Saturday, July 23, 2011

About That Intuition --

Okay, I didn't see that coming. I have argued before that when terrorists attack, first intuitions about who they are are usually good. This latest one in Norway is an exception. My initial intuition was exactly the same as most people's -- that these were jihadis, probably with Al-Qaeda. Why?

Well, going over old attack , my intuitions have generally been sound. With the first attack on the World Trade Center, I (like most Americans) had no idea who it would be and did not expect and answer for months. It came within a week -- Mideastern Islamic terrorists. Okay.

With the Oklahoma City Bombing, a lot of people immediately assumed Mideastern terrorists, now in the Heartland. I didn't. I was working for the state legislature at the time and the right wing was in the midst of a freakout over having a Democrat in the White House. We were getting inundated with their literature.* So they were very much in my mind at the time of the bombing. But there was more than that. The Oklahoma City Federal Building just didn't seem like a "sexy" enough target to interest Mideastern Terrorists. An attack on the World Trade Center is an attack on America. An attack on the Oklahoma City Federal Building is an attack on the federal government.** Granted, jihadis probably don't make the distinction -- but our own domestic militias certainly do. (Besides, how many Mideastern terrorists could find Oklahoma City on a map?)

The 9-11 attacks were something different altogether. That had to be the work of Mideastern terrorists, probably Al-Qaeda. First of all, it was manifestly an attack on America, something our homegrown militias would never do. Second, it was unthinkable that our domestic terrorists would do anything that big. And third, well, Bin Laden had been in the news a lot lately, so he seemed like the obvious choice.

Much the same applies to the Madrid bombings of 2004. The Spanish government tried to blame them on the Basques, but it just wasn't credible. The Basques just didn't do anything on that scale. Jihadis did.

My intuitions have usually been sound. When a gunman shoots up Virginia Tech, I assume a crazed loner because almost all mass shootings are the work of crazed loners. When a bomb goes off at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane, Washington, I assume white supremacists because (1) there is a lot of white supremacist activity in the Spokane area and (2) Mari tn Luther King Day is an obvious target. When a bomb is found in Times Square, I don't pay much attention to people who think it is someone opposed to Obamacare because (1) Manhattan isn't exactly militia central, but it has a lot of Muslims, who may include at least some extremists and (2) a bomb in Times Square bears no apparent connection whatever to Obamacare. It looks more like an attack on America. When a gunman shoots down an Arizona Democratic Congresswoman meeting with constituents, I dismiss all thought of jihad and assume either a lone crazed nut or an angry constituent. (Admitted, I thought his anger would be over something a little more substantial than her inability to explain the meaninglessness of language).

So, when I read that a gunman in Norway is mowing down teens at a youth camp, I would assume lone crazed nut. Hearing it happened within an hour of a car bomb in Oslo that targeted the prime minister's office, I assume the attacks must be connected, and further assume Mideastern terrorists, probably Al-Qaeda. Why? Because although the shooting could be a crazed loner, a bomb outside the Prime Minister's office just screams terrorist. Because the two events happening so close is too neat to be a coincidence. They have to be coordinated, and that type of coordination is a hallmark of Al-Qaeda. Both the bombing, which looks like an attack on Norway's entire system of government, and the senseless slaughter of innocents at the youth camp reek of Al-Qaeda. I was surprised that the attack was in Norway instead of Denmark, land of the cartoons, but the newspapers gave plenty of possible Islamist connections. Even the news that the gunman was a blond, Nordic-looking fellow with an east Norwegian accent was not conclusive. He might be a convert, after all, chosen so as not to look suspicious.

But now it appears he is a right-wing anti-immigrant nationalists. I didn't know Norway had right wing anti-immigrant terrorists. Learning that there are doesn't really surprise me. What utterly surprises me is his choice of target. I would expect an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant terrorist to hit a mosque, or an Islamic cultural center or maybe an immigration office, but not the Prime Minister's office, and definitely not a youth camp. I can only assume he staged the attacks in hopes that Muslims would be blamed.

Update: So, it appears he chose his targets as an attack on the liberals who are enabling Muslim immigration. I realize it is a mistake to project too much about a general movement from the actions of one deranged member. But it suggests a radicalization of at least the more extreme members of the anti-immigration movement, a willingness to move away from attacks on immigrants to attacks on the core of the political establishment. (In US lingo, to move from mere hate crime to real terrorism). This is the sort of thing that is going to make authorities take right-wing threats much more seriously than in the past.
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*With the sole exception of one petition signed by the John Birch Society, they were all prepared literature from out of state and not from constituents.
**Also, the bombing took place on April 19, which seasoned militia watchers says is a sacred day to militias. I did not know this at the time.

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