Another Canary

Smoke billowed from a seven-story building after a small private plane crashed into a building that houses an office of the federal tax agency in Austin, Tex.

The Metro Gunman – John Patrick Bedell –  who shot two policemen at the Pentagon metro station on Thursday, is the second anti-government terrorist to attack in as many weeks. Joe Stack was the first. While their respective manifestos differ in focus, they share a number of common elements that indicates there is more to come. Bedell is more of a conspiracy theorist (particularly harping on James Sadow, the marine killed in 1991) and wanted to establish “the truth of events such as the September 11 demolitions.”

We haven’t reached critical mass yet, but we’re getting there. Stack and now Bedell are each a “canary in the coal mine,” as John Robb puts it. He lays out three main drivers for this kind of terrorism: extreme frustration/hopelessness, few mitigating influences, and rage and a loss of government legitimacy. And while Stack and Bedell do have their differences, the crucial part is that they both came to the same conclusion.

Stack was concerned with an unlistening, uncaring, monolithic federal government. Bedell despised the fact that it exists at all.

Stack’s concerns were primarily financial. Bedell’s were primarily rooted in a perception of government “tyranny.”

Both are fairly insane – but that doesn’t mean we can discount them. They’re actors engaging in terrorist acts against the United States government, and they won’t be the last.

Perhaps the key difference between Stack and Bedell was their overall take on the role of business in society. From the Stack manifesto:

Why is it that a handful of thugs and plunderers can commit unthinkable atrocities (and in the case of the GM executives, for scores of years) and when it’s time for their gravy train to crash under the weight of their gluttony and overwhelming stupidity, the force of the full federal government has no difficulty coming to their aid within days if not hours?

Stack clearly finds a failure of government not in doing too much, but in doing too little. In failing to protect its citizens (i.e. a loss of legitimacy). On the other hand, from the Bedell manifesto:

Governments lack the profit and loss incentives that individuals and private organizations must use… When governments are able to confiscate the resources of their citizens to fund schemes that need only be justified by lies and deception enormous disasters can result.

In other words, different objections, but the same results – a strike against the American government by force. It’s no coincidence that there’s also a marked rise in the number and intensity of right-wing extremist groups. These aren’t just the underfunded, clearly ‘fringe’ militias of the Clinton years (if only). They’re legitimized by the likes of Glenn Beck and Michele Bachmann.

Instead, we get organizations like Repent Amarillo, the self-proclaimed “special forces of spiritual warfare.” Their site includes a “warfare map” of such targets as gay pride events, “Breast cancer events such as ‘Race for the Cure’ to illuminate the link between abortion and breast cancer,” and “demonically based concerts,” all the while asserting that “we are NOT a protest group.” Insanely enough, Repent Amarillo is led by a member of the Pantex security force (thus a government contractor), a nuclear facility requiring a ‘Q’ clearance just to get in the door. The Texas Observer has done some fantastic work reporting on the organization, but obviously publicity isn’t a deterrent at all.

Nativist groups have linked up with white supremacist groups. 9/11 Truthers share ideas with anti-tax fanatics. Everyone is learning from everyone else, making this an open-source effort even on an ‘intellectual’ level. And as these terrorists find the vulnerable nodes in American society and infrastructure, others will swarm.

That’s also making the entire rise of these canaries so much more prominent and potentially devastating than those of twenty years ago. They’re better-funded, their ideas cross-pollinate (so that no matter what your political views are, there will be a group like this for you – unless you act on your own anyway), they’re legitimized and publicized. We’re on the verge of some bad, bad times, and there’s not a whole lot the government – that we – can do about it.