October 25, 2002

Imposing an agenda on the Maryland sniper

The response of some to the capture of the Maryland sniper, John Allen Williams, a.k.a .John Allen Muhammad, illustrates an idea that has been preoccupying me of late: the relationship (if any) between ideology and truth. Ideology of any sort inevitably distorts the mental processes, and a writer – that is, a serious writer, and especially one who has certain vivid opinions – must be constantly on guard against this insidious deterioration. Since 9/11, and our forced march to war in the Middle East, what has struck me most has been a rapid degeneration of the public dialogue, including news coverage as well as published commentary.

A prime example of this sad decline is the reaction, in some quarters, to the news that Williams-Muhammad and his seventeen-year-old accomplice are unconnected to any group, foreign or domestic. As I wrote in a previous column, those who see an "Islamo-fascist" under every bed have been quick to point to the sniper attacks as evidence of of Al Qaeda's omnipresence. That this premise has now been disproved hasn't stopped the journalistic division of the War Party from, somehow, feeling vindicated. Such is the blinding power of ideology. Writing in the National Review Online group-blog, James S. Robbins, who decided on the Islamic terror option long before the capture of the deadly duo, avers:

"This may be more preaching to the choir, but remember Hesham Mohammed Ali Hadayet, the Egyptian shooter at the El Al ticket counter at LAX last July 4? The media was very reluctant to conclude the obvious, namely that he was motivated by radical Islamic beliefs and hatreds. As I pointed out in my piece on the sniper a week ago Islamic terrorism should have been the default assumption, in that case and this one. I think the people who a year ago were complaining about the intelligence agencies failing to connect the dots should examine their own critical analytical failures."

What about Robbins' own "critical analytical failures"? These led him to posit, a few days prior to the arrests, that the timing and location of the attacks indicated a new phase of Al Qaeda's offensive:

"Clearly, they have been looking for ways to strike back at us since the failure of their follow on attacks after September 11. This may be it. Remember that we are at war."

Contemptuous of facts, evidence, and all the other old-fashioned, pre-9/11 paraphernalia of public discourse, Robbins and his fellow warriors of the laptop are waging a war on reason. What motivated a murderous rampage on this scale – aside from sheer insanity? Wiliams-Muhammad's conversion to Islam ten years ago is seized on by Robbins as if it verifies his theory of "Islamofascism" as the root of all evil, but it does nothing of the kind. Nothing is known, at this point, of the murderer's motivation.

As a portrait of Williams-Muhammad as a typical serial killer emerges – enraged loser, loner, and drifter – the utter wrongness of the "it's Bin Laden" school of thought is readily apparent. But never do these people acknowledge error: ideologues, like madmen, are so married to their own delusional systems that they can explain away any discrepancy. In this case, they're blithering about how it was an example of "leaderless resistance," as Instawarmonger puts it,

"They've arrested the two guys wanted in the sniper case, after witnesses spotted them sleeping in a car at a rest stop. Other accounts suggest that they were "sympathetic" to Al Qaeda. This story reports: 'Several federal sources said Muhammad and Malvo may have been motivated by anti-American sentiments in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both were known to speak sympathetically about the men who attacked the United States, the sources said.'"

Allegations of the pair's "anti-Americanism" are anonymously cited in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer story linked to by Reynolds: their accuser is apparently a Mr. Singh, as identified by CNN. But this MSNBC story cites Felix Strozier, Williams-Muhammad's former business partner, as saying "he was a man with strong opinions who took his Muslim faith seriously. However, he wasn't aware of any anti-American sentiment."

Before the War Party blames the sniper attacks on Noam Chomsky, and names Susan Sontag and Gore Vidal as unindicted co-conspirators, they should take a deep breath and examine the facts. Muhammad spent ten years in the U.S. military – and even signed up for the Louisiana National Guard. How many of our chickenhawks can boast of a similar record? If this guy hates his country – instead of just people in general – he sure had a funny way of showing it.

But facts make little difference to those who have an agenda. Our war-birds were singing the same song before the case broke, and the effective debunking of their pet theory has hardly caused them to miss a beat. Reynolds even cites a story linking Muhammad to an alleged "terrorist training camp" in Alabama. But the police chief there denies it. As a local television station reported in July:

"State officials say an investigation uncovered no evidence that a camp near Marion was used as a terrorist training camp. Wednesday night, ABC News said the camp could have possible ties to Osama bin Laden's terror network. … Marion Police Chief Tony Buford said he was misquoted. Buford said the camp is used by police officers from Alabama and Louisiana for training that includes target practice."

The "terrorist training camp" turns out to be a kind of theme park for the age of terrorism called "Ground Zero USA" run by some British guy apparently trying, in his own small way, to cash in on the terrorist scare. But nothing scares off an ideologue looking for factoids to support his preconceptions (or, in Reynolds' and Robbins' cases, their fondest hopes. Because then, you see, it would show that they were right all along, and that the rest of us should just shut up and follow orders). As Reynolds writes:

"The TV people are still playing this as 'a new kind of serial killer' – but it's not. It's terrorism. It may be terrorism of the 'leaderless resistance' variety – or not – but unless this is a huge screwup by the authorities it's pretty obviously Islamic terrorism, and neither the authorities nor the media commentators are enhancing their credibility by pretending otherwise."

Speaking of living in a pretend world of illusion, doesn't anybody find it odd that a 42-year-old Islamic jihadist would go on a murderous spree with his 17-year-old "play son"? Here is someone who has been through two broken marriages, and a bitter custody battle in which he was accused of kidnapping his children from their mother. Now he has gone on a rampage, all the while pretending to be this kid's "father." Whatever ideational delusions caused Mr. Williams-Muhammad to go on a killing spree, they seem more psycho-sexual than religious or ideological.

But that tentative conclusion is based on the available evidence, which is something today's war-ideologues don't bother with. Because, you see, "everything's changed" and we don't need logic anymore.

Is John Allen Williams-Muhammad an Islamic warrior on a jihad against American infidels? I don't think so, although subsequent revelations may well prove me wrong. Instead, I tend to believe the scenario I sketched out in my recent speech to the St. Louis College Libertarians was all too dead-on accurate:

"In Rome, they fed people to the lions, and staged extravaganzas of sadistic cruelty as popular entertainment: today, the same sadistic streak is the leitmotif of our culture, as violence for its own sake preoccupies the American imagination – not only on television, but in real life. Last month, within an eight week period at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, five murders were committed by Special Operations soldiers returning from Afghanistan – they killed their wives, brutally beating, strangling, and mangling them, as if possessed by some demonic force. An investigation into the 'causes' of this phenomenon is now underway, but permit me to advance my own theory: that the violence unleashed in America's foreign wars is rebounding back here, in our own country."

And you read it here first….

P.S. I am sitting here listening to the horrifically boring Connie Chung ask a cousin of Muhammad what the suspect thought of the prospect of going to war with Iraq. Answer: he didn't have much of an opinion "one way or the other." Sorry, warmongers – better luck next time.

P.P.S. I can't resist pointing to the most egregiously ignorant of all the responses to the sniper arrest, which comes, naturally, from David Horowitz, who seems to have descended from fairly ordinary neoconservatism into the outright Ku Klux Klan-style racism of his allies over at American Renaissance:

"Of course everybody in the country had the sniper(s) profiled. They were white militia men, crackers. White males are the only group it is acceptable to racially profile. Well, guess what. Not. They are anti-American, anti-white, Muslim, blacks."

For all the reasons stated above, the idea that "anti-Americanism" drove Williams-Muhammad to mass murder is purely a product of the Horowitzian imagination. As for the snipers being "anti-white" – since five of the victims were persons of color, among them Kenneth H. Bridges, the founder of a national black self-help group – and a noted advocate of black reparations – this contention makes little sense. Muhammad was apparently guided by the spirit of "diversity" in choosing his victims, who were Hispanic, Asian, black, and white, young and old, women and men. Horowitz is simply projecting his own race-hate on others – and it's not a pretty sight.

Speaking of Horowitz, I note, in passing, his latest screed, weirdly entitled "Justin Raimondo Has His Say," in which he informs his readers that I am driven by "envy and resentment" of his greatness, and am "jealous of the fact that I am better known than he is." But so is John Williams-Muhammad better known than my humble self. Being well-known is not, in itself, a good thing, for the question arises: what is Horowitz well-known for?

His denials that he was ever a Commie are pathetically disingenuous: "I was a New Left Marxist," he claims, differentiating the new breed from the old-line Stalinists. But as a supporter and admirer of Isaac Deutscher, Trotsky's biographer and "critical" supporter of the Soviet system, the Horowitzian stance, back in those days, was commie in the lower-case sense. In any case, the New Left Marxists claimed that theirs was the real communism, while the Kremlin had "betrayed" the Revolution, and Horowitz's claim is a clumsy evasion.

"Secondly, I have never supported sending anyone to jail for advocacy," he writes, "let alone for 'disagreeing' with me." Since Horowitz regularly excoriates opponents of war in the Middle East as "traitors," "fifth columnists," "terrorist supporters," etc., ad nauseum, one can only conclude that Horowitz doesn't have the courage of his convictions. But if we truly are traitors, fifth columnists intent on helping a terrorist conspiracy to destroy America, as he constantly charges, then why not bring actual charges? For surely this is treason, and clearly illegal – and also the clear implication of what Horowitz is saying.

"Third," he avers, "I am not a 'neo-conservative,' whatever that means, other than Jew." What Horowitz descries in Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton – the divisive tactics of ethnic victimology – are okay when he employs them. Except what are we to make of Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Bill Bennett, Rich Lowry, Andrew Sullivan, Michael Novak, Father John Neuhaus, Francis Fukuyama, not to mention the comment by David Brooks that "we're all neoconservatives now"? The idea that "neoconservative" means "Jew" is just as false as the equation of Israel with the interests of Jews worldwide: what the War Party wants to establish is that to criticize either Israel or its American amen corner is an "anti-Semitic" act.

"Fourth," whines Horowitz, "not only have I never said that my parents should have been fired from their jobs during the McCarthy era, I wrote exactly the opposite as any casual reader of my autobiography Radical Son knows." Every reader of Radical Son – every close reader, no skimmers allowed! – should also be familiar with the following passage appearing on page 69 of the book. In describing his father's persecution, Horowitz denies Carl Bernstein's charge that the anti-Communist witch-hunt of the 1950's amounted to a "reign of terror":

"What actually happened to my father and American Communists in general bears little resemblance to these lurid images. They were neither executed nor tortured, and spent hardly any time in jail. … My father was not a Party leader, and merely lost his job."

It was, we are told, only "a temporary setback," as the Party soon helped him get employment, but one gets the definite impression that Dad losing his job was not altogether a bad thing, and certainly justifiable. Explaining that "less than two hundred" Communists were jailed at that time, he avers that his was "not a small or an insignificant price to pay" but "considering the Party's organizational ties to an enemy power armed with nuclear weapons poised to attack America, it was not a large one, either."

By this standard, it was okay for his father to be fired from his position as a "mere" teacher, lose his pension, and "share his lot with the working class," as Horowitz rather unsympathetically puts it. In noting that "the scent of inquisition hung over the political air" his parents breathed, he asks, on page 44: "And yet, what else could they have expected?"

In other words: they deserved it. So much for conservative "family values"!

Last – and certainly least – Horowitz makes the ridiculous claim that "Raimondo has long been obsessed with me in the manner of a political stalker. A search of his site turns up more than 200 negative articles and references about me, most of which are authored by Raimondo himself."

Too bad Horowitz can't use a simple computer. A Google search of our site turns up 115 matches to his name, more than half of which are brief mentions, and a good third of these are not by me at all. Horowitz himself has contributed an article to Antiwar.com, as part of a dialogue-debate with Ran HaCohen, our Israeli columnist.

How typically Horowitzian. First he complains that I'm "jealous" of his great fame, and then he bitches when his name appears in print. Some people are just so hard to please….


I stupidly failed to thank Mike Ewens, Antiwar.com's campus coordinator – along with his numerous comrades of the Washington University College Libertarians – for making my recent visit to Wash U a great success. I counted at least 150 people at the forum where I spoke. The College Libertarians at Wash U are an active, informed, and certainly very energetic group of young people, whose existence bodes well for the future of our movement. After the talk, we all went out to a fabulous meal in the charming Italian district, where I told Murray Rothbard stories late into the night. When it came time to leave the luxurious campus digs they put me up in, a pang of real regret swept over me: Oh, well, I thought, back to mundane reality! But not so fast….

Then it was on to the University of Illinois at Urban-Champaign, where I was also scheduled to speak before the College Libertarian group. It was a great audience, very attentive, with lots of questions and a platoon of my friends in the area showed up to supplement the crowd. I want to thank Shariq, the local organizer, who was kind enough to invite me, and whose whole demeanor exuded a quiet integrity: the talk was a great success, and afterward we all went out and had a few beers. On the way in to a bar, we saw the local leftie leader who heads up the campus peace coalition. "Hey, dude, what happened to you guys?" said one of the College Libertarians, "we didn't see you at the forum."

Of course, people were studying for mid-terms, so that was a little harsh. Maybe he'll show up, next time.

In any case, I'm continuing my campus tour, in November, with an appearance at Berkeley on the 20th, along with Harry Browne, and there are others in the pipeline. If your campus group is interested in having me speak on your campus, email Mike Ewens, and we'll make arrangements.

– Justin Raimondo

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against U.S. Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard.