It’s a bug. In a jar. A chemically contaminated bug that was a prop in a military exercise held last month in Georgia. Engineers and security police at Moody Air Force Base played out a scenario where “sovereign citizens” used weapons of mass destruction—in the form of contaminated bugs—to attack the base, a trifecta of trickery that melds terrorism, Armageddon, and sedition all into one convenient domestic soup. That bug is the greatest threat to American freedom. Not because of Iran or North Korea or al Qaeda but because of a lazy and thoughtless convergence—that’s the hot word in military circles these days—that can define anyone who does anything as a homegrown terrorist threat. And it’s all about April 19.
In the annals of domestic terrorism, April 19 is the day, and for good reason. Twenty years ago, 168 men, women and children were killed in the truck bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. More than 650 others were injured. April 19 is also the anniversary of:
- the end of the standoff in Waco, Texas, where more than 80 “Branch Davidians” and four ATF
FBIagents were killed in a 51-day standoff (1993),
- the siege of the neo-Nazi group, The Covenant, The Sword, and The Arm of the Lord (CSA), which involved 300 federal agents from the FBI and ATF in Arkansas (1985), and
- the Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775).
It is a strange grouping, but for homeland security, law enforcement, and military goons, Sunday is it. The FBI has an Oklahoma City look back on its homepage today, calling it “the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.” And the Anti-Defamation League warns of “right wing extremists” and their continuing threat, specifically citing April 19.
The FBI quote might not seem odd in 2015 (and Oklahoma City was indeed a heinous act of terrorism), but what happened in 1995 occurred long before the word “homegrown” was anywhere near known or in common use, at least in the context of mass murder.
It is a word we should be scared of. Because the lines are getting ever blurrier with regard to what is terrorism and what is crime. And not only that, but “homegrown” has now undergone a transformation, mixing foreign and domestic in a way that justifies actions against mere law-breaking as a matter of national security.
Lexington and Concord marked the beginning of open, armed conflict between the loosely aligned militias of Massachusetts and British troops. Somehow, this ancient anniversary has gained significance for every right-wing extremist nutjob fighting for “freedom” in today’s America. But whatever you think of Patriots and militias and white supremacists and sovereign citizens, April 19 has also become an opportunity for local law enforcement and military authorities to nose their way into the varsity world of national security, one in which America is an undifferentiated battlefield where laws and civil liberties don’t apply. I’m not exaggerating. The fear of this “homegrown” terrorist non-movement, engaged in a non-existent revolution, (though comprising lawbreakers to be sure), empowers local law enforcement and the feds to be counter-terror guardians at home—extremists themselves who truly see the very nature and diversity of America as some kind of a threat.
Take sovereign citizens. These anti-government extremists are said to number maybe a half a million Americans. Adherents claim to be “state citizens” who don’t answer to illegitimate state and federal constituted authorities. Those who recognize the laws other than the Constitution and the Bill of Rights are referred to as “Fourteenth Amendment citizens,” a reference to the freeing of slaves, which they regard as an unfortunate departure from the nation’s destiny as a Republic founded by white Christian men.
Yet the actual crimes committed by sovereign citizens are almost entirely in the realm of what is (also preposterously) called “paper terrorism.” Sovereign citizens are known for flouting income tax collection, for not paying parking tickets or for other infractions of the law, including using faked and unofficial ID cards. They are tax-dodging, fraud-mongering white collar criminals and charlatans. The Department of Homeland Security itself in an intelligence report that has not been distributed to the public (“Limited Reporting Suggests Sovereign Citizen Extremist Violence Most Common in Southern and Western United States,” 27 February 2014) says that sovereign citizen “extremist violence” is “sporadic” and averages just five incidents per year.
But that doesn’t stop the military from using sovereign citizens as props in current exercises nor law enforcement agencies from labeling them as domestic terrorists. They usually cite one 2010 Arkansas incident—one—where two sovereign citizens murdered two police officers at a routine traffic stop. For this, they are labeled a terrorist threat worse than Islamic extremists and jihadists.
None of this would amount to a hill of nationally important beans, except for the federal government’s actual overreach and imprecision in the use of all of these terms: terrorism, threat, WMD, homegrown. In the simplest terms, in the name of counter-terrorism and “homeland security”—and for the military, in the name of “force protection”—law-breaking justifies not just domestic surveillance but also expansive powers.
“Force protection: Preventive measures taken to mitigate hostile actions against Department of Defense personnel (to include family members), resources, facilities, and critical information.”
A person of any citizenship who has lived and/or operated primarily in the United States or its territories who advocates, is engaged in, or is preparing to engage in ideologically-motivated terrorist activities (including providing support to terrorism) in furtherance of political or social objectives promoted by a foreign terrorist organization, but is acting independently of direction by a foreign terrorist organization.
terrorist activity or plots perpetrated within the United States or abroad by American citizens, legal permanent residents, or visitors radicalized largely within the United States.
Foreign was gone.
HVEs are growing threat to the DOD, as evidenced by numerous disrupted plots targeting DOD facilities, installations, and personnel since 2009. The majority of HVE plots are unsophisticated, use readily available weapons, and target nearby facilities. While they are less likely to generate spectacular, mass casualty attacks than transnational terror groups, HVE attacks are considerably more difficult for law enforcement and intelligence agencies to detect and disrupt.
“Homegrown” folds in any and every threat, from “right-wing” extremists to “lone wolves,” Unabombers to suicide bombers. The lexicon confuses foreign and domestic. And when intelligence officials say these threats are “more difficult for law enforcement agencies to detect and disrupt,” what they mean is that when “extremists” and al Qaeda become one, when Patriots, militias, protestors, activists, maybe even voters all have equal potential to rear their heads and attack, and when “hostile actions” hide within the tamest demonstration—just about anything and everyone is a threat. That’s a lot to detect and disrupt. Which is why everyone needs to be watched.
Happy April 19.
[Photo via U.S. Air Force]
A correction was made at 5:43, April 19 to this article changing FBI to ATF, referring to the agents killed in the Waco incidents. The mistake was made by the author.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow us at @gawkerphasezero. If you are into the theater of being underground, you can anonymously deliver tips through the Gawker Media SecureDrop. I’ve got a book on drones coming out in July called Unmanned: Drones, Data and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare. I’m open to your input and your questions, tough questions.