photo by Yoshinori Abe

December 24, 1999


As the shadow of terrorism, both real and imagined, looms over us this Christmas season, the hysteria continues, stoked by the corporate media and government officials (or do I repeat myself?). The past 24 hours have seen the rapid escalation of official alarmism: mail-bombs are expected from Germany, to hear the FBI tell it: D.C.; New York City, and Seattle are touted as the most likely terrorist targets; and a couple with alleged links to an Algerian terrorist organization – the Armed Islamic Group, mentioned in yesterday's column – were arrested at the Vermont border. The charge is smuggling an illegal alien and having a phony passport, but the flood of illegals pouring over the Mexican border needn't get too worried – they're only doing it to Algerians.


My own favorite tale of alarmism run amok is the one in the New York Times, that tells the story about the hapless American arrested at the Bahamas airport, who

"was found to be carrying wires, magnet coils, a putty-like substance, batteries and circuit boards. After trying to flee an immigration preclearance area, the man was arrested. He told the authorities that he was an inventor."


Inventors beware – you may be in the possession of subversive materials. This guy could indeed have possessed the above-mentioned items, but you'll notice that no one is alleging that they were assembled in the form of a bomb. And what, exactly, is the charge – possession of a concealed battery?


What intrigues me about this story, however, is that if this poor slob is being charged with having the separate ingredients of a bomb, then obviously he meant to build his bomb on board the plane. Boy, can you imagine what the person sitting next to him would have had to go through? Well, actually, maybe I can:

"Uh, excuse me, but I'd like to get through."

"Not again?"

"I get nervous on planes. Besides, I've had three glasses of wine, two Cokes, and I need the exercise."

"You know, it's really hard to concentrate on this when I'm being constantly interrupted."

"Yeah, well, what is it you're doing, anyway? What's up with all the wires and junk? And, say, isn't that a circuit board?"

"It sure is, buddy – and you know what they're for, don't you?"


Taken together, and in such rapid succession, all these scary stories would seem to justify the propaganda campaign now being unleashed on a panic-stricken public. After all, if government officials have some credible specific evidence that Americans are about to be attacked, they have a responsibility to act. The only problem is that these same officials continually deny having any knowledge of a specific threat, as in this ABC News story about the alleged mail-bombs postmarked "Frankfurt" that are supposedly on their way to a post office near you:

"The FBI warned Americans today about the possible threat of mail bombs being sent from Germany. The agency said in a statement that it was issuing the warning as a precaution and not because it had specific, verified information about any possible German mail bomb plot. In the statement, the FBI said it has received 'unsubstantiated information that individuals may be planning to send bombs in small parcels to addresses in the United States' from Frankfurt, Germany. 'Out of an abundance of caution, the public is being promptly alerted to this information.'"


By their own admission, the FBI, which made this harebrained announcement, has no evidence to back up its claim, a concession that raises several questions: Since when does a federal law enforcement agency call a press conference and go to such lengths to urge the public to take "precautions" on account of "unsubstantiated information"? How many threats does the U.S. government get in, say, a week, and does it routinely report all of them? Why this one, and why now? Inquiring minds want to know.


An abundance of caution? I would say an excess of alarmism, and probably the most incautious and even provocative strategy to combat a possible terrorist attack. Am I going mad, or does it really seem as if this administration is goading the terrorists to lash out – or lose face?


But what's the point of all this hysteria? Well, there are two points, really, and the President made one of them explicit when he said:

"I don't think the American people should stop their holiday activities. I think they ought to go on and enjoy the season. But because we in the government are taking extra steps and we're on alert, I think it would be good for them and good for us if they'd just be careful and – not suspicious – but aware of their circumstances. And if they see anything that doesn't look right, to report it to us."


Well, Mr. President, I would like to make a report, because your phony anti-terrorist campaign sure doesn't look or sound right to me. It seems somehow, uh, intrusive to report "anything that doesn't look right." Anything? Does this include fellatio in the Oval Office?


Welcome to the twenty-first century, a paranoid's paradise, where everybody is always "on alert" and it's only natural to snoop and spy on your neighbors:

"Honey, can't sleep."

"Yeah, I know. What a racket! He does it every night. What's he building in that garage of his, anyway?"

"I dunno, but whatever it is, he's making an awful racket."

"Gee, what if he's making a bomb?"

"Well, then, maybe we should call the police, dear."

"Good idea, Martha, hand me the phone. . . . Hello, yes, I like to report a terrorist threat. . . ."


We can laugh at the transparent hypocrisy and crass power-lust of our rulers, but there is nothing funny about the statement of U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer, upon the arraignment of Ahmed Ressam in a Seattle courtroom: At a news conference Pflaumer framed her appeal for public cooperation with the anti-terrorist campaign in terms of a threat. If you know something, or think you saw something, or even suspect something, and you don't come forward, you will pay the price: "Under conspiracy law," said Pflaumer, "an individual is responsible until he disassociates himself and affirmatively goes to the authorities. For anyone out there with any information about any similar devices or plots, we urge them to come forward."


But why would a committed terrorist, presumably a fanatic, come forward with information leading to his own arrest and conviction? Pflaumer's pronouncement is directed, not at terrorists, but at ordinary Americans, who are supposed to be intimidated into spying on their neighbors.


But there is another reason for this concerted campaign to convince the country that a terrorist attack is imminent. Aside from tightening the government's grip at home, the terrorist scare (in tandem with the spy scare) is meant to whip up a war fever against a foreign enemy – a likely one being the fundamentalist Taliban regime that has taken over Afghanistan.


Indeed, the war drums are already beating, with limited economic sanctions likely to be expanded, and the War Party, in the person of MSNBC international editor Michael Moran, already howling for military action. In "Times up for the Taliban," Moran likens the terrorist threat to an attack by aliens from "outer space" and demands to know why we haven't moved more aggressively:

"Afghanistan's Taliban movement is widely accused of sheltering terrorists plotting attacks on Americans, on Indians, on Russians and others. If so, why has this powerful coalition of states done nothing to change this?"


How to "change" the obstreperous Afghans, who refuse to hand over Osama bin Laden, and thumb their noses at economic sanctions? What else, but send in the Marines? As Moran so cannily puts it:

"Back in America these days, no thought of using American military force in a far-off land can escape this litmus test: Is it worth risking American lives? If the question were put to the American public, 'Should the United States sponsor an international force to establish order in far off Afghanistan?' most people would answer with a resounding 'no.'

"But if there is real evidence that bombers trained and succored in Afghanistan are planning to strike at U.S. cities, the question changes. The West, which fought a war to rescue Kuwait from Saddam Hussein and Kosovo Muslims from Slobodan Milosevic, has made surprisingly little a threat to its own populations. Some are asking precisely what order of atrocity will it take for these great powers to put aside their differences and act together against the Taliban and the threat it nurtures. Would the destruction of the Seattle Space Needle have been enough? It's hard to say."


How much more hysterical can you get? Precisely nothing has occurred, and already Moran is calling for retribution – isn't this jumping the gun just a little bit? What is truly an atrocity is the brazen bloodthirstiness of the War Party, which can hardly restrain itself these days. So eager are they to unleash the dogs of war, from Kosovo to Iraq and now Afghanistan, that they hardly care whether their arguments make a modicum of sense. Just as endless film loops of Kosovar refugees and phony "atrocity" stories prepared the country for the last war, so the current barrage of fear-mongering is meant to prepare them for the next war – and it won't be long, now.


The Taliban, as I have remarked before, are perfect hate objects for our liberal interventionists: they "oppress" women, insist on strict morality, and have banned all television from the country. What really provoked Moran was no doubt the mass smashing of TV screens staged for Western cameras by Taliban supporters. Just think, if such a craze took hold in the West, Moran and MSNBC would have to find other work – no wonder they're calling for a preemptive strike!

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of 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 (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).

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