Reposting – We Are Terrifying Ourselves: Terrorism Versus Mass Shootings

Several folks asked me to repost this today/tonight because it got lost in the shuffle of yesterday’s election news. So reposted!


Yesterday a self radicalized Bangladeshi immigrant in New York attempted to blow up himself and a chunk of the New York City subway. There’s no indication so far that he was actually in touch with ISIS or any other extremist Islamic group.

Fortunately he failed.

He did burn himself and caused some minor injuries to three others. And as is always the case when this type of incident happens we are once again inundated with questions about terrorism and its relationship to immigration. The reality is that terrorism incidents are down globally for the second year in a row. Though there are increases in Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, which makes sense giving the ongoing civil war in Syria and insurgencies and/or rebellions in the other states. The reality for Americans is that terrorism in the US remains rare –  a small n phenomenon.

GWU’s Program on Extremism’s tweet is only looking at attacks arising from extremist Islamic ideology and/or affiliation, but 19 in 3 years is 6.33 incidents a year. Hardly an epidemic. Overall there have been 201 terrorist plots and incidents carried out between 2010 and 2016. This is 33.5 per year. Here too, we’re not talking about a lot of terrorism. And remember it includes both plots and actual attacks that have been carried out. Here’s the breakdown, you’ll notice who is carrying out and/or planning the majority of terrorist attacks in the US:

The database shows 115 cases by right-wing extremists ― from white supremacists to militias to “sovereign citizens” ― compared to 63 cases by Islamist extremists. Incidents from left-wing extremists, which include ecoterrorists and animal rights militants, were comparatively rare, with 19 incidents.

While we normally separate out terrorism from mass murder (four or more victims not including the perpetrator) by shooting, commonly called mass shooting, the difference in the number of incidents is staggering. We have now reached the point where there is at least one mass shooting per day in the US. As of 14 November 2017 there have been 317 mass shootings in the US so far in 2017. 2016 had 438! Mass shootings are not rare in the US – they are a very large N phenomenon.

The two types of violence do have some significant differences. Specifically in regard to motivation. Terrorism requires a political motivation; an attempt to use violence to force the state, the citizenry, or both to change their behavior as a result of the fear created by the act or acts of terrorism. Mass shootings that don’t have this component are just mass murders using a firearm. And, of course, the latter gets wrapped up in the ongoing argument over what the 2nd Amendment means and how it should be applied in the 21st Century.

There are, however, attempts to conflate these two issues. For instance, the attorney for the three Kansans facing trial for plotting to blow up an apartment complex where the majority of the residents are Somali immigrants is claiming that his clients activities are covered under both the 1st and 2nd Amendment. Specifically, his clients actions are protected as political speech/actions and as a type of freedom of assembly, as well as under the 2nd Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

“This case is uniquely political because much of the anticipated evidence will center around, and was in reaction to, the 2016 Presidential election,” defense attorneys wrote.

They also argued the case will require jurors to weigh whether the alleged conduct constitutes a crime or whether it is constitutionally protected speech and assembly and the right to bear arms.

This conflation, of an attempted act of domestic terrorism with lawful and protected speech and the right to keep and bear arms, heavily elides the distinction between terrorism and mass murder by mass shooting, which is the usual contact point for questions as to whether mass shootings are a form of terrorism. Short answer: if the shooter had a political motivation it could be terrorism. If the shooter doesn’t, then it most likely isn’t.

And this really gets to Robert Schooley’s observation. Because the Las Vegas shooter was a very affluent white man, despite the fact that he killed 58 people and wounded 546 more in under a half hour, outside of Las Vegas and maybe the home towns of the victims, the coverage dropped to almost zero quickly after the attack. Had yesterday’s attacker been a white guy with a gun there wouldn’t be any calls today to reform the US immigration system or for travel bans. There wouldn’t even be real calls for sensible reforms regarding firearms sales. Rather there would be calls for thoughts and prayers. And emphatic statements that it is too soon to discuss doing anything but thinking and praying. Americans have built up terrorism into an existential, uber-threat out of all proportion to the reality of terrorism to the lives of Americans. At the same time we’ve decided that mass murder by shooting is just something that happens – a type of background noise to our daily lives.

The national anthem, which has recently gotten recognized more and more, I notice, unequivocally states that the US is the home of the brave. It is high time Americans started living up to that statement and stopped being so easily spooked.

Quebec City Mosque Shooting

As some have noted in the comments, a Quebec City mosque – the Quebec City Islamic Cultural Center – was attacked during evening prayers today. Five congregants have been killed. One of the local Quebec French language papers is now reporting that two suspected shooters are in custody, though there may be an additional one still at large. Additionally, one of the two shooters has “a Quebec name” and was wielding an AK-47 or AK pattern rifle. Canada has pretty tight restrictions on semi-automatic firearms, including rifles. Quebec name implies a francophone, Quebecer. The mosque has been targeted by vandals in the past. This is obviously a developing event and information is likely to change over the next 24 to 72 hours.

Updated Information and Some Thoughts on the Chelsea Bombing

Now that we’re 27 hours on from the bombing in Chelsea last night we both have more information and still don’t know a lot. Law enforcement has now confirmed that both devices were improvised explosive devices (IEDs) using pressure cookers packed with shrapnel and wired with Christmas lights and cellphones. No one has claimed responsibility and local, state, and Federal law enforcement are working on trying to determine who was responsible, the motivation behind the attack, and if there is any linkage to the near miss and malfunctioning pipe bombs at a charity race in New Jersey earlier yesterday. An online posting claiming credit earlier today has been debunked as a hoax.

Myles Millar, a reporter for NY1, has reported out via twitter that:

And Corey Johnson, the NY City Councilman for the district that includes Chelsea has just tweeted out the following information:

State Senator Golden has confirmed Councilman Johnson’s information:

CNN has now reported (12:02 AM EDT) that the FBI has questioned several people at a traffic stop near the Verrazano Bridge, but that no arrests have been made. Also, based on surveillance video they have identified a person of interest, but are still pursuing numerous leads. And the NY Daily News has now reported that the FBI has arrested several people in possible connection with the Chelsea bombing. Specifically five people arrested who were traveling in an SUV and who are tied to a bomb cache of “three pipe bombs and two smaller devices” at a train station in Elizabeth, NJ.

All of this current/breaking information is still provisional and it remains to be seen how it plays out as the investigation proceeds.

There are some interesting things about what occurred last night. The first is that no one has come out and claimed credit. If this was tied to any of the big international players we would have had some confirmation by now. As a result it is likely that this was done by someone who has self radicalized and that increases the possible reasons for doing this. It could be, given the placement of the first pressure cooker device, that it was someone that had a personal grievance and motivation rather than an ideological/doctrinal (political, religious, ethno-national, etc) one. In this way it would have been like the Con-Ed bomber* that plagued metropolitan NY off and on for decades. This would make the bombing a solely criminal act, so it wouldn’t be terrorism, though with the recent arrests and the discovery of the cache of IEDs – pipe bombs and other devices – this now seems less likely. Or it could be a small group of people who have self radicalized and are acting out their subjective attachment to any number of possible ideological/doctrinal affiliations.

These days the news media has taken to calling these types of actors one of two things: lone wolves or terrorists. The differentiation seems to be whether they are (terrorist) Muslims or not Muslims (lone wolf). As I’ve mentioned here several times: words matter and ideas matter. This false dichotomy obscures that the process of radicalization is the same regardless of what ideology or doctrine one has internalized, identified with – subjectively or objectively, and is acting in support of. Moreover, it paints two exclusionary categories with very broad brushes that make all Muslims potential terrorists, while all non-Muslims can only be lone wolves. This is wrong. The reality of this type of behavior was for years referred to in the literature as leaderless resistance. Leaderless resistance, was first conceptualized by Louis Beam a white supremacist and member of the Christian Identity group Aryan Nations. Beam, linking the concept back to a Colonel Ulius Amoss, conceptualized leaderless resistance as:

An alternative to the pyramid type of organization is the cell system. In the past, many political groups (both right and left) have used the cell system to further their objectives. Two examples will suffice. During the American Revolution “committees of correspondence” were formed throughout the Thirteen colonies.

Two things become clear from the above discussion. First, that the pyramid type of organization can be penetrated quite easily and it thus is not a sound method of organization in situations where the government has the resources and desire to penetrate the structure; which is the situation in this country. Secondly, that the normal qualifications for the cell structure based upon the Red model does not exist in the U.S. for patriots. This understood, the question arises “What method is left for those resisting state tyranny?” The answer comes from Col. Amoss who proposed the “Phantom Cell” mode of organization. Which he described as Leaderless Resistance. A system of organization that is based upon the cell organization, but does not have any central control or direction, that is in fact almost identical to the methods used by the Committees of Correspondence during the American Revolution. Utilizing the Leaderless Resistance concept, all individuals and groups operate independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters or single leader for direction or instruction, as would those who belong to a typical pyramid organization.

At first glance, such a type of organization seems unrealistic, primarily because there appears to be no organization. The natural question thus arises as to how are the “Phantom cells” and individuals to cooperate with each other when there is no intercommunication or central direction? The answer to this question is that participants in a program of Leaderless Resistance through phantom cell or individual action must know exactly what they are doing, and how to do it. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to acquire the necessary skills and information as to what is to be done. This is by no means as impractical as it appears, because it is certainly true that in any movement, all persons involved have the same general outlook, are acquainted with the same philosophy, and generally react to given situations in similar ways. The pervious history of the committees of correspondence during the American Revolution show this to be true.

Since the entire purpose of Leaderless Resistance is to defeat state tyranny (at least insofar as this essay is concerned), all members of phantom cells or individuals will tend to react to objective events in the same way through usual tactics of resistance. Organs of information distribution such as newspapers, leaflets, computers, etc., which are widely available to all, keep each person informed of events, allowing for a planned response that will take many variations. No one need issue an order to anyone. Those idealist truly committed to the cause of freedom will act when they feel the time is ripe, or will take their cue from others who precede them. While it is true that much could be said against this type of structure as a method of resistance, it must be kept in mind that Leaderless Resistance is a child of necessity. The alternatives to it have been show to be unworkable or impractical. Leaderless Resistance has worked before in the American Revolution, and if the truly committed put it to use for themselves, it will work now.

Again, words matter and ideas matter. What Beam described in 1992 is how a number of terrorist and insurrectionist groups have tried to mobilize its supporters. This includes everyone from the Aryan Nations’ own Order 1 and 2 to ISIL to a host of other ethno-national, ethno-religious, and political-ideological groups around the globe. And make no mistake leaderless resistance is a tactic of low intensity warfare: rebellion, insurrection, and/or terrorism. The failure of the news media to not fall back on this false dichotomy, as well as those who appear on TV and radio as subject matter experts that go along with the division of terrorists = Muslims and lone wolves = non-Muslims are not doing anyone any favors. Aside from misinforming the public as to the actual dynamics of what has happened it also plays right into the hands of ISIL in attacking and attempting to destroy the Grey Zone.

While we wait for further information, and hopefully clarity, as the FBI’s investigation proceeds, it is important to remember that anyone from any ethnicity, religion, and political ideology can be a terrorist. It is not just simply Muslim = terrorist, non-Muslim = lone wolves. Every extremist and terrorist group today tries to leverage leaderless resistance to achieve their strategic objectives and all of them are trying to destroy the Grey Zone – the civic space that all of us live in when we are not in private. The sooner we start keeping that in mind when dealing with these issues the better informed and off we will be in doing so.

* Interestingly enough James Brussel, the father of pyschological/behavioral profiling, claimed that he had successfully profiled the Con-Ed bomber and, as a result, solved the case. The truth was that his profile was completely off base other than the Con-Ed bomber was, indeed, a man. The actual hero of the case was Alice Kelly who had been assigned to go through Con-Ed’s files and had found letter after letter from a very angry and upset man named George Metesky. Metesky was the Con-Ed bomber, but Brussel claimed and because he did so, got the credit despite actually sending the police down numerous rabbit holes, while Alice Kelly is known only to a few as the person that broke the case open. Dr. Brussel was a great salesman, but a terrible profiler because, as the empirical criminological research shows, psychological/behavioral profiling doesn’t work.

Booo! ISIS and the Use of Terrorism as Psychological Operations


In the discussion of ISIS and its actions we need to clearly get a handle on what it is that ISIS is hoping to accomplish with the attacks in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad and the Russian airplane bombing. What they are doing is using terrorism, and even more so the responses to terrorism, to provide them with ways and means that they do NOT themselves have to achieve their ends. We need to recognize and accept that for ISIS terrorism is Psychological Operations (PSYOPs).

PSYOPs are defined as: “Planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign governments, organizations, groups, and individuals. The purpose of psychological operations is to induce or reinforce foreign attitudes and behavior favorable to the originator’s objectives. Also called PSYOP.” Calls for closing mosques or special identification for Muslims or religious tests for refugees, let alone simply not accepting any, are all the result of ISIS being able to influence emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of the US government, American organizations and groups, and US citizens. Threats of reprisal and actual attacks on Muslims as reprisals, or those perceived to be Muslim, even more so.

President Hollande’s response was not only morally correct, but also demonstrated how not to fall into ISIS’s PSYOPs trap:

“Life should resume fully,” Hollande told a gathering of the country’s mayors, who gave him a standing ovation. “What would France be without its museums, without its terraces, its concerts, its sports competitions?

“France should remain as it is. Our duty is to carry on our lives.”

In the same spirit, he added, “30,000 refugees will be welcomed over the next two years. Our country has the duty to respect this commitment,” explaining that they will undergo vigorous security checks.

Hollande noted that “some people say the tragic events of the last few days have sown doubts in their minds,” but called it a “humanitarian duty” to help those people … but one that will go hand in hand with “our duty to protect our people.”

“We have to reinforce our borders while remaining true to our values,” he said.

So far American news media, far too many politicians at all levels of US government, and far too many Americans have decided to provide ISIS the ways and means to achieve their ends. Ways and means that they do NOT actually have. We went down this rabbit hole after 9-11 into a land of demagoguery; fear; and paranoia. It got us two unsuccessful wars without declaring war, a mess of an economy, and no real good solutions for, or resolutions of, how to deal with the extremist, violent strain within Islam that is at war with Islam and the rest of the world. The question that has not been fully answered, though we are seeing hints and teasers of what the answer might be, is have we learned anything over the past fourteen years?
* Image found here.

Post Modern Violence: From Leaderless Resistance to Lone Wolves

Without stepping on Zandar’s post from yesterday, I do want to approach the overall topic from a different angle. While the emerging reports seem to indicate that the Kansas bomb carrier was not actually trying to blow up the clinic, the news rightly put everyone’s antenna up. Whether we are talking about shootings or other attacks at movie theaters, the attack on the Chattanooga recruiting center and military facility, the Charleston church shooting, or other actions that seem to fall in between what we would define as crimes against persons, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, there certainly seems to be a buzz in the air. Both here in the US and abroad. Back in 2011 the term stochastic terrorism started to make the rounds. There was even a blog devoted to it; albeit one that was a one post and done website. While I think the term stochastic terrorism has descriptive merit, what we have been watching develop and unfold is actually one step back from stochastic terrorism – we have been observing stochastic violence. We have so much noise to signal right now, and so many more platforms for transmission of messages that have the ability to enflame and incite, that it is easy for aggrieved parties, including those with mental health issues, to lock onto something and ride it as motivation for an attack. Basically, we cannot and will not be able to predict exactly who might or might not undertake an act of mass violence – shooting, bombing, knifing, running down a crowd of folks in one’s car, etc, but we can be sure that these types of action will happen. This also includes political forms of violence like terrorism.

Stochastic violence is an unfortunate reality of the interconnected, 24/7 media and social media world we live in and it presents a unique challenge to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. While this is certainly a constitutional/foundational law issue in the US and some other states, it is definitely a real, complicating factor in trying to get a handle on the problem. It raises questions as to what, if anything should be regulated and who, if anyone, bears responsibility beyond the specific actor or actors involved in any given attack. These questions actually helped to create an earlier iteration of this type of political violence and terrorism: leaderless resistance. Louis Beam, back in the early 1980s, coined the term leaderless resistance to cover the concept of how to put white supremacist and eliminationist ideals into practice without the need to create a highly organized movement. His bottom line was that if you heard or read the message and were inspired to act on it, then just go and do it. Do not contact him or other white supremacist leaders for permission or join an organized and trackable group, just go and do whatever it is you think you are called to do. The idea was to have cake and eat it too. By using the messaging to inspire action, but have the actors not formally/objectively tied to any movement or individual leader, then one got the behavior one wanted, but the plausible deniability and lack of legal liability when whatever was planned actually occurred. One of the best examples of this was Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh was clearly a subjective member of a number of white supremacist groups – he clearly identified with them. However, he never joined any of them, which is what made it hard to track him as outside of personal contacts (Mike from Michigan and the Ozarks supremacist community he was in contact with), he was basically an incredibly angry and resentful cypher. McVeigh and his co-conspirators were classic examples of leaderless resistance.

The concern now, though, is being expressed as the self radicalization of individuals leading to lone wolf attacks. This is basically the path/route taken by McVeigh, as well as Reverend Paul Hill who went from being abortion clinic protestor to abortion clinic shooter, the recent worry is about self radicalizing Muslim youth exposed to the online presence and messages of the Islamic State. While this is, certainly, a concern, what we have actually been seeing in the US, parts of Europe, Israel, and elsewhere is a lot of individuals, with only a portion of them being Muslim, engaging in violence to redress their real or imagined grievances. The process, regardless of who is being exposed to it, however, is the same one I wrote about here last year: neutralization of norms (definitions favorable) for normative, legal behavior to redress problems allowing for the potential lone wolves to drift into deviant, violent, and sometimes terroristic acts to solve their problems. The policy and strategy implications to dealing with this problem are complex, specifically because of our dedication to the concept and practice of freedom of speech. The policy outcome should be the reduction of lone wolf attacks, whether violent crimes, hate crimes, and/or terrorism, to as close to zero as possible regardless of the demographic of the perpetrator. However, that is going to be very difficult to achieve as the ways to achieve this end need to not do damage to the freedom of speech. As is so often the case, and in what seems to be a reverse of Beowulf, one of our greatest strengths is also one of our most exploitable weaknesses. I will leave you with Justice Brandeis’s wisdom on the matter: “If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the process of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.”

Obama Loves Terrorists More Than Patriots

On Friday the IRS issued an apology after admitting the agency unfairly targeted conservative agencies in 2011. Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich had some strong words:

[Obama] owes every Tea Party in America, every group called patriot, every group that wants to study the Constitution an apology. How can you have an American government profile against the word “patriot”? I mean, there’s something culturally sick if the American government says “Boy, you put that word constitution in your name, we’re going to come after you.”

Come after you? Did they force the groups to undergo multiple audits, or investigated them for criminal activity on baseless accusations? Senior IRS official Lois Lerner issued an apology for her department’s actions:

Instead of referring to the cases as advocacy cases, they actually used case names on this list. They used names like Tea Party or Patriots and they selected cases simply because the applications had those names in the title. … also, in some cases, cases sat around for a while. They also sent some letters out that were far too broad, asking questions of these organizations that weren’t really necessary for the type of application. In some cases you probably read that they asked for contributor names.

Welp. That’s … unethical. But the way Gingrich exclaimed you’d think that the Obama administration was holding Republican babies at gunpoint.

Today on #TWiBRadio the Tea Party demands more than an apology, a Mother’s Day mass shooting or usual urban violence, and can a bad Whitney Houston cover be considered terrorism? Listen here:

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And on #amTWiB, political strategist L. Joy Williams and the morning crew discuss changes to the Bangladeshi garment industry in the wake of tragedy, director of Disney’s Brave lashes out after a character redesign, and Tea Partiers boycott Fox News … for being too Leftist?

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Rand Paul Lies, America is Being Problematic, and Ice Cream is Delicious

Remember when Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) led that heroic, morally-fueled filibuster against drones targeting Americans on U.S. soil?

Good, because Sen. Paul seems to have forgotten. At this point someone in his camp should remind him that speech recording technology is a thing.

And on TWiB!two unique takes on the effects of terror:

First, TWiB! staff writer David von Ebers examines a history of bombings on American soil and its legal consequences:

Today it’s controversial for the president of the United States to even suggest that a homegrown bomber like Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a naturalized American citizen who’s lived more than half his life here, should be charged with federal crimes and processed through the civilian criminal justice system… What the hell happened to us?

— America & Terrorism: What a Difference 100 Years Makes by David Von Ebers

And #TWiBRadio co-host and TWiB! managing editor Dacia Mitchell asks if the way we digest media affects how we value tragedy:

The way violence is portrayed in the news media values the spectacular over the everyday … with endless speculative chatter and misinformation, the devastating calculus made by the media and understood in society is that the body subjected to quotidian violence is less valuable than the body subjected to spectacular violence.

Things Like This Don’t Happen in Watertown by Dacia Mitchell

Also, on today’s #TWiBRadio Okla. Rep. Dennis Johnson apologizes to the Jews, Rand Paul has a change of heart about drones, and Fatima Gossgraves of National Women’s Law Center speaks on holding schools accountable for the harassment of students who report rape.

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And this morning on #amTWiB, #TheMorningCrew discusses the race to patent “Boston Strong,” the search for missing teen and misidentified bombing suspect Sunil Tripathi, and no refund for a woman deemed too fat to tan.

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