The Pizza Plotters and the 28-Percenters on Fantasy Island
May 13, 2007
A couple of days ago I wrote some blog posts indicating that the heavy-breathing reports alleging a terrorist plot to attack Fort Dix were a little less than persuasive. In fact, given the Bush administration’s well established record of distortion and outright lies on the matter of terrorism, I suggested that the credibility of the “Fort Dix Six” pizza plot story might end up having a shorter shelf life than a salmon in the sun.
Columbia Journalism Review’s “CJR Daily” takes a similarly skeptical stance, and chides the mass market media for their eagerness to be gulled with yet another scare story:
The New York Times this morning offers a good example of this grab-bag coverage when it says that the Fort Dix case is “the latest in a series of plots, targeting sites in the United States, that authorities said they have foiled. These included one last June in which seven arrests were made in Miami after the authorities described suspects talking about blowing up the Sears Tower in Chicago and the F.B.I.’s Miami headquarters. In June 2003, the authorities said they thwarted a plot to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge, and in 2002, six Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, N.Y., near Buffalo, were arrested and linked with Qaeda interests.”
As we all remember, the men who were planning on blowing up Chicago’s Sears Tower and the F.B.I.’s Miami headquarters last year — the hilariously confused “Seas of David” group — were so inept, so deluded, that the “plot” was the stuff of farce. Yes, the group swore fealty to Al Qaeda (or more precisely, to an informant posing as an Al Qaeda representative), which is enough to put them under surveillance and haul them in for questioning, at the very least. And what they wanted to do was serious enough to make them a threat, albeit one that was overblown by both the Justice Department and the press at the time.
Then there was the “Lackawanna Six,” the group of young men in the town next door to Buffalo, NY, who are currently serving prison sentences for having trained at an Al Qaeda camp in Afghanistan prior to 9/11. They, too, were hardly the criminal masterminds that they were initially made out to be. As The Washington Post put it in July 2003, “there was no evidence that the men had spoken of or planned an attack.” The Buffalo News said that same year, “They never built a bomb, never hijacked an airliner and, as far as the U.S. Justice Department can determine, never made any plans to commit terrorism.”
The Bush administration’s Justice Department has a vested interest in portraying every “plot” it busts as the next 9/11, regardless of how embryonic or feeble. It serves as a distraction from the administration’s failures in Iraq and elsewhere, it perpetuates the state of fear that has served this White House well in recent years, and it justifies the massive Homeland Security bureaucracy. Journalists, meanwhile, are at a decided disadvantage when trying to determine the seriousness — or lack thereof — of the threat, because the government holds all the cards. That’s why a healthy dose of skepticism — given this administration’s track record with truth — is crucial to the press’s handling of stories like Fort Dix.
Amen to that, CJR.
My last post attracted a swarm of comments. Most agreed with the post, but there were a couple of loopy anti-Semitic conspiracy buffs who had to be relegated to the spam bin, and a few rumpus-room Churchills who instantly equate skeptics with Neville Chamberlain. These 28-Percenters are immune to fact, argument and memory — despite the Bush administration’s record of ineptitude and corruption, they have been imprinted with the idea that Bush is a stalwart guardian of the West. When reminded that Bush, on the eve of the World Trade Center attack, repeatedly ignored warnings that Al-Qaeda was planning something big in America, they fall back on the reliable “blame Clinton” defense, even reviving long-discredited lies about how Bill Clinton turned down Sudan’s offer to turn over Osama bin Laden. These people are the invincibly ignorant. Will they ever comprehend that while terrorism is a real threat, but you cannot fight it with unreal means? At this late date, is trying to convince them even worth the effort?
You can lead a winger to water but you can’t make him think. Island environments, isolated from competition and natural selection in the larger world, tend to produce the strangest life forms. Intellectual isolation appears to have the same effect. Long after the Bushies and their Republican handmaidens have been evicted from power and the great cleaning-up has begun, the bizarre fauna of Wingerworld will still be building their bunkers on the beach and jumping at shadows in the woods, building their alternate-universe mythology around the greatness of George W. Bush.
Let them stay there. In fact, their perfect intellectual isolation makes them ideal specimens for display to future Americans who might find it hard to believe that this country could have gone so wrong at the start of the 21st century. We can guide those doubters to the archives of National Review Online and the Weekly Standard, or the mutterings of the little wingers on the Internet, and they will understand.