Thursday, April 18, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 7

The Boston Marathon bombings

Okay. Boston.

I won't bother you with the details, I'm sure you've heard them over and over. Two bombs 100 yards and 10 seconds apart; as of Wednesday morning, three dead, 183 hospitalized, 17 of them in critical condition.

The first and most important thing we have to keep in mind right now after our concern for and sympathies to the dead and injured and their families and friends, is that we do not know who did this or why. As of the time I'm doing this, authorities are saying there have been no arrests and there are no suspects.

We have some idea how it was done: The bombs were fashioned out of simple metal containers, at least one of them an ordinary kitchen pressure cooker. One of them was packed with nails and the other with BBs or ball bearings. They were hidden in black nylon duffel bags or backpacks and left on the ground. They were probably triggered remotely.

The FBI said that debris and evidence were found inside stores and even along the rooftops of buildings in the area, which, officials said, gives you some sense of the power of the blasts.

So that's how. But again, we don't know who or why. There is no obvious target there, no obvious purpose except to kill people.  Late Tuesday afternoon, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said "The range of suspects and motives remains wide open." In fact, officials have been admirably cautious, admirably careful to not hint about what they do not know.

In fact, we don't even know if technically, in legal terms, this would be called an act of terrorism. It sure feels like one, and everybody and their relatives are calling it one, and I'm going to call it one, but the US criminal code defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets." That is, under criminal law, to be terrorism it has to have a political motive. Reasonably, investigators say that when there are multiple bombs, they treat it as terrorism until they know otherwise. But the point right now is that we don't know the motive here, much less who is responsible.

But that, of course, did not prevent the pundits and politicos from engaging in what one website accurately called the long-standing American tradition of groundless political speculation.

On MSNBC, for example, Chris Matthews suggested a tie-in to the fact that it was April 15, tax day, suggesting a right-wing, anti-government motive. And Charles Pierce of "Esquire" magazine wrote that "nobody knows anything yet" but that people should consider the possibility it was right-wing terrorists.

But to what should have been no one's surprise, it was the right wing that jumped all over this with presumptions and prejudices blazing. For them, it was Muslims, first, last, and always.

Rupert Murdoch's scandal sheet the New York Post (and to show you how old I am, I remember wen the New York Post was a reputable newspaper) reported - falsely - that a Saudi national was being held under guard at a hospital. The report was eagerly seconded by Fox News - which is also owned by Murdoch. They were undeterred by the fact that the Boston police repeatedly denied that any suspect is in custody or under guard.

So the Daily Caller's White House correspondent, Neil Munro, ran with the Post story and illustrated it with a photo montage of the 9/11 hijackers.

Meanwhile, anti-Islam blogger Pam Gellar repeatedly referred to the Boston bombings as a "jihad."

WorldNutDaily columnist and Fox News commentator Erik Rush responded to the news of the bombings by tweeting "Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let's bring more Saudis in without screening them!" Challenged by someone who asked if he was already blaming Muslims, he replied "Yes, they're evil. Let's kill them all." He later lamely claimed he was being sarcastic, a claim I doubt many people believed.

Bryan Fischer of the right-wing hate group The American Family Association, tweeted in reference to the Post story “Anybody want to rethink Muslim immigration?”

In fact, for them it had to be Muslims - no other possibility was to be allowed. When a CNN analyst was asked to speculate on who might be responsible, he said it would depend on what kind of bomb it was. If it was this kind, he said, it probably was al-Qaeda or some offshoot. If it was this other kind, it may have been some domestic right-wing group. He was slammed by both NewsBusters and, a pair of right-wing outfits that pretend to be about "news," for even mentioning an alternative to the source being Muslim terrorists.

But even beyond the knee-jerk anti-Muslim bigotry of the right wing was Alex Jones, a man who gives "wacko" a bad name, who said the bombings "stink to high heaven" of a false flag operation - that is, one carried out by the government to justify a further erosion of civil liberties. Unhappily, he was joined in that particular paranoia by former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, someone I used to respect before she went all flaky on us, who saw the attack as an inside job by Boston police.

As for me, I have to say that I don't know who did it or why - but I do have a hope. I hope this was a right-wing attack.

I have two reasons for that: One, if it was a right-wing attack we won't go invade or bomb some innocent country which had nothing to do with it, as we did in Iraq. And two, right-wing terrorism just does not get used to launch attacks on civil liberties and privacy the way foreign terrorism does.

So for the sake both of the lives of people in other countries and our own liberties, I hope this proves to be of right wing origin.

And that is a real possibility. There has been no shortage of right-wing terrorism in US in the past few decades, and that's not even counting the bombings of abortion clinics and murder of doctors and nurses, including by serial bomber Eric Rudolph - and yes, that is terrorism because it has the political purpose of trying to put an end to abortion. There is much beyond that.

Figure this: You of course know about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But while I bet you do recall the failed so-called "underwear bomber" in 2009 and the failed Times Square bombing in 2010, both of which were tied to Muslim extremism, do you recall ever hearing about the 1997 plot by members of the Ku Klux Klan to blow up a Texas oil refinery, a plot that could have killed up to 30,000 people in the immediate vicinity?

Have you ever heard of William Krar? In 2002 he and two others were arrested in a storeroom in Tyler, Texas - along with 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipebombs and briefcases that could be detonated by remote control, and 800 grams of almost pure sodium cyanide packed in an ammunition canister next to a variety of acids and bombmaking formulas. Mixed with the appropriate acid, such a cyanide bomb could kill everyone in a 30,000 square foot building. Have you even heard of him?

Look at the picture to the right. What does it suggest to you? Yes, it's a black nylon backpack. The same sort of backpack that might have been used in Boston. But this one didn't come from Boston, it came from Spokane, Washington and it's an FBI photo of a bomb that was packed with lead weights soaked in rat poison and rigged with a remote detonator that was placed on a bench along the route of a Martin Luther King Day parade in January of 2010. FBI officials called it the most destructive device they had ever seen. Kevin Harpham, a white supremacist neo-Nazi, pleaded guilty to placing the bomb. Do you remember him?

Have you even heard of the nearly 40 major conspiracies involving right-wing domestic terrorism that have been uncovered since the Oklahoma City bombing?

So has there been right-wing terrorism in this country? Absolutely yes despite the lying attempts of the right-wing to deny it and suppress mention of it. So could Boston have been right-wing terrorism? Yes, absolutely.

Was it?

We don't know.

We don't know. And I don't know. But I will tell you what I think, because far be it from me to not take part in that long-standing tradition of political speculation. I admit that what I think may be affected by what I said before that I hope. And what I think is open to revision as new information comes in. But this is what I think as of the time I'm doing this and I emphasize the word think, although I do have some logic for it.

I think that at the end of the day this will turn out to have been a lone-wolf attack, involving just one or two or three people, committing an act of right-wing terrorism. The main argument for it to have been foreign terrorism is the use of pressure cookers in the bombs. Such devices have been used in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, and one of the three devices used in the failed Times Square bombing used a pressure cooker.

The problem is, since 2010 the knowledge of how to make such bombs has been promoted and spread by al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen and so is readily found online by anyone who wants to search it out. If you want to know how to make such a bomb you can find out.

On the other hand, Muslim extremists have never been shy about claiming responsibility for their bombs, which is to be expected: They are doing it for a political reason and an attack can hardly advance a political cause if no one knows what the cause is. In fact, at times there have been competing claims of responsibility and even at least one case - the bombings in Spain in 2004  - when an Arab Muslim group claimed responsibility even though it had nothing to do with it.

In this case, the lack of a claim of responsibility may be telling - especially when the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attempted Times Square bombing, has denied any part in the Boston Marathon attack. So again, I don't know - but that is what I think.

And I think, or more exactly I've been thinking about, something else: At a moment like this, in an event like this, it's typical, it's normal, it's natural, to reflect on the darkness of the human soul, on our capacity for evil. It’s true that we humans are capable of great evil and great destructiveness and that it’s possible that in some of the things we do we - any of us - may be impelled by greed or selfishness or fear or ignorance or bigotry or whatever to a degree of which we are unaware, to a degree which we refuse to face.

But for that very reason it's at a moment like this that we also need to remind ourselves that we are also capable of soaring achievement, of glorious creativity, of astonishing self-sacrifice. We can hate - but we also can love. We can be ignorant and narrow-minded and bigoted - but we also can learn. We can tie ourselves to the muck and mud - be we also can stretch out for the starlight.

We are - all of us - all a mixture of the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the just and the cruel. We are none of us all good or all bad. With the exception of that - happily tiny - handful of people whose personal demons or mental malfunctions have left them unable either to recognize or to care about their own evil, we are all a mixture, a balance, a sometimes uneasy coalition of dark urges hidden under and controlled by conscience.

So we have to, we must, resist the easy, the facile, the false, division of humanity into angels and demons. The issue is not who is an angel and who is a demon, because we are none of us angels. We are none of us demons. We are all angels; we are all demons; we, all of us, are both and neither and we are capable at a given time of being either. So the job for us as individuals is not to say "Here are the angels and there are the demons," but rather to be aware day to day, moment to moment, which side, right at that second, right at that moment, which side of the line we are on.


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