Remember back in July of 2007 when a U.S. Attorney, the FBI and the NYPD trumpeted the capture of four men they claimed had been trying to engineer "one of the most chilling plots imaginable" in New York City: the detonation of fuel lines under JFK airport? Chances are you do, the same way you likely remember every other self-congratulatory press conference held over the past several years in which the government announced with supposedly appropriate bombast that it had thwarted an imminent terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Thing is, though, quite a few of these plots -- to say nothing of the more than a dozen times that the terror alert level was raised based on nebulous information and with politically suspicious timing -- turned out to be a lot of horseshit. It's not that the actions of some truly dangerous people weren't uncovered; it's that there were more than a few times that the would-be terrorists hyped as being directly related to al-Qaeda turned out to be more like the Keystone Kops, their plans for mass destruction nothing more than the product of a lot of bravado and maybe a little too much to drink.
The point, though, is that you always heard about it -- shouted far and wide across the media landscape -- when the United States had supposedly foiled a terrorist attack from outsiders. We're always eager as hell to call someone not from this country who desires to attack us and spread fear and chaos a terrorist -- as well we should. What we're not as eager to do is call someone from within this country -- like, say, a far-right, white Christian militia member who believes the government is evil -- a terrorist even if he or she hopes to accomplish the same goal.
Yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that nine members of an ultra-right Christian militia group known as Hutaree had been arrested across the Midwest on charges of seditious conspiracy and the attempted use of weapons of mass destruction. Investigators claim the group was planning to wage war against the U.S. government -- a war that would begin with the murder of a Michigan cop, followed by a coordinated attack on that officer's funeral procession. The hope, supposedly, was that the strike would inspire a bloody, Turner Diaries-style uprising against the government. Needless to say, relatives of those arrested deny that the group is dangerous, one of them going so far as to make the not-very-reassuring statement that if the good people in Hutaree were going to kill somebody they would've done it already. It's a bit of a dubious claim, regardless, considering that a quick scan of the material posted on the internet by the group and its leader, David Brian Stone, reveals them to be every bit the standard paranoid white-guy gun fetishists with delusions of militaristic grandeur who've occupied a tiny portion of the cultural imagination for decades.
Back in late 2008, right around (surprise, surprise) the election of Barack Obama, one member of Hutaree, a guy who menacingly called himself "Pale Horse," posted a video on YouTube which showed him armed with a Kalashnikov and spouting all kinds of extreme-right bromides about how the U.S. was in peril and it was time for freedom-loving people to arm themselves, etc. etc. Whether or not he was ever truly on the verge of trying to turn his revolutionary fantasies into cold-blooded reality is anybody's guess. But that's not really the point; the point is that even after, say, the Murrah Federal Building bombing in Oklahoma City or the Austin IRS building plane crash -- Timothy McVeigh and Joe Stack's proven actions -- many in this country are still reluctant to label an American citizen a terrorist. Maybe it's because to do so would cause all kinds of cognitive dissonance, since it would put that person on the same level as the foreign insurgents raging against their own governments oversees whom we're more than happy to call terrorists but who refer to themselves as merely freedom-fighters (a lack of distinction, ironically, that militia members here at home have accepted for years).
What's really ironic, however -- and more than a little frightening -- is that not only will yesterday's announcement be unlikely to stick in the minds of many Americans or in the media's collective consciousness; it'll actually go a long way in fueling anti-government sentiment. In the absence of widespread outrage that it's entirely possible a burgeoning new anti-government movement bent on redneck revolution may be out there plotting murder and mayhem, the movement itself can only flourish under the weight of a federal law enforcement crackdown, since such action just proves the point of those who believe the government is comprised of jack-booted thugs who aim to trample free, decent, heavily armed Americans. In the cataractous eyes of guys like "Pale Horse," the fact that the feds are willing to arrest the Hutaree group only shows how much Hutaree is necessary to fight off the feds.
Remember, Oklahoma City was considered a direct response to both Ruby Ridge and Waco. And while each of those impetuses may have indeed involved gross federal overreaction, it doesn't change the fact that until we admit that there are potential domestic terrorists among us -- not patriots, terrorists -- and refuse to let that be deflected by the contrived indignation it may incite from one group or another, we'll continue to be at their mercy.
We need to stop hedging and call those Americans who want to wage war against our nation or simply kill other Americans in the name of a political end what they are. Because there are far, far fewer of them than there are of us.