At great pains to come up with a column today [November 1], I thought I'd better have lunch first, so I went to the corner store for a sandwich and a fresh pack of cigarettes. Perhaps, I thought, a little walk will give me some ideas. Back in ten minutes, I dumped the contents of my bag on the kitchen table: what fell out were the makings of a turkey sandwich, a pack of Marlboros, and a small amount of white powder! Yikes!
I know it will give at least some a thrill of vicarious fear to note that the corner grocery on my block is run by Arabs. No doubt this would have sent a good deal of my readership right over the edge, with a call to 911 "Help! I've been anthraxed by some rag-heads!" or at least a visit to the emergency room of our local hospital. But, somehow, I restrained myself
Now, ordinarily, I wouldn't have even noticed such a small occurrence, or, if I had, it wouldn't have really registered as anything significant. Under the present circumstances, however It turned out to be sugar at least it tasted like sugar, although it did have a certain cocainish edge but in the back of my mind I keep thinking: what if it wasn't? What if .?
It's all part of our long national nightmare, a paroxysm of paranoia being ratcheted up not on a daily but an hourly basis. It began on 9/11 and will end when? The all-too-horrible answer is: probably never. From now on we will have to live in what they call "the fog of war," a state where nothing is certain but the aura of doom and death that hangs over even the most mundane activities such as going to the corner store to get a sandwich and some smokes. Not that I'm all that scared after all, how likely is it that Al Qaeda has taken over a corner store in Pacific Heights, and is using it to conduct a mass poisoning of San Francisco's haute bourgeoisie? Well, now that you mention it
It's just about as likely as a good number of the news stories I've been reading, lately. There's the one about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation is royally po'ed that six men of "Middle Eastern appearance" were stopped by cops, somewhere in the Midwest and let go under some pretty suspicious circumstances. Although found to be carrying Israeli passports along with plans of a nuclear power plant and the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline and the obligatory box-cutters the six were subsequently sent on their merry way. This supposedly happened over the weekend, and, as many times as Attorney General John Ashcroft denies it, it keeps popping up as a news story everywhere. The London Times, Ha'aretz, Reuters, and especially the Jerusalem Post with its rather startling headline: "FBI Suspects Israelis of Nuclear Terrorism"!
The nightmarish aspect of all this is we don't know the truth of the matter, never mind how many times Ashcroft and the Bush team deny it. For our rulers have already declared, in advance, that this "new war" requires a level of near-absolute secrecy: the President himself has stated that much of the action will take place in the dark. Perhaps this is one of those battles. Who knows?
As the boundaries between reality and fantasy begin to dissolve, the flurry of outrageous and seemingly outlandish news stories continues to assault us, like the first snowstorm of winter. I especially like the one about how Osama bin Laden underwent treatment at the American Hospital in Dubai where he was visited by a CIA agent who later boasted about it.
No, it wasn't a report out of conspiracy.com, but an account first published in Le Figaro, the respected French newspaper, and repeated over Radio France International. According to "an authoritative source," Le Figaro contends that Osama arrived in Dubai on July 4, from Quetta, Pakistan, by air. The world's most wanted man was taken from the airport to the hospital, where he underwent treatment for a kidney ailment. Aside from boggling the mind, this makes a certain amount of sense: after all, reports that he has been on a dialysis machine are rife, and Qatar seems to be a key locus of terrorist activity. Furthermore, the Le Figaro account is very specific: it names the doctor who supposedly treated Osama, a Dr. Terry Callaway, who repeatedly declined to comment. So, if it's not true, why not say so? The hospital has denied it, as has the CIA, but Le Figaro and RFI are not only standing by their story, they're also adding a few more juicy details.
The French reports have identified the CIA agent as Larry Mitchell, "a connoisseur of the Arab world and specialist of the (Arab) peninsula." According to this report, Mitchell's business card described his position as a "consular agent," and I guess that's close enough. At any rate, Mitchell was suddenly recalled to CIA headquarters on July 12, a few days before Osama's gallstones were sufficiently appeased to allow him to check out of the hospital and fly back to his cave. It's crazy! And, you know what? In the strange, hallucinated atmosphere of the Halloween War, all of this seems perfectly credible.
I don't know what to believe anymore. The result is that I'm ready to believe anything, and nothing. Anything is possible anything, that is, but the expected. That's why I've done such a turnaround on the anthrax question. I was, at first, implacably skeptical when it came to the domestic terrorism angle: after all, how could an attempt to kill the US Congress, half the media, and various and sundry others be unrelated to 9/11? Surely the simplest explanation would be the most obvious, i.e. one pointing directly to Osama and Al Qaeda. This, on the face of it, is a much more credible theory than positing yet another terrorist group with a different sort of agenda. And yet
All the evidence is pointing, at this juncture, in another direction entirely. The latest development in this unfolding story is the news that very similar threatening letters were mailed to the media before 9/11 with an uncanny resemblance to the post-9/11 anthrax-laden missives. The New York Post, which has been all over the domestic terrorism angle of this story, reports that many in the Justice Department and the FBI believe "the anthrax scare is the work of a twisted homegrown menace rather than a terrorist linked to state-sponsored action or Osama bin Laden." Editorially, the Post is committed to the Iraq-did-it scenario: that their news department is doggedly pursuing another line of inquiry gives it added credibility, in my book.
Once you start delving into the domestic terrorism angle, a whole vista of fascinating and bizarre scenarios opens up in front of your eyes. The Post story mentions "Wicca," a "pagan cult," as the possible culprit, and then goes on to report:
"The Wiccan group fashions itself as modern-day witches seeking religious freedom, but they are not known to be violent. Investigators are probing whether a disturbed member of the group may have taken a bizarre turn and is targeting the media and the government in particular."
Hey, I have news for the author of this story: Anyone who believes they can cast spells, and, presumably, fly around on a broomstick by the light of the full moon, is already seriously disturbed. There is no question of whether such a person might take a bizarre turn they have already gone completely around the bend. I have my own doubts about this Wiccan-gone-wrong theory, and tend to prefer the right-wing extremist angle. Not out of any ideological preference, you understand since I'm something of a right-wing extremist myself but simply because of what we already know.
We already know that some especially wacko ultra-rightists have long been fascinated by anthrax as a weapon in their racial-cultural jihad, and here is an especially interesting account of it not by some left-wing pro-Taliban rightist-baiting commie, as you might expect, but from a poster on FreeRepublic, the popular conservative posting discussion site. In a long and quite interesting essay on the neglected prehistory of the anthrax scare, the anonymous poster "Joe Everyman" relates the intriguing story of one Larry Wayne Harris, a 49 year old registered microbiologist with two felony convictions for conspiracy to commit extortion in 1981 and 1982.
In 1995, Harris was arrested again, with three vials of bubonic plague toxins in the glove compartment of his car. Charged with mail fraud for using his company letterhead to fraudulently obtain plague germs from a Maryland biological supply firm, he got 18 months probation. In 1998, Harris was in trouble with the law again, this time in connection with possession of anthrax. It seems, however, that the form he had was nontoxic. Assuming the posture of a harmless crank, he claimed he never intended to hurt anyone, and was writing a book, a manual designed to protect Americans against the threat of biological warfare: and, indeed, Harris did issue a volume with the prescient title of: Bacteriological Warfare: Major Threat to North America. A little too prescient, perhaps .
This guy is also the producer of a series of tape cassettes, one of which is entitled "Germ Warfare In U.S.?" in the course of which, according to "Joe Everyman," Harris "discusses an alleged plot of Iraqi students relayed to him to introduce the American public to bioterrorism." Interestingly, at the time of his earlier arrests, Harris reportedly owned labs north of Las Vegas, and in Frankfurt, Germany, the apparent locus of the 9/11 conspiracy.
Harris also has some interesting ideological affiliations. According to the FBI, and several news reports, Harris is a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nations. The Aryans denied this, at first, and then admitted that, yes, he had been a member, but was no longer affiliated with their nut-ball group. The National Alliance whose leader, William Pierce, is the author of The Turner Diaries, which influenced Timothy McVeigh is another group linked to Wayne, along with some militia connections. As "Joe Everyman" put it:
"As much as I hate to draw the parallel, who remembers the initial reaction of the American public in the immediate aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing? The FBI was not looking for a Caucasian. And we aren't doing that now. It makes you wonder who the FBI is looking for ."
Perhaps the FBI is logged on to Free Republic, and they caught "Joe Everyman's" little essay, perhaps not: in any case, it looks like this is the trail they're following at present, and they know a lot more than we do I hope. Indeed, the highest circles of the Bush administration must be fairly certain that the anthrax scare definitely isn't a case of terrorism from abroad why else would they have scotched a French proposal that the UN Security Council condemn the attacks?
Here's an interesting detail of this story: in the summer of 1997, Harris purportedly announced his plans to place a "globe" of bubonic plague toxins in a New York subway station and stated that the resulting hundreds of thousands of deaths would be blamed on Iraq. Interviewed by PBS's Frontline in October 1998, Wayne made some statements that, in retrospect, sound positively eerie:
LARRY WAYNE HARRIS: My view of the future is that we are facing now a biological apocalypse. It is coming. The Bible says that it is coming.
NARRATOR: Larry Wayne Harris, a member of the white supremacist group Aryan Nation, has been in constant trouble with the law for his attempts to obtain plague bacteria and Anthrax through the mail. Harris has written a manual for do-it-yourself biological warfare, and he claims it is easy to acquire these deadly agents.
INTERVIEWER: How would you obtain samples of anthrax?
HARRIS: Anthrax? Go out where cows have died of anthrax. Dig down to where the bodies are. Get a sample of the culture. Grow it up.
INTERVIEWER: How would you obtain a sample of plague?
HARRIS: The rats the plague usually inhabits- rats would like to be above 5,000-foot altitude. Go out in California, get above the 5,000-foot mark. Catch you some rats, get some blood samples. Bingo, you got your plague.
INTERVIEWER: Could you personally use biological organisms offensively, if you had to?
HARRIS: Most definitely. I- I hope I never have- we never have to, but most definitely.
INTERVIEWER: Do you believe, looking into the future, that you may have to?
HARRIS: I hope and pray that I never have to.
INTERVIEWER: That's not the question, Mr. Harris.
I am not accusing Harris of anything, merely offering material to my readers and letting them make their own decisions. But I do have a tentative theory, one that could help explain the domestic terrorism angle in terms that illuminate the key element of motive. We all know what Osama would have to gain from inculcating fear and even panic in Americans: and it is logical to think that the anthrax scare is yet another phase of the war at home. But the facts, at least so far including the medical-scientific evidence don't fit in with this thesis, and so we are forced to ask: what would a domestic group of terrorists have to gain, especially an extreme rightist group, from such a terror campaign?
I think the key to understanding this is in Wayne's declaration that "the Bible says it is coming." Of course, the Bible predicts the coming of plagues, but it also predicts an apocalyptic war, a final conflict that will trigger the Second Coming of Christ. This is fervently believed by many, if not all, fundamentalist Christians. Wayne's insistence hope? that his New York City subway scheme would be blamed on Iraq reflects a desire, I believe, to bring on war and the apocalypse, to quicken it and therefore hurry along the Second Coming.
Crazy? Sure it's crazy but no wackier than any of the other stuff that's going on these days. And, if true, there's something fittingly ironic about the idea that the true culprits, instead of being foreign fundamentalists, are some of our own.
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