, the militia hoped their attacks would spark others to rise up and violently oppose the government. The Hutaree militia (whose name is supposed to mean “Christian warrior”) believed that they were preparing for the Biblical end-times and the rise of the Antichrist in the form of the United States government. Therefore, they believed they were compelled by God to use violence against agents of the Antichrist and that any innocent persons harmed along the way were unfortunate collateral damage to their holy mission.

Sound at all familiar? Who needs a trip to Baghdad or Kabul when you can just head to rural Michigan?

Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason why the Hutaree story sounds familiar. It wasn’t that long ago that an anti-government believer flew a plane into a building in Texas. And it wasn’t that long before the plane attack that an anti-abortionist walked into a church and assassinated a doctor. And it wasn’t that long before the assassination that soldiers were shot by a man violently opposed to the war in Iraq. And it wasn’t that long before the shooting of the soldiers …

OK, you get my point. There’s plenty of reason for concern about the rising tide of politically-motivated violence in this country. This is particularly true if you remember back to the mid-1990s, when the militia movements first gained notoriety. A lot of what you heard back then – the government is evil, your freedoms are being taken away, the President is a traitor, good citizens should arm themselves and resist – is being echoed in the Tea Party rallies of today. Whether the current anti-government rhetoric will culminate as the rhetoric in the 1990s did – with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the death of 168 people – remains to be seen.

But there’s a broader legal issue that has received little attention. After the September 11 attack on this country, we were told by then-President George Bush that the fight against terrorism was a new kind of war, requiring new kinds of tactics. Those tactics, as it turned out, involved indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, the use of torture, the elimination of habeas corpus, and ultimately the granting of the President with dictatorial powers in the name of “keeping us safe.”

That was a pretty easy sell to a scared nation being told about mushroom clouds hanging over its’ cities. And let’s be honest, it was also made easier when those on the wrong end of all that unchecked Presidential power were named Mohammed or Ali instead of David or Joe.

So, why haven’t we called the Hutaree militia a terrorist cell? The plan certainly fits every description of a terrorist plot I can think of. But there’s no mention of terrorism in the indictment filed against the militia members. There’s been no mention of terrorism in the President’s statements about the attack. Ironically enough, the Obama administration offered support to the people of Moscow who were victims of domestic terrorism in the subway bombings, but no references to the domestic terrorist plot broken up by law enforcement.

Why is this important? Because it exposes the lie told to us for years that constitutional rights have to be surrendered to fight terrorism. The Hutaree militia plot was foiled not by the PATRIOT act, but by good law enforcement. They’re being held in jail, not in a super-secret military prison outside of the country, and they haven’t broken out and wreaked havoc on the American countryside like we’ve been told Guantanamo detainees would if we put them in a SuperMax prison.

Apparently, that means the Republicans believe that foreign-born terrorists are way more dangerous than domestic terrorists. Isn’t that a touch unpatriotic?

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. “Declaring war” against an abstract concept like terrorism, or crime, or littering, is fine as a metaphor but terrible as a legal rationale. If we’re serious about declaring actual war against terrorists, then we’d be renditioning the Hutaree militia members to Guantanamo and torturing them.

We’re not. Our refusal to accept actions like the Hutaree plot as terrorism is further evidence that, at some level, we understand that treating the “war on terror” as an actual war and suspending our constitutional freedoms for the duration puts us into the perpetual war that George Orwell warned us about in “1984.”


Anonymous said...

Patrick, I am more than surprised that you are trying to link the Tea Party movement with these pseudo-Christian whackjobs and the Oklahoma City bombers.

In addition, I am not sure that either the Dallas incident or this incident techncially qualify as terrorism, as neither act or plot had the purpose of "instilling terror in the public at large", which is roughly the definition of terrorism. (I guess that I could go grab a dictionary, to get the actual definition.) Indeed, the purpose of this Michigan group was to have the people rise up against the government and overthrow it, not scare the heck out of the people. So, they were not terrorists but really, really misguided wannabe revolutionaries.

Still, I enjoy reading your thoughts on these issues.

Joe Fnorki

Montana said...

I loved that they requested a "Public Defender" and the undercover FBI agent wil not help them. The simpleton Tea baggers keep missing the point. These are the same whiners that were crying when the McCain/Bailin ticket lost. Now that their yelling (because they are haters not debaters) did not stop health care from passing, they are crying again. They think they can scare, intimidate and force others to go along with them by comments like “This time we came unarmed”, let me tell you something they are not the only ones who have guns and not all ex-military join the fringe militia crazies who don’t pay taxes and run around in the parks playing commando, the majority understand that the world is more complicated and grey then the black and white that these simpleton make it out to be and that my friend is the point. So it’s only fitting that their leaders are Sarah Bailin, Victoria Jackson, Michele Bachmann and their turn coat Glenn. So if you are bothered that there are some misconceptions of your group, well then I think you need to be more careful who you invite to give you speeches.