City Paper: Fighting Terrorism, Foreign and Domestic
I’ve always found the definition of terrorism to be rather simple: Intentionally targeting innocent civilians to further one’s own agenda. The radical Islamists who murdered nearly 3,000 innocent civilians on Sept. 11, 2001 were unquestionably terrorists. They had an agenda and attacked innocent people in the name of that agenda. It was terrorism defined.
When Wade Michael Page shot and killed seven people at a Sikh Temple in Wisconsin last week, local police and the FBI described it as an act of “domestic terrorism.” They were right. Page was an alleged white supremacist with ties to neo-Nazis and other hate groups, and it is widely believed that his ideology was a motivating factor behind these murders. Just as important, his act highlights an important fact about terrorism as it exists in the United States.
The Christian Science Monitor‘s Peter Grier notes, “Most Americans may think of Islamic extremism when they hear the word ‘terrorism.’ However, as the tragedy in Wisconsin unfortunately highlights, the vast majority of these attacks in the U.S. are carried out by non-Islamic American extremists.”
Before 9/11, the greatest act of terrorism on American soil was the Oklahoma City bombing carried out by New York-born Timothy McVeigh, which killed 168 people and injured 680. Reasonable people can agree that 9/11, the Sikh Temple shooting, and the Oklahoma City bombing all qualify as terrorism, and, as Grier noted, that the overwhelming majority of such terrorism is committed by non-Islamic extremists.
So how do we fight or prevent such terrorism? This is where logic and common sense get lost.
After the Sikh Temple shooting, reports immediately surfaced alerting the public to the threat of neo-Nazis, white supremacists in the military (Wade was a veteran), and other dangerous extremists in our midst. Of course, these extremists are so few in number that most Americans don’t go about their daily lives worrying about getting attacked by them. Likewise, most Americans do not fear being attacked by Al Qaeda on a daily basis either. Yet, the government’s reaction to such tragedies — a reaction that is always based on fear — is severely disproportionate to the threat or potential threat.
While we all can agree that intelligence gathering is essential to law enforcement, how many Americans would support giving the federal government carte blanche power over our personal information in the wake of the Sikh Temple shooting? Few, if any. Yet, after 9/11, this is exactly what happened.
In The Washington Times, Judge Andrew Napolitano had this to say about the lengths that the federal government has gone to spy on its own citizens: “Gazillions. That’s the number of times that the federal government has spied on Americans since Sept. 11, 2001, through the use of drones, legal search warrants, illegal search warrants, federal agent-written search warrants, and just plain government spying.”
In addition to assaults on the Fourth Amendment like the Patriot Act or the unprecedented expansion of executive power under both Bush and Obama, America’s entire way of life changed after 9/11. But after the Wisconsin shooting this month, you can guarantee that Americans will not allow themselves to be subjected to pat-downs every time they enter a temple or church. The very idea is absurd. Heightened awareness and security is one thing. But a radical transformation of American life and the destruction of centuries-old constitutional protections is quite another.