As you all know by now, a man walked into the Pentagon Metro station last night just after quitting time and opened fire on security police, wounding two. The man, John Patrick Bedell, 36, had driven across country from California with what appears to be the express purpose of inflicting damage on the government (he seems to be a complex mix of anti-government Truther and pot-growing, Hayek-loving Libertarian). Basically, an unhinged person bought a gun and took out his frustrations with life on the big, evil government. Quoth Bedell: “The moral values of individuals and communities are increasingly attacked by a political system where deceit is routine and accepted and the only standard is power.”
So I just don’t understand how the Pentagon police chief can say this: “[There is] no indication at this point [of] any domestic or international terrorism at all.” WTF? Does the fact that he was an unhinged white guy prevent us from calling him a terrorist?
No. It does not.
The thing is, I am feeling terror right now. Last night’s shooting, following so closely on Joe Stack flying his plane into an IRS building in Austin, has me concerned about incidents in which unhinged white men take their frustrations out on those institutions they perceive to be ruining their lives, and by extension, the country. Obviously, these two terrorist acts were squarely aimed at the government, so why should I worry? Well, terror qua terror isn’t really about logic or sequence or rationality: Who’s to say the next unhinged white dude doesn’t have a beef with the Mainstream Media (except for Fox) or Wall Street, and decides to come to New York and spray bullets all over Penn Station?
Those of you scoring at home may wonder why I’m not including Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, or Amy Bishop, the Murdering Academic in my list of Terrorism Under Obama. Frankly, given all the information available, those really do seem to me like another particularly American form of violence, the disgruntled workplace shooting. When I think of these two scenarios, I do not feel alarmed at the prospect of them happening to me, or to anyone I know; they are random, isolated acts of violence that are just a part of living in American. Stack and Bedell, on the other hand, feel like two of many; infinitely replaceable agents of a large, growing anger that’s constantly preparing itself for action. And that makes me feel terror. It doesn’t help that, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of US extremist paramilitary militias grew from 42 in 2008 to 127 in 2009.
And no, this is not an example of PC, liberal media elites apologizing for Islamic terrorism (in this case, Hasan, who I concede could logically fall under that category). Muslim terrorists are all unhinged and have crazy, incoherent beliefs based in a murky admixture of political grievance and religious fervor, nourished by populist demagoguery—just like Stack and Bedell! Except Muslim fanatics are organized and foreign, so they are terrorists.
“The shooter acted alone.” How many times are we going to have to hear that in the coming years (until the economy turns around!) as a reason for dismissing terrorism? These guys aren’t alone, they’re abetted at every turn by anger, resentment and fear—on the internet, on the radio, and on the TV—a thousand armies of one, mobilizing all around us.