Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Changing Face Of Terrorism

When most Americans hear the word “terrorism”, they probably think of al-Qaeda, and of course with good cause. But as this interesting article from the Associated Press notes, almost all of the terrorist actions carried out in this country after 9/11 were committed by American citizens, not foreign Muslim extremists (it appears likely that this is true even for the yet-unsolved anthrax mailings that directly followed the Sept. 11th attacks). Although none of these domestic terrorism cases come anywhere close to reaching the monstrous impact of the 2001 attacks (most of them are in fact property destruction incidents), they do illustrate that our most potent and potentially dangerous extremist elements come from within rather than from a foreign source.

The above article contains a link to the Terrorism Knowledge Base, an exhaustive listing of every major terror attack that has occurred in the world since the late 1960’s. It is interesting to note that excepting a couple of jihad-inspired incidents and attacks on anti-Castro groups in Florida, every terrorist incident recorded in the US after 9/11 can be attributed to the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front, or a related organization. To be fair, none of these attacks involved any sort of personal violence, being merely property crimes. Still, this does make clear that the far left in the US is much more prone to direct action at this point than is the far right.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Extreme Book Reviews: Inside Out by Alexandra Stein

OK you internet fiends, time to unglue your eyes from your monitor and read an actual print book. Alexandra Stein’s Inside Out: A Memoir of Entering and Breaking Out of a Minneapolis Political Cult is recommended for anyone who has a serious interest in political extremism or cults in general. Stein is a red diaper baby, raised by Communist activists. She drifted into the San Francisco leftist scene in the 1970’s, integrating herself into what was left of the radical underground there. Eventually, she came into contact with a mysterious group called simply the O. The O promised a strict system of internal discipline designed to turn its members into committed Maoist revolutionaries. Impressed with the group’s seemingly high levels of organization and purpose, Stein moved to Minneapolis to immerse herself completely in the O’s teachings. Separated from her family and friends, she soon came to depend on the group for her social as well as political needs. The rest of the book describes Stein’s journey from loyal member to questioning apostate, and her eventual separation from the group. The O was unusual in that it was a cult based on political rather than religious principals, and its leader was not particularly charismatic. (In fact, Stein did not so much as know the identity of the group’s leader until she was already in the process of leaving. Stein suggests that this leader, Theo Smith, may have been able to exert such control over his followers in part due to the fact that they were all white persons while he was an African-American man. The O may have been, to some extent, an extreme example of the power of white guilt.) The book does not only describe the inner workings of the cult, but also delves into Stein’s personal experience, allowing the reader to understand how an intelligent and perceptive young woman could come to surrender herself to a political organization so completely. These personal observations are what make the book such a pleasure to read, and what gives it such value to those studying the psychology of political extremism.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Food Not Bombs Learns The Dangers Of Democracy

I’m sure Andrew Stankevich is a nice guy. He started a Food Not Bombs chapter in Rochester, NY several years ago with the aim of feeding the poor persons of that city. Mr. Stankevich’s operation became successful enough for him to open a distribution center/store called Friends Helping Friends. Everything went swimmingly until members of a violent black separatist cult called the Nation of Yahweh (NOY) began attending the organizational meetings. Apparently, the cultists were offended by a white activist running a non-profit institution in a predominantly black neighborhood. As Friends Helping Friends is run under a democratic model of organization, it was fairly easy to force Stankevich out. The NOY members simply packed the organizational meetings with their themselves and their supporters, then voted him off of the managing board based on bogus charges of embezzlement and attempted murder (!). If Stankevich was more familiar with how extremists operate, he might have seen this coming. The old Communists Party USA had a long history of taking over unions and other leftist organizations using this method, and recently the Sierra Club had to fend off an effort by anti-immigrant extremists trying to do the same thing. Stankevich has probably wisely decided to move on with his life and not challenge the NOY takeover. This whole episode however might serve as a good lesson for those trying to start grassroots organizations: Sometimes, democracy is overrated.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Richard Cohen Tries To Link Barack Obama to Louis Farrakhan (And Fails)

I’m up to neck in stuff to do this week, so I’ll have to make due with a quick one here. Richard Cohen recently wrote an article trying to link presidential candidate Barack Obama to the noxious anti-Semitic cult-leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama had the integrity to make it plain that he despises all forms of anti-Semitism, particularly Farrakhan’s. In this he shows more backbone than most black leaders in America, who are usually all too egger to help make excuses for Farrakhan’s beliefs. For those of you who haven’t read it, here’s a piece I wrote many moons ago describing how incredibly complacent most African-American leaders are on this issue. Which might be one of the reasons none of them are serious presidential contenders, and Obama is.