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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: domestic terrorism

Extreme Right Terrorists Appear To Be Targeting Power Substations

The 40,000-plus North Carolinians who have been without power since Saturday because someone knocked out the power grid in Moore County have largely been restored to service now, thanks to workers at Duke Energy who scrambled to replace the equipment destroyed in what has all the earmarks of a domestic terrorist attack. The investigation into the attacks continues apace, with the FBI issuing search warrants both for individuals and for cell phone data.

But in the wake of the attacks, a larger national picture, much more disturbing in its implications, has emerged—one in which it’s now clear that Moore County was not an isolated incident. Utilities around the nation, ranging from the Pacific Northwest to Florida, are reporting a recent uptick in similar gunfire attacks on power substations—all of them in many ways embodying the spread of online extremist content promoting such terrorist attacks and explaining how to carry them out.

Back in January, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that American extremists have begun exhibiting an unhealthy interest in attacking the power grid—at first regionally, then nationally—as a means of disrupting the country. Far-right domestic extremists “have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors,” according to the DHS report.

There were indications that such an agenda may have been behind a series of incidents last month in Washington and Oregon, when at least six different attacks on power substations were reported to the FBI. Two unidentified substations operated by Puget Sound Energy, as well as two others operated by Cowlitz County Public Utility District in the Woodland area of southwestern Washington, were subjected to “vandalism,” the latter causing a brief power outage in the area. The attackers cut open a fence and then shot up transformers, apparently targeting specific pieces of equipment.

Another significant attack was reported by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) against one of its substations in Clackamas County, Oregon, which it described as a “deliberate physical attack” early on Thanksgiving morning. Oregon Public Broadcasting and KUOW report that a BPA security specialist described the attack in an email: “Two people cut through the fence surrounding a high-voltage substation, then ‘used firearms to shoot up and disable numerous pieces of equipment and cause significant damage.’”

Four days later in Clackamas County, there was another attack, this time on a Portland General Electric substation, though details of the attack were unavailable. (Most of the utilities, understandably, were tight-lipped about the incidents.) However, records indicate the attack managed to disrupt electricity in at least some areas of Clackamas County: The county’s computer systems were knocked offline.

The BPA specialist’s memo also referenced “several attacks on various substations,” recently in Western Washington, “including setting the control houses on fire, forced entry and sabotage of intricate electrical control systems, causing short circuits by tossing chains across the overhead buswork, and ballistic attack with small caliber firearms.”

Meanwhile, across the country in Florida, reporters found that there have been at least half a dozen “substation intrusion events” in recent months, though none of these involved vandalism by gunfire. Rather, these intrusions involved people who manually turned off the power substations by tripping switches. Most of these incidents resulted in brief outages that were quickly restored.

NewsNation obtained a memo indicating federal law enforcement suspects the people behind the Florida intrusions possess inside knowledge about how the grid operates, and are familiar with powering down equipment without causing damage.

“The fact that someone has potentially identified a critical substation and then has knowledge of those critical pieces of equipment inside that substation leads me to believe that they’re dealing with people who have inside knowledge,” the memo read.

While some of these incidents may turn out to have non-political (and thus non-terroristic) motivations, the DHS’s January memo warning of attacks like these as likely terrorism events was well-grounded. It indicated that conversations among far-right extremists online have increasingly focused on encouraging so-called “lone wolf” attacks involving only a single terrorist. Other online chatter includes efforts to inspire people with minimal training to also target electrical infrastructure, with weapons ranging from improvised incendiary devices, hammers, power saws, and guns.

Electrical infrastructure has become a key target for the most recent iterations of accelerationist neofascist groups like The Base and Atomwaffen SS. One such terrorist cell that targeted the January 2020 pro-gun protests in Richmond, Virginia, discussed targeting the power grid and cell towers in the area to debilitate any police response while disguised as both left-wing activists and as “3 Percent” militiamen, believing it would direct violence towards the groups blamed for the destruction.

A group of Marines who moved to Idaho from North Carolina tried to set up a terror cell that would conduct assassinations and other criminal acts targeting “leftists” and the government, using attacks on the Pacific Northwest power grid as their primary tool. In a propaganda video, the members of the neo-Nazi organization, which called itself “BSN,” could be seen practicing with firearms in the vicinity of high-power transmission lines.

The outages in North Carolina were widely celebrated by right-wing extremists, who drew a connection between the attacks and the drag-queen performance held that evening in Southern Pines. One neo-Nazi Telegram post laden with slurs against the LGBTQ community celebrated the "magnificent act of sabotage" as a "beautiful escalation" in a broader culture war.

SITE Intelligence Group, according to Newsweek, also identified a neo-Nazi publication warning that "these attacks will only continue" unless such drag shows cease altogether. At the far-right-friendly message board 4Chan, commenters described specific tactics that further harm the power grid. Others proposed focusing their attacks on taking down the electrical infrastructure in larger cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. since they "are not majority white."

Rita Katz, founder and executive director of the SITE Intelligence Group, told Newsweek that the Moore County attack is consistent with recent online neo-Nazi messaging.

"The sabotage against the North Carolina substation aligns perfectly with directives and methods seen in accelerationist neo-Nazi communities," Katz said. "If this was indeed a far-right terrorist attack, my worry is that it will serve as a proof of concept for other far-right extremists.”

Katz also says they see plans to do the same against power stations near prominent news and media companies they consider enemies. Targeting infrastructure, she explained, is "a key objective for accelerationist neo-Nazis, who care less about any distinct outcome and far more about sowing any kind of chaos."

A widely shared post published this summer by a neo-Nazi publication included "a detailed manual" that called power grids "the main satiating tool the system uses to keep the masses from rioting" and advised on ways to inflict maximum damage, including what to target when shooting at substations.

With such material readily available to wannabe saboteurs, Domestic Terrorism Threat Monitor (DTTM) director Simon Purdue told Newsweek that "the threat posed by attacks on critical infrastructure cannot be underestimated."

"The situation in Moore County offers only a glimpse into the chaos that attacks such as this can cause, and larger scale assaults could bring disruption on a statewide or even national level," Purdue said. He pointed to "a steady slew of manifestos, social media posts, videos and even instruction manuals on this kind of attack being produced by extremists over the past few years."

"The Moore County case was small-scale when compared to some of the plans that we have seen," he added, "and infrastructure needs to be better protected against such attacks."

Election season overtime is finally winding down, so Democratic operative Joe Sudbay joins David Nir on The Downballot as a guest-host this week to recap some of the last results that have just trickled in. At the top of the list is the race for Arizona attorney general, where Democrat Kris Mayes has a 510-vote lead with all ballots counted (a mandatory recount is unlikely to change the outcome). Also on the agenda is Arizona's successful Proposition 308, which will allow students to receive financial aid regardless of immigration status.

Over in California, Democrats just took control of the boards of supervisors in two huge counties, Riverside and Orange—in the case of the latter, for the first time since 1976. Joe and David also discuss which Democratic candidates who fell just short this year they'd like to see try again in 2024, and what the GOP's very skinny House majority means for Kevin McCarthy's prospects as speaker.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

German Authorities Bust Dozens Of Right-Wing Extremists In Coup Plot

The rise of right-wing extremism isn’t just an American phenomenon, of course: It’s been a mounting global issue, especially in Europe in recent years as a reaction both to growing nonwhite immigration and to the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, it was apparent at the time of the January 6 Capitol insurrection that neofascist elements in Europe were watching those events unfold carefully, and drawing lessons from them: “We were following it like a soccer match,” a German far-right publisher told The New York Times.

That reality struck home in startling fashion Wednesday when German authorities arrested at least 25 people in a carefully coordinated sweep, all of them alleged participants in a conspiracy to overthrow the democratically elected government. Among those arrested were a minor member of the German aristocracy, and a former member of the German parliamentary body. And it was clear they drew their inspiration from their American counterparts.

"Since this morning a large anti-terror operation is taking place. The Federal Public Prosecutor General is investigating a suspected terror network from the Reichsbürger scene," German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement. "The suspicion exists that an armed attack on constitutional organs was planned."

The suspects are all members of the so-called Reichsbürger movement, a German version of the far-right sovereign-citizens movement that claims the existing government is illegitimate and that ordinary people can declare themselves free of its jurisdiction. Authorities said that 25 people have been arrested so far, but there are warrants for at least 50 participants in 11 states in the conspiracy.

The far-right terrorists, according to authorities, planned to eliminate Germany's basic democratic order "using violence and military means," including plans to "forcefully invade the Bundestag," the German parliamentary building. A "council" comprised of Reichsbürger movement followers was to take over government business, while a "military arm" was to set up a "new German army" and "homeland security companies."

That echoes the far-right chatter around the time of the Jan. 6 insurrection: “The storming of a parliament by protesters as the initiation of a revolution can work,” Jürgen Elsässer, editor/publisher of the far-right magazine Compact, wrote the day after the Capitol siege. “But a revolution can only be successful if it is organized.”

He added: “When it’s crunchtime, when you want to overthrow the regime, you need a plan and a sort of general staff.”

Nancy Faeser, Germany’s interior minister, called the group arrested Wednesday the “enemies of democracy,” adding: “The investigations provide a glimpse into the abyss of a terrorist threat from the Reichsbürger milieu.”

The group’s alleged ringleader is Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuß von Greiz, who claims descent from an aristocratic line that ruled Thuringia for 800 years before the German Empire was replaced in the early 20th century by the Weimar Republic after World War I. Prosecutors say Heinrich XIII had founded a “terrorist organization last year with the goal of overturning the existing state order in Germany.” Their plan was to replace it with a new kind of authoritarian monarchy.

Heinrich’s chief lieutenant was identified as Rüdiger von Pescatore, a 69-year-old former senior field officer at the German army’s paratrooper battalion who is also believed to have been a commander in Calw. Von Pescatore, who was among the arrestees, reportedly had been in charge of planning the military coup, while Heinrich XIII was charged with mapping out Germany’s future political order.

Those latter plans included ministers for a transitional post-coup government, one of whom was among the people arrested: Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, 58, a former member of the Bundestag elected under the banner of the far-right Alternativ Für Deutschland (AfD) party. Arrested at her home in the western Berlin district of Wannsee on Wednesday morning, Malsack-Winkemann reportedly was slated to be federal minister for justice.

“Those who have been arrested are supporters of conspiracy myths, from a conglomerate of narratives relating to the ideologies of the Reichsbürger and QAnon ideologies,” Peter Frank, Germany’s public prosecutor general, told reporters in Karlsruhe.

The group had been preparing for what they called “Day X”: At the appointed hour, about two dozen people were to storm the Reichstag building and handcuff and arrest both members of the Bundestag and their staff. The group envisioned subsequently renegotiating the treaties Germany signed after the end of World War II. “For now, the Russian Federation was exclusively to be the central contact for these negotiations,” prosecutors said.

Heinrich XIII reportedly had attempted to reach out to the Kremlin, but prosecutors said there was “no indication that the contacts reacted positively to his approach.”

The plotters were comprised of what one investigator described as a “motley crew,” ranging from a German airline pilot to an operatic tenor to a coronavirus-denying roofer to a gourmet cook, whose son-in-law is a professional footballer.

The Reichsbürger movement is closely affiliated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy cult, and many of its tenets are based on QAnon conspiracy theories. It also resembles the sovereign citizens' movement in its core beliefs, which are that the German constitution prior to World War II was never properly nullified, and thus the formation of the former West Germany in 1949 was never valid. Therefore, its adherents do not accept the legality of the Federal Republic of Germany.

According to Interior Minister Faeser, the authorities are still investigating possible contacts between the AfD and the terrorist group, embodied by Malsack-Winkemann’s role within the conspiracy. "Of course we're looking now: What connections are there?" Faeser said. “You have to look very carefully."

Groups like the Reichsbürgers and similar European extremists—such as the Germasn-based group arrested in 2020 for making similar plans, which included an American soldier—are accelerationists, among the most dangerous domestic terrorists. Accelerationists, as SPLC analyst Cassie Miller explains, reject “political solutions” as inadequate for dealing with the threat of what they call “white genocide”—the hysterically fallacious belief that “white culture” faces an existential threat from multiculturalism and a demographic tide of nonwhite people: “the accelerationist set sees modern society as irredeemable and believe it should be pushed to collapse so a fascist society built on ethnonationalism can take its place.”

These far-right conspiracists all feed each other’s beliefs. The now-international QAnon movement spread conspiracy theories about how Trump—who the authoritarian cult sees as their ultimate savior—had been ostensibly cheated out of the election that played a role in the insurrection. German QAnon followers had eagerly promoted election disinformation claiming the vote had been manipulated from a server farm in Frankfurt secretly run by the CIA, which spread widely in American far-right circles and became one of the false claims about vote fraud touted by the insurrectionists.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

When Will Congress Call Domestic Terrorism By Its True Name?

I can’t imagine how Garnell Whitfield Jr. did it, how he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to demand some sort of action from the country’s leaders on gun violence and on the domestic terrorism wrought by white supremacy. But as I was riveted by his testimony, I realized the strength and courage he must have drawn from the memory of the mother he will never stop grieving.

Ruth Whitfield, at 86, was the oldest victim in a shooting at a Buffalo supermarket that left 10 people, all African Americans, dead. It was May 14, not even a month ago. Yet there have been so many shootings since, it sometimes seems as if the rest of the world has forgotten. An 18-year-old white man is accused of carrying out the racist attack, accused of driving hours to hunt and murder as many Black people as possible.

“I would ask every senator to imagine the faces of your mothers as you look at the face of my mother, Mrs. Ruth Whitfield,” Garnell Whitfield testified on Tuesday.

Would they be able to do that?

“Ask yourself,” he said, “is there nothing we can do?”

The track record isn’t great.

I’m not sure what Whitfield was expecting from lawmakers who have a hard time even naming what happened. How, then, could they put themselves in his shoes?

Garnell Whitfield is far ahead of our elected representatives, many of whom want, have always wanted, to distract and downplay, to accuse others of bad intentions, to look everywhere but into the eyes and the broken heart of a man whose life has been forever changed.

Whitfield’s plainspoken speech must have startled those reluctant to call out “domestic terrorism” and “white supremacy” for the dangers they are, despite the warnings from FBI Director Christopher Wray’s March 2021 testimony before the same committee about the connection between the January 6 attack on the Capitol and right-wing “domestic terrorism.”

They would rather, as Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas have done and continue to do, point to acts of violence by those on the left and accuse Democrats of using any effort to counter domestic threats as an excuse to go after political opponents.

This is the same Cruz who walked back his comments earlier this year describing January 6 as a “terrorist attack,” a sign of how dishonestly hearings by the House Select Committee are going to be received in some partisan quarters.

In Buffalo, the intent was clear. Did the shooter want to terrorize more than the people he is charged with gunning down? Were Black people enjoying weekend shopping human beings in the shooter's eyes? Or were they merely players in his racist conspiracy theories about nonwhites in America usurping the white majority’s rightful place at the top? It is a hateful theory that is taking root, even in the rhetoric of some tasked with governing an increasingly diverse country.

“Be very afraid,” was the clear message in Buffalo to all African Americans. That’s the point of any hate crime, to target a group, especially when the hate is spelled out, chapter and verse.

It was the message of those who murdered Black Americans exercising the right to vote not that many years ago, or in the case of World War II veteran Medgar Evers in 1963, murdering an American hero just for daring to register fellow citizens, for insisting on being treated equally in the country he fought for.

Yet, despite a history with more cases of intimidation and violence than can fit in one or 1,000 columns — a history our leaders in Washington could view at the city’s museums open to all, if truth were the goal — Senate Republicans recently blocked a bill that would have the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the FBI establish offices focused on domestic terrorism. This comes as five members of the far-right Proud Boys have been charged with seditious conspiracy for their role on January 6, with televised hearings promising much more.

Just as any gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was prohibited for more than two long decades because of an amendment to a bill that prevented using federal funds to “advocate or promote gun control,” a 2009 effort by the Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration to report on increasingly radicalized and violent right-wing groups was ended before it began.

Republican members of Congress and right-wing media outlets led the charge then and now to reframe any such attention as an attempt to smear police and the military and shift attention away from the perceived more urgent threat of foreign actors. Echoes of that could be heard in GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky’s recent remarks about the 2022 proposal. “It would be the Democrat plan to name our police as white supremacists and neo-Nazis,” he said. Former President Donald Trump, the man who found “fine people” on both sides in Charlottesville, Va., moved the government away from any investigation of white supremacist groups during his time in office.

Of course, there are legitimate reasons to be skeptical. How do you distinguish between hate speech and free speech? I understand the reluctance, and am reluctant myself, of too many investigations, too much surveillance, and how easily that can turn into the monitoring of “certain” groups. Past federal crackdowns to stop hate too often have been subverted to instead persecute and spy on those fighting for justice.

But there is definitely both smoke and fire when so many law enforcement officers and military veterans were caught attacking the very government they were sworn to protect on January 6, when shooters bond online over lies and hate.

America has a white supremacy problem, despite the reluctance of members of Congress to admit it, with support across the political spectrum for “threatening or acting violently against perceived political opponents,” according to a recent poll from the Southern Poverty Law Center that spares no one.

In that context, Garnell Whitfield doesn’t seem to be asking too much when he tells the senators that his mother’s life mattered, and asks: “Is there nothing that you personally are willing to do to stop the cancer of white supremacy and the domestic terrorism it inspires?”

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

As America Mourns Gun Victims, Republicans Block Domestic T​​error Bill

Washington (AFP) - Republicans in the US Senate prevented action Thursday on a bill to address domestic terrorism in the wake of a racist massacre at a grocery store in upstate New York.

Democrats had been expecting defeat but were seeking to use the procedural vote to highlight Republican opposition to tougher gun control measures following a second massacre at a Texas elementary school on Tuesday.

There was no suggestion of any racial motive on the part of the gunman who shot dead 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

But the shock of the bloodshed, less than two weeks after the May 14 murders in Buffalo, New York, has catapulted America's gun violence crisis back to the top of the agenda in Washington.

"The bill is so important, because the mass shooting in Buffalo was an act of domestic terrorism. We need to call it what it is: domestic terrorism," Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer said ahead of the vote.

The Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act would have created units inside the FBI and Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to combat domestic terror threats, with a focus on white supremacy.

A task force that includes Pentagon officials would also have been launched "to combat white supremacist infiltration of the uniformed services and federal law enforcement."

Schumer had urged Republicans Wednesday to allow the chamber to start debate on the bill, offering to accommodate Republican provisions to "harden" schools in the wake of the Texas murders.

Just ahead of the vote, Schumer said he had wept while studying pictures of the young victims, calling the state's pro-gun governor, Greg Abbott, "an absolute fraud."

Abbott has made efforts to loosen gun restrictions in Texas, including signing into law a measure last year authorizing residents to carry handguns without licenses or training.

The domestic terrorism bill's 207 co-sponsors included three moderate Republicans in the House.

But there was not enough support in the evenly split 100-member Senate to overcome the Republican filibuster -- the 60-vote threshold required to allow debate to go forward.

Republicans say there are already laws on the books targeting white supremacists and other domestic terrorists, and have accused Democrats of politicizing the Buffalo massacre, in which 10 Black people died.

They have also argued that the legislation could be abused to go after political opponents of the party in power.

Democrats are looking for Republicans to support a separate gun control bill, and said Wednesday they would work over the coming days to see if they could find common ground with enough opposition senators to circumvent a filibuster.

"Make no mistake about it, if these negotiations do not bear fruit in a short period of time, the Senate will vote on gun safety legislation," Schumer said

Are We Forever Captives of America’s Forever Wars?

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

As August ended, American troops completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan, almost 20 years after they first arrived. On the formal date of withdrawal, however, President Biden insisted that “over-the-horizon capabilities” (airpower and Special Operations forces, for example) would remain available for use anytime. “[W]e can strike terrorists and targets without American boots on the ground, very few if needed,” he explained, dispensing immediately with any notion of a true peace.

But beyond expectations of continued violence in Afghanistan, there was an even greater obstacle to officially ending the war there: the fact that it was part of a never-ending, far larger conflict originally called the Global War on Terror (in caps), then the plain-old lower-cased war on terror, and finally — as public opinion here soured on it — America’s “forever wars.”

As we face the future, it’s time to finally focus on ending, formally and in every other way, that disastrous larger war. It’s time to acknowledge in the most concrete ways imaginable that the post-9/11 war on terror, of which the bombing and invasion of Afghanistan was the opening salvo, warrants a final sunset.

True, security experts like to point out that the threat of global Islamist terrorism is still of pressing — and in many areas, increasing — concern. ISIS and al-Qaeda are reportedly again on the rise in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa.

Nonetheless, the place where the war on terror truly needs to end is right here in this country. From the beginning, its scope, as defined in Washington, was arguably limitless and the extralegal institutions it helped create, as well as its numerous departures from the rule of law, would prove disastrous for this country. In other words, it’s time for America to withdraw not just from Afghanistan (or Iraq or Syria or Somalia) but, metaphorically speaking at least, from this country, too. It’s time for the war on terror to truly come to an end.

With that goal in mind, three developments could signal that its time has possibly come, even if no formal declaration of such an end is ever made. In all three areas, there have recently been signs of progress (though, sadly, regress as well).

Repeal Of The 2001 AUMF

First and foremost, Congress needs to repeal its disastrous 2001 Authorization for the Use of Force (AUMF) passed — with Representative Barbara Lee’s single “no” vote — after the attacks of 9/11. Over the last 20 years, it would prove foundational in allowing the U.S. military to be used globally in essentially any way a president wanted.

That AUMF was written without mention of a specific enemy or geographical specificity of any kind when it came to possible theaters of operation and without the slightest reference to what the end of such hostilities might look like. As a result, it bestowed on the president the power to use force when, where, and however he wanted in fighting the war on terror without the need to further consult Congress. Employed initially to root out al-Qaeda and defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan, it has been used over the last two decades to fight in at least 19 countries in the Greater Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Its repeal is almost unimaginably overdue.

In fact, in the early months of the Biden presidency, Congress began to make some efforts to do just that. The goal, in the words of White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, was to “to ensure that the authorizations for the use of military force currently on the books are replaced with a narrow and specific framework that will ensure we can protect Americans from terrorist threats while ending the forever wars.”

The momentum for repealing and replacing that AUMF was soon stalled, however, by the messy, chaotic and dangerous exit from Afghanistan. Those in Congress and elsewhere in Washington opposed to its repeal began to argue vociferously that the very way America’s Afghan campaign had collapsed and the Biden policy of over-the-horizon strikes mandated its continuance.

At the moment, some efforts towards repeal again seem to be gaining momentum, with the focus now on the more modest goal of simply reducing the blanket authority the authorization still allows a president to make war as he pleases, while ensuring that Congress has a say in any future decisions on using force abroad. As Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), an advocate for rethinking presidential war powers generally, has put the matter, “If you’re taking strikes in Somalia, come to Congress and get an authorization for it. If you want to be involved in hostilities in Somalia for the next five years, come and explain why that’s necessary and come and get an explicit authorization.”

One thing is guaranteed, even two decades after the disastrous war on terror began, it will be an uphill battle in Congress to alter or repeal that initial forever AUMF that has endlessly validated our forever wars. But if the end of the war on terror as we’ve known it is ever to occur, it’s an imperative act.

Closing Gitmo

A second essential act to signal the end of the war on terror would, of course, be the closing of that offshore essence of injustice, the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (aka Gitmo) that the Bush administration set up so long ago. That war on terror detention facility on the island of Cuba was opened in January 2002. As it approaches its 20th anniversary, the approximately 780 detainees it once held, under the grimmest of circumstances, have been whittled down to 39.

Closing Guantánamo would remove a central symbol of America’s war-on-terror policies when it came to detention, interrogation, and torture. Today, that facility holds two main groups of detainees — 12 whose cases belong to the military commissions (2 have been convicted and sentenced, 10 await trial) and 27 who, after all these years, are still being held without charge — the truest “forever prisoners” of the war on terror, so labelled by Miami Herald (now New York Times) reporter Carol Rosenberg nearly a decade ago.

Through diplomacy — by promising safety to the detainees and security to the United States should signs of recidivist behavior appear — the Biden administration could arrange the release of the prisoners in that second group to other countries and radically reduce the forever-prison population. They could be transferred abroad, including even Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner tortured under the CIA’s auspices, a detainee whom the Agency insisted, “should remain incommunicado for the remainder of his life.”

The military commissions responsible for the other group of detainees, including the five charged with the 9/11 attacks, pose a different kind of problem. In the 15 years since the start of those congressionally created commissions, there have been a total of eight convictions, six through guilty pleas, four of them later overturned. Trying such cases, even offshore of the American justice system, has proven remarkably problematic. The prosecutions have been plagued by the fact those defendants were tortured at CIA black sites and that confessions or witness testimony produced under torture is forbidden in the military commissions process.

The inadmissibility of such material, along with numerous examples of the government’s mishandling of evidence, its violations of correct court procedure, and even its spying on the meetings of defense attorneys with their clients, has turned those commissions into a virtual Mobius strip of litigation and so a judicial nightmare. As Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) put it in a recent impassioned plea for Gitmo’s closure, “Military commissions are not the answer… We need to trust our system of justice,” he said. “America’s failures in Guantanamo must not be passed on to another administration or to another Congress.”

As Durbin’s comments and the scheduling of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on closure set for December 7th indicate, some headway has perhaps been made toward that end. Early in his presidency, Joe Biden (mindful certainly of Barack Obama’s unrealized executive order on Day One of his presidency calling for the closure of Gitmo within a year) expressed his intention to shut down that prison by the end of his first term in office. He then commissioned the National Security Council to study just how to do it.

In addition, the Biden administration has more than doubled the number of detainees cleared to be released and transferred to other countries, while the military tribunals for all four pending cases have restarted after a hiatus imposed by Covid-19 restrictions. So, too, the long-delayed sentencing hearing of Pakistani detainee Majid Kahn, who pleaded guilty more than nine years ago, finally took place in October.

So, once again, some progress is being made, but as long as Gitmo remains open, our own homemade version of the war on terror will live on.

Redefining the Threat

Another admittedly grim sign that the post-9/11 war on terror could finally fade away is the pivot of attention in this country to other, far more pressing threats on a planet in danger and in the midst of a desperate and devastating pandemic. Notably, on the 20th anniversary of those attacks, even former President George W. Bush, whose administration launched the war on terror and its ills, acknowledged a shift in the country’s threat matrix: “[W]e have seen growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.”

He then made it clear that he wasn’t referring to homegrown jihadists, but to those who, on January 6 so notoriously busted into the Capitol building, threatening the vice president and other politicians of both parties -- as well as other American extremists. “There is,” he asserted, “little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home.”

As the former president’s remarks suggested, even as the war on terror straggles on, in this country the application of the word “terrorism” has decidedly turned elsewhere — namely, to violent domestic extremists who espouse a white nationalist ideology. By the end of January 6, the news media were already beginning to refer to the assault on lawmakers in the Capitol as “terrorism” and the attackers as “terrorists.” In the months since, law enforcement has ramped up its efforts against such white-supremacist terrorists.

As FBI Director Chris Wray testified to Congress in September, “There is no doubt about it, today’s threat is different from what it was 20 years ago… That’s why, over the last year and a half, the FBI has pushed even more resources to our domestic terrorism investigations.” He then added, “Now, 9/11 was 20 years ago. But for us at the FBI, as I know it does for my colleagues here with me, it represents a danger we focus on every day. And make no mistake, the danger is real.” Nonetheless, his remarks suggested that a page was indeed being turned, with global terrorism no longer being the ultimate threat to American national security.

The Director of National Intelligence’s 2021 Annual Threat Analysis noted no less bluntly that other dangers warrant more attention than global terrorism. Her report emphasized the far larger threats posed by climate change, the pandemic, and potential great-power rivalries.

Each of these potential pivots suggest the possible end of a war on terror whose casualties include essential aspects of democracy and on which this country squandered almost inconceivable sums of money while constantly widening the theater for the use of force. It’s time to withdraw the ever-expansive war powers Congress gave the president, end indefinite detention at Gitmo, and acknowledge that a shift in priorities is already occurring right under our noses on an ever more imperiled planet. Perhaps then Americans could turn to short-term and long-term priorities that might truly improve the health and sustainability of this nation.

Copyright 2021 Karen J. Greenberg

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and author of the newly published Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton University Press). Julia Tedesco helped with research for this piece.

Domestic Terror Threats Have ‘Exploded’ Since 2020

FBI Director Chris Wray told members of Congress on Tuesday that the number of domestic terror cases in the United States has "exploded" over the past year and a half, confirming many suspicions surrounding the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

On Tuesday, Wray told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that the FBI's domestic terrorism caseload has "more than doubled" since the spring of 2020, "from about 1,000 to around 2,700 investigations."

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Homeland Security Renews Warning On Right-Wing Terror Threat

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

A national terrorism alert was released on Friday to warn about the possibility of extremists striking as COVID-19 restrictions easing in various states across the country.

According to ABC-13, the latest National Terrorism Advisory System alert released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) serves as an extension of the previous warning of possible civil unrest before the insurrection on the U.S. Capitol. The previous alert regarding January 6 was set to expire on Saturday, May 15.

While the alert does not offer details about any isolated threat, it warns of "potential danger from an increasingly complex and volatile mix that includes domestic terrorists inspired by various grievances, racial or ethnic hatred and influences from abroad," per the publication.

Those types of threats are said to have intensified since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic due to "conspiracy theories and deepened anger at the government in some quarters over the shutdown of the economy."

"Violent extremists may seek to exploit the easing of COVID-19-related restrictions across the United States to conduct attacks against a broader range of targets after previous public capacity limits reduced opportunities for lethal attacks," the bulletin said.

DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas weighed in on the latest alert and the present-day terroristic threats in the United States. "Today's terrorism-related threat landscape is more complex, more dynamic, and more diversified than it was several years ago," Mayorkas said.

In wake of the growing concerns about domestic terrorism, DHS has incorporated a new domestic terrorism monitoring division within its Office of Intelligence and Analysis. Approximately 7.5 percent of the federal agency's grant funding has been designated for monitoring terroristic threats.

Far-Right Terrorist Sought To Infiltrate Federal Law Enforcement Agency

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Ethan Collins had it all figured out. Like a lot of far-right extremists, he fantasized a lot about committing various acts of terrorism—bringing down the power grid, bombing police stations, that sort of thing—and thought about ways to make them happen. The Colorado man decided his best shot was to try to infiltrate a federal law enforcement agency and pull off his crimes from within its ranks.

Fortunately, Collins is a terrible liar. In order to join that unnamed federal agency, he had to take a polygraph test. He failed it. Three times. And his answers to agents the third time around became grounds for a search warrant that produced a store of illegal silencers Collins says he made himself. He's now under arrest.

Collins' story was revealed this week in a Daily Beast article by Pilar Melendez and Seamus Hughes. He is currently being transported to Colorado to face multiple weapons charges—all of them related to the silencers. Investigators reportedly also found a substantial cache of legal weapons in his home, including a high-powered sniper-type rifle and an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.

According to the affidavit filed by the FBI this week, Collins—who makes his living as a pilot—had applied to the federal agency in May 2020 for work, and was required to take a polygraph exam. Collins failed three times—likely because of his reactions during the portion of questions devoted to terrorism, because after the third blown exam, on Jan. 11, the polygraph examiner questioned him further about his responses to those portions of the exam.

His answers were hair-raising. Among the many things the Collins confessed:

  • He had carefully plotted out an attack on the Colorado energy grid that would leave the Denver metropolitan area without power for an extended period. He thought the best time to carry out such an attack was in the winter.
  • His plan would have entailed recruiting over 70 people to participate in the scheme, carefully coordinated by him but with minimal contact with each other.
  • The high numbers of recruits eventually sidelined his plan, because he realized he lacked the manpower to pull it off.
  • Among his other potential targets for attack were the Federal Reserve—which he blamed for his economic woes—and Data Centers for the state of Colorado, as well as local police stations.
  • He approved vigorously of the plot by 14 Michigan militiamen to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer that was disrupted last fall by the FBI. Collins told the examiner that "those plotting to kidnap the Governor would be justified in doing so if they arrested her and put her on trial for violating their rights as American citizens."

"Collins considers himself as a patriot, not a terrorist, but at one point during the interview did state he felt he was a terrorist. Collins said he has spent a lot of time thinking about how easy it would be," the affidavit explained.

Based on his replies, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Collins' home in Centennial, a Denver suburb, nearly three weeks later. In addition to the silencers and guns, investigators also found ballistic gear.

While the Collins arrest is a reassuring reminder that federal law enforcement's processes intended to catch such would-be infiltrators are working, it also leaves the ominous sense that there likely are men who are better liars capable of eluding detection by polygraph who have gained access to the ranks of federal agencies.

After all, the FBI itself recently warned that law enforcement generally was being targeted for infiltration by right-wing extremists of a variety of ideological stripes, including white supremacists and "Patriot" conspiracists. And very few such agencies outside of the federal government even create an emphasis to screen for such extremists, let alone require polygraph tests to detect them.