Hope you're good and ready to be pissed off today.
The Rolling Stone makes no secret of its liberal political leanings, so make of it what you will, but if even half the crap in this article is presented honestly, it marks one hell of a betrayal by our own government.
The gist of the article is this: the Joint Terrorism Task Forces that sprang up around the country in the wake of 9/11 have been paying informants to involve would-be jihadists in terrorist plots when the suspects otherwise would have neither the means nor the desire to do anything destructive. The author, Guy Lawson, explores a few possible rationales for this behavior, from law enforcement's absolute conviction that terror is a huge, huge danger to the more sinister suggestion that terror threats are created to distract us from the real news - which, if you consider the fact that this interesting list of bogus terror threats is a companion to the main article, is clearly what Mr. Lawson wants us to believe.
The idea that paid informants can cause as much crime as they help to solve is hardly a new one - Radley Balko over at The Agitator (where I got the link to this article) has been chronicling informant abuse in drug enforcement for a while now. What's remarkable is that the FBI and JTTFs are taking people who would otherwise be disaffected outsiders, turning them into terrorists, and then arresting them. They're basically creating the problem that they're solving. It reminds me of a police officer encountering a disaffected, picked-on teenager with violent fantasies, giving him guns and encouraging him to shoot up his school, then arresting him for actually doing what the cop suggested he do in the first place.
I don't generally go for conspiracy theories, and as such I don't buy Lawson's implied rationale that the FBI is creating terrorists in order to scare us into supporting the war on terror and distract us from what's really going on. In my mind, it's more plausible to think that the FBI - from top to bottom - believes that terrorism is so pervasive and such an existential threat to America that fighting it requires an all-out effort to eradicate even the slight whiff of violent anti-American behavior. And that, in my opinion, is even more dangerous than some silly conspiracy ever could be.
Most everyone gets mad at America every now and then, especially poor people and members of minority racial and religious groups. And fantasies of carrying out violent acts against others are worrying, they're hardly rare. The thing is, these fantasies usually remain firmly in the imagination, and if they don't, they simply propel someone into a life of common crime, not terrorism. It's kind of a reverse Catch-22: if you're an American and you have the means and community support required to actually carry out a terrorist attack, you probably don't have the desire to do so, and vice versa. But the FBI, by their strategy of taking isolated angry people and turning them into terrorists, is essentially treating all disaffected Muslims as terrorists. It's like treating all disaffected teenagers like school shooters or all disaffected right-wingers like Timothy McVeigh. And it's absolutely unconscionable.
Don't get me wrong - it is important to keep tabs on those who make violent threats, however vague. Our history of ignoring such threats from teenagers should teach us that. But there's a difference between watching someone to make sure they don't do anything and actually ensuring that they do do something and then arresting them. The FBI has criminalized violent thought among American Muslims, and has done so because they believe that they have to in order to keep America safe - and their tactics essentially prove their own point to them. That's the dangerous, scary, and disgusting part of this article. Regardless of how serious you believe the terrorist threat to be, effective policing of this threat involves finding and infiltrating actual conspiracies. It certainly does not involve tricking angry, disaffected Muslims into joining conspiracies of your own creation and then arresting them when they do.