Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thoughts on Domestic Terrorism

Eiffel Tower, Paris, France
City Hall, Brussels, Belgium

In our American history, only twice before have so many citizens been murdered at a single time -- first, at Wounded Knee, where 150-300 Native Americans were gunned down by the U.S. Army; and then of course on 9/11, when even more of our fellow citizens were killed by terrorists recruited to Al-Qaeda.  This is not to say that there have not been other episodes of domestic terrorism since 2001.  Since early 2015 alone, we’ve witnessed such acts in Charleston, Chattanooga, Merced, Colorado Springs, San Bernardino, Philadelphia and Columbus.  

I had a remarkable briefing on terrorism last week, before the Orlando nightclub murders took place.   Since then, as a more detailed picture of the terrorist is painted, I marvel at how closely the profile as described of a domestic terrorist align.


Photo courtesy CNN.
Research indicates that the average age of what are primarily young men is in the 20s.  The terrorist is usually already known by law enforcement; and has often tried to join either the military or a police department.  Most are converts to Islam, a conversion made easier by ISIS' presentations on the web and the graphic violence embedded in them.

Though there are subtle differences with this terrorist, in that he was a Muslim and apparently attracted to others of the same sex -- grounds in Mideastern countries for death by stoning, being dropped from a great height, or beheading -- there are enough similarities to see how sophisticated ISIS has become at appealing to alienated, ostracized and perhaps bullied, lone wolves.

At this time, we have no civil society mechanism to identify in advance and take care of such individuals in something like a diversionary program.  It is well worth thinking about what such a program would include if we could identify them before they caused such enormous damage to our society -- not just to the families and friends, but to our anxiety levels as well.  It is worthwhile for members of the community to come forward to identify dangerous citizens before they act -- this is evidently one of the hardest communications for law enforcement whether working with, say, a militia group, or a religious group.  We still have strong familial and community  loyalties and notions of "tattle tale" that get in our way, no matter how Americanized we have become.

It is inappropriate to blame the FBI for having investigated but released the murderer for lack of "reasonable cause."   In fact, as I have just explained to a good friend from France, it is that very definition of reasonable cause that protects all of us from unreasonable encroachments by law enforcement.

I won't spend a lot of time here on the topic of gun control, except to note that it is time for Congress to stand up to the NRA and pass legislation that prohibits the sale of assault weapons, to authorize background checks and forbids sales of weapons to those on the U.S. watch list.

My heart goes out to the LGBT community, the direct target of these and other such acts of late.  Just a year ago, the community won a legal battle to marry.  To have such violence and hatred spewed in this particular way, in a club that was considered a safe space, is especially wrenching.  We are better than this.

Please practice situational awareness as you go about your life, especially in public places.