Once again, it's been a bad couple of weeks for the Bush administration on the scandal watch. Oh, sure, they got their Iraq War funding. But last week Monica Goodling confessed to criminal behavior inside the Justice Department and accused her co-conspirators, including Bush's long-time bag-man Alberto Gonzalez, of perjury, obstruction of justice, and criminal conspiracy. This week, despite the drip-drip-drip of that scandal, Gonzalez boldly announced that he's not stepping down no matter what he gets accused of, that he'll still be here until the next inauguration. This coming week, Scotter Libby is scheduled to get sentenced on Tuesday for obstruction of justice to protect Dick Cheney in investigation into the blowing of a CIA agent's cover. Those of us who've lived under this administration long enough know what that means. Just as when Reagan had months like this it was time to announce another big science or engineering project, when Bush has months like this it's time to round up yet another group of people who want to be terrorists and parade them before the American people. It doesn't matter if they have no money, if they have no connection to al Qaeda other than having read their website, or if their plan violates important laws of physics: look, over there! terrorists!
Although speaking of this administration charging people as terrorists ...
... this week and the coming week mark the sentencing of the last remaining members of the Earth Liberation Front, so far to terms ranging from 4 to 13 years despite their guilty pleas and plea bargains, based on a judge's ruling that their destruction of property that was (in their opinion) bad for the environment qualified as terrorism. (William Yardley, "Group of radical environmentalists facing long sentences as terrorists: Destructive acts are interpreted as crimes against government," New York Times, 5/26/07; link is to reprint in the San Francisco Chronicle. See also Valerie Richardson, "Ecoterror waning despite SUV bombings," Washington Times, 6/1/07.)
Environmentalists like Stephanie mcmillan are outraged by this because their theory of what is and isn't terrorism draws a distinction, going back to Earth First! founder Dave Foreman's analysis, between crimes against people and crimes against property, especially corporate-owned property. It's not that they don't admit that, for example, vandalizing an animal-testing lab or burning an SUV dealership or wrecking logging equipment is illegal. It's that they consider it to be a minor crime, since nobody gets hurt, and therefore in the long American tradition of civil disobedience, of committing small victimless crimes in an effort to protect actual victims from things that aren't crimes but should be. The Bush administration has taken the stand that violence against property is violence, and violence against property by people with a political agenda behind their violence is therefore politically motivated violence and qualifies as terrorism. In May, a judge agreed with the administration. (But don't hold your breath waiting for the Republican congressional staffers who assaulted the Palm Beach election board in 2000 to be charged as terrorists.)
Don't be distracted by the legal sideshow over the definition of terrorism, though. This isn't about whether or not destruction of property in ways that are carefully designed to protect humans from injury can or can't be called terrorism. This is about the Bush administration's desperate need to distract you from the fact that if we're going to get tough on all terrorist attacks on the US, and we did so honestly, almost all of the people charged would be people who vote Republican. In particular, abortion clinics have been the targets of explicitly terrorist attacks for decades now, and we seldom go more than a couple of weeks between attempted bombings, arson, poison gas attacks, or outright sniper attacks. The Southern Poverty Law Center chronicles a steady stream of right-wing racist terror attacks. And the second deadliest terror attack in the history of the United States was by a right-wing militia terror cell, Timothy McVeigh's and his friends' murder of 168 men, women and children (and injury of nearly 1000 more) in Oklahoma City in an explicitly political attack on the Clinton administration's Justice Department. (For some recent examples of right-wing domestic terrorism, see Rick Perlstein's blog entry for 5/23/07, "The question of right-wing terrorism.")
And there was no way, no way in hell, that Alberto Gonzalez was going to arrest and charge even one right-wing terrorist in America until he could first convict at least one "left-wing terrorist" first. Otherwise, to someone like him with a long history of putting what's good for George W. Bush even ahead of what's good for the Republican Party, and what's good for the Republican Party ahead of any consideration for truth or justice, he would have left it open for people like me to point out that all of the terror attacks on the US that have killed or attempted to kill anybody have been by Republicans. Nor was his predecessor, long-time anti-abortion activist John Ashcroft, going to even vaguely risk having the first domestic terrorist that he prosecuted be a fellow anti-abortion activist. So no, first the Bush administration had to convict at least one "eco-terrorist." That way mindless blow-hards like Rush Limbaugh can say, "See, it's the liberals who are the real terrorists," and so that supposedly "fair minded" journalists would say that there is politically motivated terrorism in the US by extremists from both the liberal and conservative sides.
Too bad for mildly autistic Caltech physicist Billy Cottrell that he didn't figure this out in advance before he did something mind-blowingly stupid back in 2003.
alienne sent me this link a while ago, expecting me to be much more outraged than I am by it: Judith Lewis, "A Terrible Thing to Waste," LA Weekly, 2/28/07. Cottrell and his friends spray-painted various environmentalist graffiti, including the letters "E.L.F.," meaning Earth Liberation Front, before fire-bombing them, damaging or destroying $5,000,000 worth of SUVs at dealerships all over California. While standing in front of surveillance cameras, naturally, since virtually every auto dealership in America has at least one closed circuit TV camera, which caught Cottrell's license plate. Now, if you needed any other reason to think that Cottrell and his friends had next to nothing to do with the "real" E.L.F., that's all you need to know right there: never once did any of the real "eco-terrorists" do something as stupid as let themselves be caught on video. Nope, what we have here is a small group of wannabes, obviously. But those wannabes still managed to wreck $5M worth of very expensive property. And Cottrell found himself in a position that he still doesn't understand. This made him the Holy Grail of the Bush administration's Justice Department since 2001: the first identifiable left-wing terrorist. So they threw the book at him, and he was sentenced to 8.5 years in federal prison as a "terrorist mastermind." The terms of his imprisonment are made worse by his autism, because his flat affect makes the jailers think that he looks unafraid of them. They're made even worse than that by the fact that he was a Caltech Ph.D. candidate, because his jailers know for a fact that he's smarter than they are, which means that from their point of view, there's no way for them to possibly even know what he's capable of making a weapon out of. Alienne expected that to be the part that outraged me, that they're punishing him even more harshly for having the same psychological condition that I have, and for being well educated, than they were punishing him for the crime of being a left-wing terrorist mastermind.
My actual outrage is kind of muted, though. For one thing, the prison guards are right about the fact that they have neither the training nor the smarts to know what is safe and what isn't safe to let a guy like him have in his cell. That's sad, but that's prison for you; you're not going to get brilliant engineers and genius anti-terrorism specialists working as prison guards. I'm also supposed to feel sympathy for a fellow Asperger's Syndrome sufferer, but you know what? For a smart guy, what he did was really, really, really dumb. It's hard for me to feel any sympathy for a guy who, if he knew enough to know that the initials "E.L.F." would terrify his political opponents, has to have known that in 2003 there was an all-out multi-million-dollar 50-state and federal manhunt out for anybody even remotely connected to the Earth Liberation Front; anybody who'd associate himself with that, at a time like that, on camera, should expect to get the book thrown at him.
Which, of course, makes him, and his political allies being sentenced this week in Oregon, the greatest thing that can possibly happen for the Bush administration: "Look, over there! Left-wing terrorists!"