The enemy within: Homegrown terrorism
“The battle has moved to inside America. We will work to continue this battle, God permitting, until victory.” — Osama bin Laden, October 2001
Long before the 9/11 tragedies, terrorists were operating freely within American borders. In fact, America had become a breeding ground for homegrown terrorists.
The most startling example may be Timothy McVeigh, a decorated Desert Storm soldier, who ruthlessly and without remorse planted a bomb in the Oklahoma City Federal Building in April 1995 and in the process murdered 168 innocent people. McVeigh was supposedly angered by the federal government’s raid that had killed some 80 Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, a year earlier.
In April of 1996, Theodore Kaczynski, a former University of California professor, was arrested in Montana for possession of bomb components. Later revealed as the Unabomber, Kaczynski over an 18-year period planted 16 different bombs around the country, killing three and injuring 29.
In April of 1997, Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold went on a rampage within the walls of their school. They shot and killed 12 classmates and a teacher before killing themselves.
And just recently Paul Hill, a former Presbyterian minister, became the first person in the United States to be executed for an abortion-related killing. In 1994, Hill fired a 12-gauge shotgun into a pickup truck outside a women’s clinic in Pensacola, Fla., killing an abortionist and his escort. Shortly before his execution, Hill declared, “I don’t feel remorse. I expect a great reward in heaven.”
None of these homegrown terrorists were found to be mentally insane. Indeed, all argued that they acted consistent to their respective philosophies in committing their crimes.
All shared common traits as well. Outraged by a system they considered evil and feeling helpless to change it, they took matters into their own hands. Gripped by despair, they turned to violence as the final solution.
Meanwhile, many Americans are oblivious to the violence in their own midst. While condemning terrorist acts committed in the name of political agendas with which they disagree, they often ignore the savagery prompted by ideals they share. Indeed, it seems they are reasonably comfortable with mayhem short of murder, as long as it’s done for a cause they support. Just as some in the pro-life movement are untroubled by anti-abortion bombings and some conservatives are unconcerned by the rise of armed militias, others condone violence committed on behalf of animals and the environment. Indeed, supporters of Paul Hill labeled him “a true American hero” and a martyr for the Christian faith.
FBI Director Louis Freeh told Congress in 2001, “The level of terrorist acts committed in the United States have increased steadily.” According to the FBI, explosive and incendiary bombings doubled during the first four years of the 1990s. What the agency calls “single-issue” terrorism has become increasingly prominent.
Thanks to the Internet, cell phones and air travel, many terrorist organizations presently maintain a truly global presence, even though they are small in number. Driving this amazing convergence of terrorists is a startling agreement in philosophy. “All terrorists, homegrown or foreign,” writes Alston Chase in his insightful book Harvard and the Unabomber (2003), “see themselves as players in a broad historical drama, whether it be Islam’s fight against Christianity, the proletariat’s war against imperialism or a people’s struggle against foreign oppressors.”
There are distinctions to be made among these philosophies. Some claim to fight for national liberation or an interpretation of the Koran, Bible or the U.S. Constitution. Others, such as Hill, fight to protect unborn children. Kaczynski’s war against technology was aimed at saving the environment. But there is one idea they all share — a hatred of a modern life in which they see no alternative, avenue or solution except violence.
These are people who feel threatened by what they see happening around them. For example, Columbine High School killers Harris and Klebold were reportedly tormented by classmates for being different. As Newsweek reported, they would walk through the halls of the school “with their heads down because if they looked up they would get thrown into lockers and called a “fag.” Physically threatened and jeered, they exploded.
Although such people may react with violence, we must remember that they are not stupid. Indeed, some even border on brilliance. Ted Kaczynski is a Harvard graduate and a mathematical genius. Timothy McVeigh, who dropped out of business college, in part for financial reasons, was an exceptionally bright student who received a near-record score on one of his last college exams. And Osama bin Laden has a degree in economics and business administration.
Is there any solution to the growth of homegrown terrorism within our own bordersâ¢ If so, we must understand how we have come to the point of despair. Several things stand out. First, we have lost the hope and confidence that those governing our lives can produce viable solutions to the problems we face. Thus, for many it is easy to escape into the distractions provided by the latest government fiasco or war and the crudeness of our entertainment industry.
We have also reached a crisis of faith. We have forgotten the power of spirituality that helped drive the flames of freedom and gave those who came before us great strength in the face of crisis. Our forefathers deplored senseless violence and condemned it in every form. They knew that true spirituality fills the void of lonely and alienated people who, without it, are driven to despair.
And our government continues to perpetuate a state of fear. Unfortunately, in reacting to the tragic events of September 2001, the American government, not having learned from history, seems bent on forcing us to repeat it. Their version of the “war on terror” is taking on all the frightful trappings of the old Cold War. “Once again we hear calls for more government secrecy,” writes Alston Chase, “more intrusions into the private lives of ordinary Americans, more restrictions on travel and public behavior, more emphasis on military solutions, more propaganda experts, and less accountability by public officials.” These are precisely the things that trigger further alienation. By taking these steps, our government may, in fact, increase terrorism rather than reduce it.
We live in a strange, disconcerting time. The majority of Americans are pessimistic or cynical about our major institutions, including our schools and government. There is widespread alienation and lack of direction among our young people. As bin Laden recognizes, the battle is “inside America.” Our real enemy, thus, is not someone in other parts of the world. It is us.
Whitehead, a constitutional attorney and author, is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute and author of “Grasping for the Wind.” He can be contacted at [email protected]