05 March 2010

Another American Terrorist?

It seems almost certain that the shootings that took place outside the Pentagon yesterday were politically motivated. From what we're learning about the shooter, who was fatally wounded while trading fire with his two victims (both will survive), he seems as idiosyncratic and quixotic as the Texan who flew his plane into an Austin office building last month. Depending on what you read today, the gunman was a "truther," an advocate of making cannabis a form of currency, and a would-be avenger of a soldier whose mysterious death in 1991 is seen by some as a key to larger conspiracies. It is useless to put a partisan or ideological label on such a person and only people with political axes to grind will try to do so. While he fits no easily recognizable group profile, however, that doesn't mean that he shouldn't be regarded as a kind of terrorist. When someone drives across the country to take his issues out on random yet symbolic targets, we can assume that his motive was terroristic even if he proves not to have left behind a manifesto in the manner of the Austin suicide pilot. We should definitely avoid identifying terrorism exclusively with terrorist groups. America is the land of democracy and individual freedom, after all, and many of us are quite capable of waging campaigns of terror on our own initiative without swearing fealty to some evil master. Democratic administrations may focus on militias, but lone wolf gunmen may be more dangerous than any ill-regulated entity attempting to unite the most rugged individualists for any purpose. They are obviously more difficult to track, though the Pentagon shooter's parents reportedly warned authorities about him, and tracking them raises problems for people who distrust surveillance on principle. Nevertheless, American terrorists are likely to resemble American amoklaufers, the only difference being whether one's grievances are deemed political or personal. We can try to draw a line, but sometimes it's hard to make out clearly, and that haziness could well get worse if we fail to insist that no private citizen has a right to kill for any reason.

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