All-American Osamas


By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF

http://www.nytimes.com/2002/06/07/opinion/07KRIS.html?todaysheadlines

KALISPELL, Mont.

We Americans have conjured so specific a vision of
terrorists ? swarthy, glowering Muslims mumbling
fanatically about Allah ? that we're missing the
threat from home-grown nuts, people like David
Burgert.

Mr. Burgert, a 38-year-old who last made a living
renting out snowmobiles here in this spectacularly
beautiful nook of northwestern Montana, had a terror
plan that made Osama bin Laden's look rinky-dink. Not
content merely to kill a few thousand people, Mr.
Burgert's nine-member militia was planning a violent
revolution and civil war to overthrow the entire
United States government.

The plan, according to Sheriff James Dupont, was for
the militia to use its machine guns, pipe bombs and
30,000 rounds of ammunition to assassinate 26 local
officials (including Mr. Dupont), and then wipe out
the National Guard when it arrived. After the panicked
authorities sent in NATO troops, true American
patriots would rise up, a ferocious war would ensue,
and the U.S. would end up back in the hands of white
Christians. 

"The good thing is that most of the people who would
do it are so stupid that they would kill themselves
first," said Sheriff Dupont, who runs the law here in
rugged Flathead County, which is bigger than all of
Connecticut and has lots more grizzly bears.

But the litany of domestic militia plots, failed ones,
is still sobering. In Michigan, militia members
planned to bomb two federal buildings. Missourians
planned to attack American military bases, starting
with Fort Hood, Tex., on a day it opened to tens of
thousands of visitors. California militia members
planned to blow up a propane storage facility. Most
unnerving, a Florida militia plotted to destroy a
nuclear power plant. 

If these were Muslims who were forming militias and
exchanging tips for making nerve gas, then we'd toss
them in prison in an instant. But we're distracted by
our own stereotypes, searching for Muslim terrorists
in the Philippine jungle and the Detroit suburbs and
forgetting that there are blond, blue-eyed mad bombers
as well. We're making precisely the mistake that the
Saudis did a few years ago: dismissing familiar
violent fanatics as kooks.

In fact, militia members and Al Qaeda members are
remarkably similar. Both are galvanized by religious
extremism (America's militias overlap with the
Christian Identity movement, which preaches that Jews
are the children of Satan and that people of color are
sub-human), both see the United States government as
utterly evil, and both are empowered by the
information revolution that enables them to create
networks, recruit disciples and trade recipes for bio-
and chemical weapons. 

It would be a mistake to put one's faith in the
militias' eternal incompetence. Jessica Stern of
Harvard has written about an anti-government activist
named James Dalton Bell, who earned a degree in
chemistry from M.I.T. and is unquestionably brilliant.
By age 14, he says, "I was studying the isomerization
of benzyl thiocyanate to the isocyanate." 

Weren't we all? But Mr. Bell, who is now in jail, is
also believed by the authorities to have manufactured
sarin, a nerve gas, in his basement. He led a chemical
attack against an I.R.S. office and wrote an Internet
book called "Assassination Politics," which outlines a
very clever scheme to pay for contract killings of
federal officials with digital cash in a way that
preserves anonymity at both ends. There is also
evidence that Mr. Bell talked "hypothetically" of
poisoning a city's water supply.

The things you learn in Montana: According to militia
members here, the World Trade Center attacks were a
plot by the Feds to declare an emergency and abolish
the Bill of Rights; the Columbine school shootings
were a federal test of new mind-control technology; a
map on a Kix cereal box shows the occupation zones
Americans will be herded into after the United Nations
takes over. 

Another thing you learn here is how to deal with
grizzlies. Don't be so focused on a distant moose that
you ignore the bear behind you. And if it charges,
stand your ground until it's 10 feet away, then shoot
pepper spray into its eyes, and ? very quickly ? step
aside.

Right now, I'm afraid that the Bush administration is
so focused on the distant moose that we're oblivious
to the local grizzlies like Dave Burgert creeping up
on us.





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