Some of the plotters have rather ironic backgrounds. The four are suspected of being members of a Georgia militia. Par for the course. But then things get interesting. One of them worked for the Department of Agriculture. Of course, having been on the government's payroll doesn't preclude one from anti-government lunacy, right Mrs. Bachmann? But, I have to wonder about his pension. Another of the plotters "played Santa for the local Masons order he belonged to." A Mason and a former Federal employee? Is one of the plotters a Jewish banker and member of the Parti Socialiste Francais who flies black helicopters in his spare time?The government said that on more than 20 occasions between March and Oct. 29, F.B.I. informants recorded the men’s conversations. The plot began, court papers said, with a meeting at Mr. Thomas’ home. He asked the men if they were committed to the plan. Mr. Adams was. “I’d say the first ones that need to die is the ones in the government buildings,” he said.During another conversation, Mr. Thomas is quoted as saying that he had made a “bucket list” of government employees, politicians, business leaders and members of the media that needed to be “taken out” to “make the country right again.”“There is no way for us, as militiamen, to save this country, to save Georgia, without doing something that’s highly, highly illegal: murder,” he said.In May, Mr. Thomas drove to Atlanta to do surveillance on the buildings housing the Internal Revenue Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and was recorded talking about the explosives and weapons the group would need to blow up the buildings and kill federal employees.Meanwhile, Mr. Adams and Mr. Crump, who had once worked as an electrician, were allegedly trying to figure out how to turn beans into poison that they would fling from their car as they drove along interstates on the Eastern Seaboard and in Atlanta and New Orleans.
And, since they are all over 65, let's assume that the plot was funded, in part, through Social Security.
Kidding aside, we should always be skeptical about such "terror" plots, even when they involve our ideological opponents. Granted, one of the alleged plotters had "a few dozen castor bean plants" (from which ricin is produced) growing along his driveway. But, beyond these plants and some reconnaissance, the plot may just boil down boil to “a bunch of old men just talking and trying to be big shots,” as put by a waitress at the Waffle House the men frequented. (That's right: They plotted revolution at a Waffle House. Then again, waffles are good.)
Why should left-liberals be skeptical? After all, one of the plotters did rant against Obamacare over atRedState, while another has been a longtime "Confederate flag activists."
And, dammit, it feels good to label our ideological opponents as "terrorists."
We should be skeptical mainly because of the FBI's penchant for entrapment of "terrorists" and for confusing fantasy with conspiracy. In addition, "terror plots" are often overhyped. This is especially true of "Islamic terrorism," as a Brian Jenkins argued in a 2010 RAND study. According to a reportpublished last month by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, since 9/11 there have been 109 plots of violence on American soil by non-Muslims and only 50 perpetrated by Islamist extremists.
There are many good reasons explaining why government officials exaggerate terror plots. First, it's their job. What we see as "exaggeration" may just be effective police work. It is often difficult to know if a case is actually the early stages of an attack or just paranoid fantasizing. Second, by making a mountain out of a molehill, security agents and politicians demonstrate their vigilance. It's another way of assuring us that they're doing their jobs. Finally, exaggeration is politically and institutionally useful. Politicians need to win elections and bureaucrats need to justify their budgets. Tom Ridge admitted a few years back that he was ordered to raise the "threat level" during the '04 campaign for no reason other than helping George W. Bush win. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was once O.K. with cutting defense spending, until he found himself in charge of the Pentagon.
All this does not mean that this plot doesn't represent a real threat. Additionally, taking the news of the "Georgia ricin plot" with a grain of salt does not mean that violence from the right is not a very real possibility. Indeed, when it comes to "terrorist threats" on American soil, we've probably more to worry about from the right than from radical Islamists. Between June 2008 and March 2011, there have been at least 24 plots targeting "liberals" and the "government." The Southern Poverty Law Center identified 97 plots and attacks by the extreme right since 1995.
Nevertheless, we need to remain skeptical. Remember the militia scare of the '90s? Despite the media hype, the Justice Department found that the vast majority of the militia movement posed no threat whatsoever. Oklahoma City certainly had an effect. Not only did it push many of these groups to committing themselves to only using defensive violence against the "New World Order," but they also began self-policing, ratting out the extremists among them to the Feds. And many militias continue to do so. The arrest of the Hutaree Militia last year was made possible by effective cooperation on the part of the Michigan Militia leadership with the FBI.
A final reason for skepticism: Rightwingers love a good political narrative that is far removed from reality. Since Obama's election, much of the right has been fantasizing about revolution. Maybe these guys are no different than a commentator on Fox News.
So, let's be skeptical. Innocent until proven guilty and all that good stuff.
Not only should we be skeptical, but we should feel kinda sorry for the extreme right. Unlike other extremists, they have rather poor source material to work from. The leftist militants of the sixties and seventies had the dense and well-developed Marxist and anarchists canons to inspire them. Jihadis have the Quran, the Haddith, and the Sunnah. Nationalists have thousands of years of history, not to mention peasant culture, folk costumes, and rousing patriotic songs.
What does American rightwing extremists have to inspire them? Glenn Beck and really shitty novels. Hell, Red Dawn isn't even relevant for them anymore.