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The Uncomfortable Absence of Safety

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Yes, we are more likely to receive an attack from a group of foreign terrorists that involves some form of a weapon of mass destruction (nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological). Even that is not guaranteed: we still have no idea who sent the envelopes containing anthrax spores to Senators Tom Daschle, Patrick Leahy, NBC News Anchor Tom Brokaw, and several other people in 2001, but it was almost certainly a domestic, not an international source.

For this reason, I am far more worried about an American version of Guy Fawkes than I am a Hassan ibn Sabbah reborn. After all, we have seen a number of religiously motivated, political fanatics pop up in this country already. And their numbers are growing every year.

I consider the first victim of these Guy Fawkes wannabes in camouflage to be liberal talk show host Alan Berg, here in Denver, June 18, 1984. Besides the neo-Nazis and the KKK, other groups, including the so-called Christian Identity movement, the Aryan Nations, Posse Comitatus, Operation Rescue, the Army of God, the Minutemen, the Freemen and numerous other "militia" and right wing paramilitary groups, have spawned individuals like David Lewis Rice, Eric Rudolph, Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Scott Roeder, David Lane, Ray Lampley, Paul Hill, and George Sodini. Most of these individuals' body counts have been less than a dozen people, McVeigh and Nichols being the notable exceptions. But they and their kindred spirits represent not four unthinkable incidents in a single morning, but many dozens of horrible incidents over twenty-five years. An American citizen in this country is far more likely to die or be injured at the hands of these home grown terrorists in the course of their lives, than they are some jihad-minded foreigner.

Part of our problem is that the traditional American solution to a problem--just throw money at it--does not by itself work in the long term against domestic terrorists. Much of this has to do with the fact that there are none of the traditional "choke points," such as airports, harbors, chemical plants, nuclear power stations, military and naval facilities, etc., to defend against domestic terrorists, as there are with the foreign variety. Domestic terrorists do not have to make the big statement: they simply have to wear us down, bit by bit, until we collapse like a Janga puzzle with the wrong piece removed.

The economic basis that is driving these domestic terrorists, and the cause for the anger that fuels their extremist views, is that they feel they have not only been disenfranchised, but they have been thrown down to the bottom of the economic pecking order, underneath those who they once looked on as inferiors to bolster their own self worth. Certain unscrupulous politicians have taken advantage of this perception over the last thirty years with overblown issues like "welfare queens in Cadillacs," illegal immigration, and affirmative action. These right wing demagogues have done this rather than admit the real cause of the problem: corporations shutting down American manufacturing plants and shipping them to foreign countries where labor is cheap. All of this is done in the name of an impossible ideal called "free trade," but in reality its purpose is to improve the corporate profit margin. This has made us increasingly dependent on foreign sources for not only our basic industries, but also our most advanced manufacturing processes. This is not a good position to be in if we are ever again find ourselves in a major war.

If you ever talk to someone from this school of thought, or one of its closely allied belief systems, you will discover that they blame the liberals, the Democrats, the lawyers, the media, the socialists, the Marxists, the Communists, the Congress, etc. If you ask them if they have written to their Representative or Senator, signed a petition, campaigned for a cause, or even voted in the last election, their answer is usually "No." This is invariably followed by some variant of, "It won't do any good, so why bother."

This is what is referred to in the trade as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

How can we deal with the problem of domestic terrorism at its real source: the frustration of a large portion of our nation's population seeing the real American dream--a better life for their children than the one they had--denied? Further, how can we re-engage these individuals as part of our moribund political system, which is absolutely necessary for the revitalization of that system as well as the realization of the American dream for all of us?

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Richard Girard is a polymath and autodidact whose greatest desire in life is to be his generations' Thomas Paine. He is an FDR Democrat, which probably puts him with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the current political spectrum. His answer to (more...)

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