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kottke.org posts about terrorism

Inside the Insurrection on Congress

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2021

This is an incredible video investigation by the NY Times of the January 6th attack on Congress by terrorists, rioters, and supporters of Donald Trump. They analyzed hundreds of videos, police bodycam footage, and police communications to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Capital breach.

From the accompanying article of six takeaways from the investigation:

Most of the videos we analyzed were filmed by the rioters. By carefully listening to the unfiltered chatter within the crowd, we found a clear feedback loop between President Trump and his supporters.

As Mr. Trump spoke near the White House, supporters who had already gathered at the Capitol building hoping to disrupt the certification responded. Hearing his message to “walk down to the Capitol,” they interpreted it as the president sending reinforcements. “There’s about a million people on their way now,” we heard a man in the crowd say, as Mr. Trump’s speech played from a loudspeaker.

The call and response didn’t stop there. We found evidence of his influence once the violence was well underway. In one moment, a woman with a megaphone urged rioters to climb through a broken window by asking them to “stand up for our country and Constitution” — echoing the language in an earlier tweet from Mr. Trump. In another, as the police were pushing to clear the mob off the building, a rioter screamed at officers: “I was invited here by the president.”

It is astonishing to me how close we came to having a hostage or assassination situation with members of Congress and the Vice-President — like literal seconds and minutes away — and how is this not the only topic of conversation over the past 6 months in our country? And not only that, it’s clear that we’re not really going to do anything about it, aside from beefing up Capitol security and imprisoning some of the insurrectionists. This isn’t over — as the video’s narration states near the end: “The forces that brought them there have not gone away.”

Update: From Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter:

But Rangappa could have also been talking about CNN’s efforts in court to obtain riot footage; or ProPublica’s recent investigation that indicated “Senior Trump Aides Knew Jan. 6 Rally Could Get Chaotic;” or Just Security’s new “clearinghouse” for riot research. Her broader point is spot on: Newsrooms have been putting the January 6 puzzle pieces together, creating a detailed rough draft of history, in spite of partisan efforts to bury that history.

The Long History of Right-Wing Terrorism in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 19, 2021

One of the critical things that Luke Mogelson’s must-read piece about the Jan 6th assault on Congress does is define the attack as the latest in a string of right-wing militant actions in DC and across the country, incited by Republicans (and Trump in particular):

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

In her January 16th dispatch, historian Heather Cox Richardson took a quick dive further back into history, connecting the dots between the undercurrent of right-wing authoritarianism that has long been part of the nation’s political landscape, the right’s reaction to the New Deal, the fight against Black rights, the rise of partisan talk radio after the FCC fairness doctrine ended, Waco, Ruby Ridge, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Bundys, etc. It is a story of American self-interest & whiteness that found a home in the Republican Party.

Convinced that he was a hardworking individualist, Bundy announced he did not recognize federal power over the land on which he grazed his cattle. The government impounded his animals in 2014, but officials backed down when Bundy and his supporters showed up armed. Republican Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) called Bundy and his supporters “patriots”; Democrat Harry Reid (D-NV), the Senate Majority Leader at the time, called them “domestic terrorists” and warned, “it’s not over. We can’t have an American people that violate the law and then just walk away from it. So it’s not over.”

There are many threads she doesn’t explore — America’s lax gun laws, the larger racial context, religion — but the piece does pack a lot into its relatively short length. You can read her whole post here. (thx, meg)

Scenes from the Second Civil War

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

In the hours after the January 6th terror attack on Congress, it seemed as though the early understanding was that a bunch of giddy goofballs — oops! — forced their way into the Capitol Building for funsies and photo ops. The stupid coup. As time passes and more photos & videos are released and reporting is done, the picture emerging is of a violent attack on members of Congress, their staff, and Capitol Police & other law enforcement officers by an armed & savage mob who narrowly missed assaulting, kidnapping, or even murdering members of Congress by mere minutes.

This is an account of the rioters’ siege of the Capitol Building from the perspective of the DC police. The terrorists likened their actions to those in 1776; it certainly was a war-like atmosphere:

“We weren’t battling 50 or 60 rioters in this tunnel,” he said in the first public account from D.C. police officers who fought to protect the Capitol during last week’s siege. “We were battling 15,000 people. It looked like a medieval battle scene.”

Someone in the crowd grabbed Fanone’s helmet, pulled him to the ground and dragged him on his stomach down a set of steps. At around the same time, police said, the crowd pulled a second officer down the stairs. Police said that chaotic and violent scene was captured in a video that would later spread widely on the Internet.

Rioters swarmed, battering the officers with metal pipes peeled from scaffolding and a pole with an American flag attached, police said. Both were struck with stun guns. Fanone suffered a mild heart attack and drifted in and out of consciousness.

All the while, the mob was chanting “U.S.A.” over and over and over again.

“We got one! We got one!” Fanone said he heard rioters shout. “Kill him with his own gun!”

This was a “coordinated assault”:

Looking over the chaotic scene in front of him from the Capitol steps, Glover grew concerned as the battle raged. There were people caught up in the moment, he said, doing things they would not ordinarily do. But many appeared to be on a mission, and they launched what he and the police chief described as a coordinated assault.

“Everything they did was in a military fashion,” Glover said, saying he witnessed rioters apparently using hand signs and waving flags to signal positions, and using what he described as “military formations.” They took high positions and talked over wireless communications.

Authorities would later learn that some former members of the military and off-duty police officers from across the country were in the pro-Trump crowd. Glover called it disturbing that off-duty police “would knowingly and intentionally come to the United States Capitol and engage in this riotous and criminal behavior against their brothers and sisters in uniform, who are upholding their oaths of office.”

Blue Lives Matter…until they have the gall to get in the way of what you feel entitled to:

“The zealotry of these people is absolutely unreal,” said Hodges, who suffered from a severe headache but otherwise emerged unhurt. “There were points where I thought it was possible I could either die or become seriously disfigured.”

Still, Hodges said, he did not want to turn to his gun.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who starts shooting, because I knew they had guns — we had been seizing guns all day,” he said. “And the only reason I could think of that they weren’t shooting us was they were waiting for us to shoot first. And if it became a firefight between a couple hundred officers and a couple thousand demonstrators, we would have lost.”

Two of the officers interviewed for this story spoke to CNN for this report:

Officer Michael Fanone found himself in the midst of the insurrectionists and then briefly shielded from harm by some of the rioters after shouting “I have kids”. He had this to say to those who protected him: “Thank you. But fuck you for being there.”

The Storm Is Here

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 15, 2021

From Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker, Among the Insurrectionists is an amazing and surreal account of how the January 6th domestic terror assault on Congress1 unfolded. (Note: This piece contains accounts of violence and lots of racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist, homophobic language.)

The America Firsters and other invaders fanned out in search of lawmakers, breaking into offices and revelling in their own astounding impunity. “Nancy, I’m ho-ome! ” a man taunted, mimicking Jack Nicholson’s character in “The Shining.” Someone else yelled, “1776 — it’s now or never.” Around this time, Trump tweeted, “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country. … USA demands the truth!” Twenty minutes later, Ashli Babbitt, a thirty-five-year-old woman from California, was fatally shot while climbing through a barricaded door that led to the Speaker’s lobby in the House chamber, where representatives were sheltering. The congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat from New York, later said that she’d had a “close encounter” with rioters during which she thought she “was going to die.” Earlier that morning, another representative, Lauren Boebert — a newly elected Republican, from Colorado, who has praised QAnon and promised to wear her Glock in the Capitol — had tweeted, “Today is 1776.”

When Babbitt was shot, I was on the opposite side of the Capitol, where people were growing frustrated by the empty halls and offices.

“Where the fuck are they?”

“Where the fuck is Nancy?”

No one seemed quite sure how to proceed. “While we’re here, we might as well set up a government,” somebody suggested.

Notably, the piece places the insurrection in the proper context alongside Trump’s campaign of misinformation (which began even before his Presidency and has focused heavily on election fraud) and as part of an escalating series of actions by militant fascist groups in DC and around the country.

In the days before January 6th, calls for a “real solution” became progressively louder. Trump, by both amplifying these voices and consolidating his control over the Republican Party, conferred extraordinary influence on the most deranged and hateful elements of the American right. On December 20th, he retweeted a QAnon supporter who used the handle @cjtruth: “It was a rigged election but they were busted. Sting of the Century! Justice is coming!” A few weeks later, a barbarian with a spear was sitting in the Vice-President’s chair.

Cause, effect. Here are more instances, from various times during the past few months:

It was clear that the men outside Harry’s on December 12th had travelled to D.C. to engage in violence, and that they believed the President endorsed their doing so. Trump had made an appearance at the previous rally, waving through the window of his limousine; now I overheard a Proud Boy tell his comrade, “I wanna see Trump drive by and give us one of these.” He flashed an “O.K.” hand sign, which has become a gesture of allegiance among white supremacists. There would be no motorcade this time, but while Fuentes addressed the groypers Trump circled Freedom Plaza in Marine One, the Presidential helicopter.

During the Presidential campaign, Trump’s histrionic exaggerations of the threat posed by Antifa fuelled conservative support for the Proud Boys, allowing them to vastly expand their operations and recruitment. The day after a Presidential debate in which Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” Lauren Witzke, a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware, publicly thanked the group for having provided her with “free security.”

Early returns showed Trump ahead in Michigan, but many absentee ballots had yet to be processed. Because Trump had relentlessly denigrated absentee voting throughout the campaign, in-person votes had been expected to skew his way. It was similarly unsurprising when his lead diminished after results arrived from Wayne County and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions. Nonetheless, shortly after midnight, Trump launched his post-election misinformation campaign: “We are up BIG, but they are trying to STEAL the Election.”

The next day, I found an angry mob outside the T.C.F. Center. Police officers guarded the doors. Most of the protesters had driven down from Macomb County, which is eighty per cent white and went for Trump in both 2016 and 2020. “We know what’s going on here,” one man told me. “They’re stuffing the ballot box.”

In April, in response to Whitmer’s aggressive public-health measures, Trump had tweeted, “Liberate Michigan!” Two weeks later, heavily armed militia members entered the state capitol, terrifying lawmakers.

During Trump’s speech on January 6th, he said, “The media is the biggest problem we have.” He went on, “It’s become the enemy of the people. … We gotta get them straightened out.” Several journalists were attacked during the siege. Men assaulted a Times photographer inside the Capitol, near the rotunda, as she screamed for help. After National Guard soldiers and federal agents finally arrived and expelled the Trump supporters, some members of the mob shifted their attention to television crews in a park on the east side of the building. Earlier, a man had accosted an Israeli journalist in the middle of a live broadcast, calling him a “lying Israeli” and telling him, “You are cattle today.” Now the Trump supporters surrounded teams from the Associated Press and other outlets, chasing off the reporters and smashing their equipment with bats and sticks.

Mogelson has reported on wars in Afghanistan and Syria — and now in America. You should read the whole thing.

Update: This is an incredible video companion to this article — videos shot by Mogelson during assault on Congress:

  1. I’ve seen many folks and media outlets refer to the events of January 6, 2021 as an attack “on the Capitol”. While that is technically correct, focusing on the venue obscures the true target: Congress. This was an attack on the entire legislative branch of the United States government. Being explicit about that point is important.

Democracy Is a Threat to White Supremacy

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 14, 2021

This is an astute observation by Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation for Social Justice, in the wake of the 1/6 terror attack on Congress:

I have long believed that inequality is the greatest threat to justice — and, the corollary, that white supremacy is the greatest threat to democracy. But what has become clear during recent weeks — and all the more apparent yesterday — is that the converse is also true: Democracy is the greatest threat to white supremacy.

If you have full-throated democracy in the contemporary American demographic landscape, a white supremacist Republican party can’t win elections in many states. So they subvert democracy itself by disenfranchising voters (what Ibram X. Kendi calls voter subtraction) and, when that fails, they spread misinformation about unfair elections, attempt to cancel hundreds of thousands of lawful votes cast by US citizens, and execute a poorly planned coup to terrorize lawmakers into capitulating to their demands. Either white supremacy goes or democracy does — that’s our choice. (thx, betty)

Congress Is Under Attack

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2021

Details from the 1/6 terrorist attack on Congress continue to trickle out. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was not in the Capitol during the event, but said in an hour-long Instagram Live video that she had a “very close encounter” that day and thought she was going to die. Here’s Ocasio-Cortez quoted by Emma Gray:

“Wednesday was an extremely traumatizing event. And it was not an exaggeration to say that many members of the House were nearly assassinated.”

She also felt unsafe around other members of Congress — From Buzzfeed News:

The Democrat said that she worried during the storming of the Capitol about other members of Congress knowing her location and did not feel safe going to the same secure location as her colleagues because of members who believe in the QAnon collective delusion and “frankly, white supremacist members of Congress … who I know and who I have felt would disclose my location,” saying she was concerned there were colleagues “who would create opportunities to allow me to be hurt, kidnapped, etc.” She said that she “didn’t feel safe around other members of Congress.”

Not an unfounded fear — Republican Representative Lauren Boebert, gun nut and QAnon supporter, tweeted about Speaker Pelosi’s location while terrorists were storming the Capitol Building. And several Republicans refused to wear masks while in lockdown in the aftermath of the Capitol incursion and now three Democratic lawmakers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Members of Congress briefed by security and law enforcement agencies (FBI, DoD, DHS, Secret Service) say that more attacks are planned in the coming days and weeks:

“Based on today’s briefing, we have grave concerns about ongoing and violent threats to our democracy,” that group of Democratic chairs said in a cryptic statement after the meeting on Tuesday. The briefing included the chairs and other top members of the House Oversight, Judiciary, Homeland Security, Armed Services and Intelligence panels.

“It is clear that more must be done to preempt, penetrate, and prevent deadly and seditious assaults by domestic violent extremists in the days ahead,” the statement said.

The lawmakers voiced their concerns moments after a public FBI and Justice Department briefing revealed their belief that the Jan. 6 violence could be part of a much graver, well-organized “seditious conspiracy.”

What an remarkable collection of statements & events. This is not going away. Any elected official who supported this coup effort must resign or be removed from office. How can you “secure Congress” when members of Congress are part of the effort to subvert it?

This Is Who We Are

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 11, 2021

NPR’s Sam Sanders on The Lies We Tell Ourselves About Race.

There is a lie some Americans tell themselves when America is on its worst behavior: “This isn’t America!” or “This isn’t who we are!” or “We’re better than this!”

You heard versions of this lie again this week after armed insurrectionists stormed the U.S. Capitol on urging from President Trump, attempting to undo the results of last November’s election.

Even in the halls of Congress, after the broken glass was cleared and U.S. senators and representatives were allowed back into their chambers from undisclosed locations, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska came back to this refrain: “Our kids need to know that this isn’t what America is.”

We are a country built on fabrication, nostalgia and euphemism. And every time America shows the worst of itself, all the contradictions collapse into the lie I’ve heard nonstop for the last several years: “This isn’t who we are.”

Until America fully reckons with, accepts, and makes amends for the two primary sins of its founding — the colonization and genocide of indigenous people and the system of heredity chattel slavery — the nation cannot truly move forward and be a democracy. From the standpoint of indigenous and Black people — as well as women, LGBTQ+ folx, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups — America has always been a fascist country. The sooner that the white ruling class and those of us who benefit from white supremacist-misogynist identity politics (as Rebecca Solnit put it recently) understand and own up to that fact, the sooner we can actually start coming together as a nation committed to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” of all its inhabitants.

Stochastic Terrorism

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 29, 2018

In 2011, an anonymous blogger defined the term “stochastic terrorism”.

Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.

This is what occurs when Bin Laden releases a video that stirs random extremists halfway around the globe to commit a bombing or shooting.

This is also the term for what Beck, O’Reilly, Hannity, and others do. And this is what led directly and predictably to a number of cases of ideologically-motivated murder similar to the Tucson shootings. As of this writing, there is no evidence to link Jared Loughner to a specific source of incitement; but some of the other cases can be clearly linked.

The stochastic terrorist is the person who is responsible for the incitement. For example they go on radio or television and stir up hatred toward a particular person or group.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, David Cohen noted in Rolling Stone that Donald Trump was practicing stochastic terrorism.

Speaking to a crowd in Wilmington, North Carolina, Tuesday, Trump expressed concern about Hillary Clinton possibly picking Supreme Court justices and other judges. He then said, “If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don’t know.”

Let that soak in for a second. One of the two major-party nominees for president just called for “Second Amendment people” to “do” something about his political opponent’s judges. According to the Trump campaign’s rapid response team, he was talking about those “Second Amendment people” coming together politically - “unification,” as they called it. The Clinton campaign, and pretty much the entire Internet, saw it differently: as a clear suggestion of violence against a political opponent.

Rewarded for this rhetoric with the highest office in the land, Trump has kept on stoking his base into a furor with tweets and rallies, resulting in the recent pipe bomb mailings to prominent Democrats and the massacre of 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

The First Lady of ISIS

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 06, 2017

This short documentary from The Atlantic features Tania Georgelas, who was in Syria with her husband (the highest-ranking American member of ISIS) until she began to fear for the safety of her children and her husband left her.

Just a few years ago, Tania Georgelas was living in Syria and married to John Georgelas, who would become the most influential American member of ISIS. Together, they traveled the globe, befriending jihadis and grooming their children to become “assassins.” But after ten years of living on the run, Tania began to fear for her family’s safety. That’s when she says her husband abandoned her “to become the next Osama bin Laden.”

What a fascinating situation. I had many complicated and conflicting feelings watching it. I imagine it might make some feel angry & disgusted and make others feel hopeful…and everything in-between.

Update: Abigail Pesta wrote a long piece for Texas Monthly about Georgelas (who now goes by the name “Tania Joya”).

To add to her anxiety, her husband began talking about wanting to move to Syria, where a civil war had begun. “He felt like he had to go and help Syria. It’s a Muslim’s duty to help your family. I felt for the Syrians. They are wonderful people, but I didn’t want to bring my boys to a war zone. They were children. It wasn’t their fight.” As her brawls with her husband escalated, he became physically abusive, and she wanted out. “It came to a point where I told him, ‘I don’t love you anymore.’ I felt suffocated. I would say, ‘One of us is going to need to die.’ He would say, ‘I could break your neck.’” One night, she put a pillow over his head in bed. He woke up and forced her off. “I didn’t really think I’d kill him,” she said. “It was more of a cry for help.”

(thx, jesse)

A manifesto from People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2016

In 2004, George Saunders wrote a article for Slate in the style of a manifesto for an organization called People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction. I believe Saunders’ piece has some relevance to current events.

At precisely 9 in the morning, working with focus and stealth, our entire membership succeeded in simultaneously beheading no one. At 10, Phase II began, during which our entire membership did not force a single man to suck another man’s penis. Also, none of us blew himself/herself up in a crowded public place. No civilians were literally turned inside out via our powerful explosives. In addition, at 11, in Phase III, zero (0) planes were flown into buildings.

And in summary:

This is PRKA. To those who would oppose us, I would simply say: We are many. We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail.

(via everything changes)

Terrorism, surveillance, civil liberties… pick two?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 14, 2016

Kurzgesagt examines what’s happened to our privacy, civil liberties, and security because of the threat of terrorism.

America’s exceptional exclusionism

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2015

There is much to say about the recent events in Syria, Beirut, and Paris, but, closer to home the news, that more than half of the governors of US states say they would refuse to help Syrian refugees seems like a new low in good old fashioned American xenophobia and stupidity.

By late Monday, states refusing Syrian refugees included Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.

As @drwave put it, “what a bunch of assholes”. In linking to this piece, The Islamic State wants you to hate refugees, Dave Pell from NextDraft notes:

From everything I’ve read, taking a strong anti-refugee position is closer to collaborating with ISIS than standing up to it.

Having your racist aunt call for closing our doors to innocent people fleeing terrorism and death on her Facebook page is one thing, but to see dozens of elected officials and Presidential candidates calling openly and proudly for it, I just don’t know what to say. I was going to say that it’s unprecedented, but this sort of thing is deeply embedded into the fabric of America, from slavery to the Jim Crow laws to our treatment of Native Americans to the Japanese internment camps during WWII. Have we learned nothing?

A 5-minute history of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 17, 2015

From Vox, a quick video summary of the war in Syria and the rise of ISIS.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has claimed responsibility for Friday’s terror attacks in Paris, has its origins in Iraq, but the group as we know it today is in many ways a product of Syria’s civil war. That war is much bigger than ISIS, but it is crucial for understanding so much that has happened in the past year, from terror attacks to the refugee crisis. And to understand the war, you need to understand how it began and how it unfolded.

See also Syria’s civil war: a brief history.

The Boston Marathon shooters?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 29, 2013

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy wonders how we would be thinking about the Boston Marathon bombing if it had been the Boston Marathon shooting instead.

Yes, this is only a counterfactual exercise, which, like all such riffs, shouldn’t be taken too literally. But it’s hard to think about it for long without coming to the conclusion that there’s something askew with the way we think about and react to various types of extreme violence, and the weapons used in such episodes. In a country where each life (and death) is supposed to count equally, surely the victims of gun violence should be accorded the same weight as the victims of bomb violence. And the perpetrators should get equal treatment, too. But, of course, that’s not how things work.

The wisdom of crowdsourcing manhunts

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2013

James Surowiecki, the author of The Wisdom of Crowds, wrote about what was right and wrong about Reddit’s crowdsourced hunt for the Boston bombing suspects.

The truth is that if Reddit is actually interested in using the power of its crowd to help the authorities, it needs to dramatically rethink its approach, because the process it used to try to find the bombers wasn’t actually tapping the wisdom of crowds at all — at least not as I would define that wisdom. For a crowd to be smart, the people in it need to be not only diverse in their perspectives but also, relatively speaking, independent of each other. In other words, you need people to be thinking for themselves, rather than following the lead of those around them.

When the book came out in 2004, I wrote a short post that summarizes the four main conditions you need for a wise crowd. What’s striking about most social media and software, as Surowiecki notes in the case of Reddit, is how most of these conditions are not satisfied. There’s little diversity and independence: Twitter and Facebook mostly show you people who are like you and things your social group is into. And social media is becoming ever more centralized: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Medium, Pinterest, etc. instead of a decentralized network of independent blogs. In fact, the nature of social media is to be centralized, peer-dependent, and homogeneous because that’s how people naturally group themselves together. It’s a wonder the social media crowd ever gets anything right.

A pair of 2011 blog comments by “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev”

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2013

UMass Dartmouth is reporting that “a person being sought in connection with the Boston Marathon bombing has been identified as a student registered at UMass Dartmouth”:

Umass Dart Closed

I don’t know that there’s any verified report that registered student is bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, but I found a blog post from August 2011 that suggests that Tsarnaev was participating in the school’s summer reading program for incoming first-year students. The students were participating in a group discussion blog while reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The post in question was written by UMass Dartmouth English teacher Shelagh Smith on the concept of thin-slicing as it pertained to the case of the West Memphis Three. The post reads, in part:

I believe that thin slicing put them in jail. It helped an entire community make a rash decision and justify their actions in convicting three teens of murder. Once the town was able to identify the bogeyman, they could rest easy again.

But it all went horribly wrong. The real murderers were never found. These young men went into prison at 18 years old. Today, they walked out at 36 years old.

Being different - being unique - is a right we’re supposed to enjoy in this country. But what we can’t control is how people view us.

So what do we do about that? Is there anything we can do about it?

In response, a commenter listing his name as “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev” posted the following about a week and a half after the original posting:

In this case it would have been hard to protect or defend these young boys if the whole town exclaimed in happiness at the arrest. Also, to go against the authorities isn’t the easiest thing to do. Don’t get me wrong though, I am appalled at the situation but I think that the town was scared and desperate to blame someone. It’s because of stories like this and such occurrences that make a positive change in this world. I’m pretty sure there won’t be anymore similar tales like this. In any case, if they do, people won’t stand quiet, i hope.

Tsarnaev also made another comment in another thread on the blog a few minutes earlier in which he offered a critique of Gladwell’s book:

While I understand and agree with most of the concepts that Gladwell explained in his book, there are several ideas of his that I cannot fathom or just choose not to believe. Yes, this book was very interesting but the idea that a person can predict whether you and your partner are going to be together in the future is honestly a little hard to believe. Sure, if you put two obvious celebrities in a room talking about how they’re going to adopt six children, that’s just not going to work out. And the idea that a more experienced doctor is more likely to be sued is likely to happen because they would have way more patients and more time in the work force. “Thin-slicing” and other concepts made me want to keep reading.

When it’s OK for the US govt to kill citizens

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2013

This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other “rights” we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.

A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.

The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration’s most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.

The whole memo is here. A staggering disappointment from a man many think is better than this. See also: Obama’s lethal Presidency.

How the US killed bin Laden

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2011

Fantastic account by Nicholas Schmidle in the New Yorker about how the US located and subsequently killed Osama bin Laden in his Abbottabad safehouse.

One month before the 2008 Presidential election, Obama, then a senator from Illinois, squared off in a debate against John McCain in an arena at Belmont University, in Nashville. A woman in the audience asked Obama if he would be willing to pursue Al Qaeda leaders inside Pakistan, even if that meant invading an ally nation. He replied, “If we have Osama bin Laden in our sights and the Pakistani government is unable, or unwilling, to take them out, then I think that we have to act and we will take them out. We will kill bin Laden. We will crush Al Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national-security priority.” McCain, who often criticized Obama for his naïveté on foreign-policy matters, characterized the promise as foolish, saying, “I’m not going to telegraph my punches.”

Update: There has been some question over the authenticity of this story.

Schmidle says he wasn’t able to interview any of the 23 Navy SEALs involved in the mission itself. Instead, he said, he relied on the accounts of others who had debriefed the men.

But a casual reader of the article wouldn’t know that; neither the article nor an editor’s note describes the sourcing for parts of the story. Schmidle, in fact, piles up so many details about some of the men, such as their thoughts at various times, that the article leaves a strong impression that he spoke with them directly.

The SEALs, he writes of the raid’s climactic moment, “instantly sensed that it was Crankshaft,” the mission’s name for bin Laden, implying that the SEALs themselves had conveyed this impression to him.

Although calling it a conspiracy probably goes a little too far…mentioning the JFK assassination when writing of the US government is like Godwin’s law in online discussions. (thx, everyone)

Should we assassinate terrorist leaders?

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 19, 2010

Robert Wright ponders that question and offers a surprising answer: no, because it’s not that effective at weakening their organizations.

You might as well try to end the personal computer business by killing executives at Apple and Dell. Capitalism being the stubborn thing it is, new executives would fill the void, so long as there was a demand for computers.

Of course, if you did enough killing, you might make the job of computer executive so unattractive that companies had to pay more and more for ever-less-capable executives. But that’s one difference between the computer business and the terrorism business. Terrorists aren’t in it for the money to begin with. They have less tangible incentives - and some of these may be strengthened by targeted killings.

An American jihadist in Somalia

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 03, 2010

Omar Hammami was a fairly normal kid from a small town in Alabama — “as a teenager, his passions veered between Shakespeare and Kurt Cobain, soccer and Nintendo” — who is now in Somalia, leading terrorist attacks for a group called Shabab, which is loosely affiliated with Al Qaeda.

In the three years since Hammami made his way to Somalia, his ascent into the Shabab’s leadership has put him in a class of his own, according to United States law-enforcement and intelligence officials. While other American terror suspects have drawn greater publicity, Hammami exercises a more powerful role, commanding guerrilla forces in the field, organizing attacks and plotting strategy with Qaeda operatives, the officials said. He has also emerged as something of a jihadist icon, starring in a recruitment campaign that has helped draw hundreds of foreign fighters to Somalia. “To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization - we have not seen that before,” a senior American law-enforcement official said earlier this month.

See also a New Yorker article about Adam Gadahn, an American who is now a member of Al Qaeda.

Empty the nation’s pools!

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 06, 2009

From November 2007 but still relevant: Odds of Dying in a Terrorist Attack.

You are six times more likely to die from hot weather than from a terrorist attack

You are 87 times more likely to drown than die in a terrorist attack

You are 1048 times more likely to die from a car accident than from a terrorist attack

You are 12 times more likely to die from accidental suffocation in bed than from a terrorist attack

You are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist

I guess when you’re the President, it’s just not that impressive to say that you protected the nation’s populace from accidental suffocation in bed.

Bomb sniffing laundromats

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2008

One of the tactics that the British used against the IRA was to open a laundromat. No, really.

The plan was simple: Build a laundry and staff it with locals and a few of their own. The laundry would then send out “color coded” special discount tickets, to the effect of “get two loads for the price of one,” etc. The color coding was matched to specific streets and thus when someone brought in their laundry, it was easy to determine the general location from which a city map was coded.

While the laundry was indeed being washed, pressed and dry cleaned, it had one additional cycle — every garment, sheet, glove, pair of pants, was first sent through an analyzer, located in the basement, that checked for bomb-making residue. The analyzer was disguised as just another piece of the laundry equipment; good OPSEC [operational security]. Within a few weeks, multiple positives had shown up, indicating the ingredients of bomb residue, and intelligence had determined which areas of the city were involved. To narrow their target list, [the laundry] simply sent out more specific coupons [numbered] to all houses in the area, and before long they had good addresses.

Clever. (via schneier)

Christopher Hitchens waterboarded

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 02, 2008

Christopher Hitchens writes about getting waterboarded for the July issue of Vanity Fair.

You may have read by now the official lie about this treatment, which is that it “simulates” the feeling of drowning. This is not the case. You feel that you are drowning because you are drowning-or, rather, being drowned, albeit slowly and under controlled conditions and at the mercy (or otherwise) of those who are applying the pressure. The “board” is the instrument, not the method. You are not being boarded. You are being watered.

As you can see in the video, Hitchens maybe lasted 15 seconds or so.

Non-violent Al Qaeda

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 18, 2008

Long-but-good article about the changing role of violence within Al Qaeda and other former terrorist organizations.

Fadl was one of the first members of Al Qaeda’s top council. Twenty years ago, he wrote two of the most important books in modern Islamist discourse; Al Qaeda used them to indoctrinate recruits and justify killing. Now Fadl was announcing a new book, rejecting Al Qaeda’s violence. “We are prohibited from committing aggression, even if the enemies of Islam do that,” Fadl wrote in his fax, which was sent from Tora Prison, in Egypt.

Eric Haseltine

posted by Jason Kottke   May 08, 2008

Haseltine came from an unusual place to the NSA: Walt Disney Imagineering. Between his overuse of the phrases “bad guys” and “war on terror”, there were a couple of interesting moments.

In Haseltine’s estimation, something called Intellipedia is the biggest advance in the intelligence community since 9/11. Intellipedia is basically an internal Wikipedia for people who work for one of the 16 US intelligence agencies. Its goal is to break down some of the barriers between these agencies in terms of information sharing and colloboration.

Right at the end of the session, interviewer Jane Mayer asked Haseltine if perhaps the Bush administration is overreacting to terrorism…if the mindset that danger lurks everywhere is appropriate and realistic. He replied that since he got involved in the intelligence community, he doesn’t sleep well at night. “I know too much.”

THEBLOG WEEMADE is about “sharing the artwork

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2008

THEBLOG WEEMADE is about “sharing the artwork and creativity of kids”, and they’re inviting you to contribute. My favorite post is by the guy who runs the site...it’s a poem he wrote about terrorism when he was 8 years old in 1984.

What’s the matter Ghadafi?
Why are you so blue?
Has someone put glue
Upon your shoes?
Well, the glue may not be on your shoe,
But the glue is certainly all over you.
You’re stuck, stuck, stuck,
You’re a terrorist,
You’re the most murderous
Terrorist on our list!

Frontline’s two-part report on Bush’s War is

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 26, 2008

Frontline’s two-part report on Bush’s War is getting good reviews.

A two-part special series that tells the epic story of how the Iraq war began and how it has been fought, both on the ground and deep inside the government.

Davenetics sums up the program’s findings:

It really was a perfect storm of bad judgment, malicious intent, a power structure out of balance, a weak Natl Sec Adviser, a marginalized secretary of state, an all-powerful veep, a lazy Congress, and outplayed British PM, a foolishly managed French foreign policy, an ignored military leadership, an Oedipal complex hall of fame President, and a media that focused on Rumsfeld’s funny press conference delivery instead of highlighting the fact that he was wrong, horribly wrong, on just about any point that mattered.

Both parts of the series are available for viewing in their entirety on the Frontline site.

Arresting images of Benazir Bhutto’s last moments,

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 28, 2007

Arresting images of Benazir Bhutto’s last moments, including some shots of the suicide bomb going off nearby shortly after she was shot.

I Am Trying to Break Your Bunsen Burner

posted by Joel Turnipseed   Nov 01, 2007

One of the many & varied joys of my childhood was screwing around with chemistry sets, erector sets, and rocket kits. What is more fun for a ten or twelve year-old, after all, than watching magnesium burn out in the garage? Or launching a multi-stage rocket over the neighborhood? Alas, it seems like those days may be over:

What do Islamofacism, methamphetamine production, tort lawyers, and homemade fireworks have in common? The answer is that they are all part of the seemingly inevitable process of destroying the childhood Chemistry Set. A.C. Gilbert, in 1918 was titled the “Man who Saved Christmas” with his innovative ideas of packaging a few glass tubes and some common chemicals into starter kits that enabled a generation to learn the joy of experimentation, and the basis for the scientific method of thought.

Of course, you have to be careful when you play with chemicals: like, never, ever drop 20,000 pounds of metallic sodium in a lake at home. (via MetaFilter and BoingBoing)

Bruce Schneier on the Portrait of the

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 15, 2007

Bruce Schneier on the Portrait of the Modern Terrorist as an Idiot. “Terrorism is a real threat, and one that needs to be addressed by appropriate means. But allowing ourselves to be terrorized by wannabe terrorists and unrealistic plots — and worse, allowing our essential freedoms to be lost by using them as an excuse — is wrong.”