The president lit the fuse

(Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
(Mike Luckovich, Atlanta Journal Constitution)

 

Since Monday a series of  pipe bombs have been mailed or delivered to a particular group of Democratic and liberal political figures.

To former President Barack Obama’s office in Washington, D.C., to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s home in New York, to billionaire liberal philanthropist George Soros at his home in New York, to U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), intercepted at a congressional mail facility, and to former CIA Director John Brennan, addressed to him at the studios of CNN. A fifth bomb was sent to former Attorney General Eric Holder but was misaddressed. It was returned to the office of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.).

Based on what information has been released to the public, all of the bombs appear to share the same design and packaging, suggesting they are all the work of a single group or individual. The recipient list and the political climate in America strongly suggests these attacks amount domestic terrorism. As extremism expert JJ MacNab notes:

But more importantly, all of the targets share something else in common. Each has been critical of the current administration, and each has been repeatedly and publicly attacked by President Donald Trump, either at his rallies, or via Twitter, or both.

Every.

Last.

One.

As counterterrorism expert Mubin Shaikh remarked on Twitter earlier today, “sending mail bombs to coerce or kill politicians is 100% the definition of terrorism.” He’s absolutely right. As I’ve written before, President Trump counts among the ranks of his supporters individuals and groups who have expressed their willingness to take up arms against their fellow Americans. He has refused to condemn extremist violence perpetrated by those whose approval he courts.

Inciting violence against his critics was a regular feature of Trump’s campaign rallies, one his followers all too often acted upon. Here’s a handy compilation if you need a reminder:

Now it seems more than likely that the president’s own rhetoric has once again lit the fuse.

Those Kansas terrorists? Convicted

Somali immigrants, like these women at community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)
Somali immigrants, like these women at a community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)

 

Three members of a Kansas terrorist cell have been convicted of plotting to carry out a car bomb attack on an apartment complex in the small town of Garden City.

You remember these guys — angry, middle-aged, white, Christian, men — and the Somali immigrants who were their intended targets:

The Kansas men called themselves “Crusaders: who planned to create a “bloodbath” by detonating vehicles laden with bombs the day after the November 2016 election. Day [an FBI informant] testified that [defendant] Stein called the Somalis “cockroaches.”

It’s the rare circumstance when I would utter praise for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but in his comments on this case he actually gets it right:

The defendants in this case acted with clear premeditation in an attempt to kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin. That’s not just illegal — it’s immoral and unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it. Today’s verdict is a significant victory against domestic terrorism and hate crimes.

The Kansas plotters followed an all-too-familiar trajectory of radicalization in these divisive times:

Evidence presented in the trial painted a picture of an all-American brand of homegrown terrorism: angry white men radicalized by Islamophobic memes and fake online news articles whose path to violent extremism was accelerated by a divisive election cycle and a candidate who sounded like them.

The jury’s verdict was unanimous. And now these three terrorists, who described Somalis as insects that had to be exterminated because “they keep coming back,” face life imprisonment. Here’s hoping they get it.

Are the Austin bombings terrorism?

FBI agents at the scene of last night's bombing. (AP)
FBI agents at the scene of last night’s bombing. (AP)

 

Four bombs have now gone off in Austin, Tx, over the last 17 days. The most recent was last night, a bomb triggered by a tripwire that left two men injured.

According to the FBI, this “changes things,” representing a significant step up in the sophistication of the device compared to the earlier bombs which left two African-American men dead and a hispanic woman critically injured. All four devices share similarities which suggest they are the work of the same bomb maker.

The first three bombs were all left at residences, disguised as delivered packages. All detonated as the victims were opening or handling them. The fourth bomb was left on a roadside in a different area of the city.

Because the first two victims were black, a 39-year-old construction worker and a 17-year-old high school student, both related to prominent members of Austin’s African-American community, the attacks have raised suspicion that they are racially motivated. The area where the first three bombs went off were neighborhoods east of I-35, the six-lane highway which divides the affluent and predominantly white west side of the city from where black and hispanic residents have historically lived on the east side.

The fourth bomb, however, breaks from that pattern. It was planted in the city’s southwest. The two men injured in the blast are both white.

So where does that leave us? Can we describe these as acts of terrorism?

Four bombs have now gone off, all apparently the work of the same individual or group of individuals. The attacks have left the city on edge, with police urging the public to be alert for suspicious packages. The neighborhood where the fourth bomb went off was placed on lockdown until this afternoon, with residents kept in their homes and school buses ordered to stay away. The identities of the first three victims suggest a possible motivation.

That last is the key to understanding whether or not what is happening in Austin constitutes terrorism or something else. Definitions of terrorism typically focus on several key elements: threat or use of violence; intention to create fear in an audience beyond the immediate victims of an attack; all in the service or pursuit of some political/social/religious motivation or objective.

So that’s what we still need to know about the Austin attacks. Until we find some further evidence of common ideological motivation connecting the bombings, we will have to reserve judgment.

Another typical American terrorist

Accused terrorist Michael Hari (Chicago Tribune photo)
Accused terrorist Michael Hari (Chicago Tribune photo)

 

Last August, a mosque in Minnesota was bombed. Yesterday, three men from a rural central Illinois town were charged with carrying out the attack, which, according to the FBI, was intended to frighten Muslims in to fleeing the United States.

This, my friends, is the very definition of terrorism:

[T]he threatened or actual use of illegal force and violence by a non-state actor to attain a political, economic, religious, or social goal through fear, coercion, or intimidation.

The three men charged, Michael Hari, Joe Morris, and Michael McWhorter, all come from the same tiny town of Clarence, Ill., with a population of fewer than 100. They are also suspected of carrying out a failed bombing attack on an Illinois abortion clinic.

Hari, a former sheriff’s deputy who is the suspected “mastermind” of the bombings, was featured in the Chicago Tribune last spring after the global security firm he founded, Crisis Resolution Security Services, submitted a $10 billion bid to build President Donald Trump’s promised wall on the US-Mexico border. He described his proposed border wall this way:

We would look at the wall as not just a physical barrier to immigration but also as a symbol of the American determination to defend our culture, our language, our heritage, from any outsiders.

Less than six months later, according to the FBI, Hari and his companions decided to defend American culture, language, and heritage not with a wall, but with pipe bombs.

I have written it over, and over, and over again in this space: The typical face of terrorism in America belongs to an angry white man.