»  National Review Online

June 14th, 2001

  Making Your Point with Terror


You may have caught the report in Sunday's New York Times titled "The Future of American Terrorism," written by two gentlemen named Morris Dees and Mark Potok, both activists working in the Southern Poverty Law Center, a left-wing lobbying group. Messrs. Dees and Potok tell us that the milita movement has declined to less than 200 from a peak of 850 at the end of 1996, and they attribute this to disgust at the Oklahoma bombing, for which Timothy McVeigh was executed earlier this week. They go on to wonder: "Are we any safer now that the militia movement has faded? Probably not. The radical fringe's willingness to resort to violence has long been with us. In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus raged through the Midwest." The other example they offer from the "radical fringe" groups is "neo-Nazi skinhead groups."

A number of things come to mind, reading this piece. Assuming that Dees and Potok are right about the decline of the militia movement (it would be nice if they had told us who was doing the counting), and the reasons for it, it seems that your average militiaman is a much more humane and civilized person than your average leftist intellectual. Timothy McVeigh's crime was, they tell us, "too much even for militia members to excuse. When most militia followers saw the picture of the bleeding, dying baby in the fireman's arms, they were repelled."

If only the Left had such tender sensibilities! The death toll of the great communist dictatorships of the 20th century "approaches 100 million," according to the Black Book of Communism, a respectable and well-researched source. It is true, of course, that we did not see these corpses in our newspapers; yet none of this slaughter was much of a secret at the time, for anyone who cared to inquire. Still it took decades to sink into the consciousness of leftist intellectuals. From the earliest years of the U.S.S.R., refugees brought out tales of unspeakable atrocities by Lenin's secret police. They were ignored. The high-ranking Soviet defector Viktor Kravchenko, in his 1946 book I Chose Freedom, wrote of seeing a mother with a baby in her arms shot down by the Cheka for being "counter-revolutionary." Nor were babies merely shot by the leftist terror-states, they were eaten, too: the great artificial famines brought on by communism drove millions to cannibalism. Khrushchev recorded this in his memoirs, writing of the 1930 Ukraine famine. Jasper Becker, in his 1997 book Hungry Ghosts, which deals with Mao's famine in China, records how starving peasants resorted to the ghastly custom of yi zi er shi — "swap children, then eat." Since no-one could bear to eat his own children, you exchanged yours with a neighbor. Then you ate his, he ate yours.

It wasn't hard to get information on this sort of thing, yet leftists all over the western world averted their eyes for decades, until it became utterly impossible to continue doing so. Even today, in fact, the wilful ignorance and blindness still surfaces, as we saw recently when Secretary of State Colin Powell told us that Fidel Castro "has done some good things for his people." The Black Book records that between 15,000 and 17,000 people have been shot during the Castro dictatorship, while unknown numbers have perished in the sea while trying to escape it. Those militiamen leaving their groups in horror and disgust after the Oklahoma atrocity have a firmer grasp on decency and civilized values than Walter Duranty, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, I.F. Stone, Jesse Jackson, or any number of other luminaries of our public life this past few decades.

And then just look at those "hate groups" that Dees and Potok bring our attention to. "In the 1970s and 1980s, for instance, the anti-Semitic Posse Comitatus raged through the Midwest …" As objectionable as the Posse Comitatus certainly was (and still is), they did not use bombs: unlike, for example, the left-radical Weather Underground, who flourished in the early 1970s and were not at all shy about getting their point across with explosives: Weatherman bombs destroyed the home of a judge, part of the New York City police department, a ladies' room in the U.S. Senate, and a Pentagon restroom. They only managed to kill one person (if you don't count the three Weatherpersons who blew themselves up) but it wasn't for want of trying. Other "hate groups" Dees and Potok omit to mention include the Miami-based Yahweh sect, a black-racist conspiracy of the late 1980s that killed at least seven "white devils," cutting off their ears and fingers as trophies.

The surprising thing about terrorism in America, in fact, is how little of it there is. This is still a very fractious country, with countless groups nursing bitter grievances in cheap motels and rooming-houses, and with explosives and weapons much more easily available than is the case in European countries. Yet it is rare to meet an American who has had any personal acquaintance with a terrorist act. In Europe, large numbers of people have made that acquaintance. I myself made it one day in July 1982, while taking lunch at a diner in the Marylebone district of London. Of a sudden there was an almighty thud, rattling the windows. Irish terrorists had planted a bomb in the bandstand at Regents Park nearby, where a military band had been giving lunchtime concerts. The concert audience, mainly young mothers with their children, had been showered with bandsmen body parts. Anyone who lived much in London in the 1970s or 1980s can tell some similar story.

While the report by Dees and Potok is absurdly biased towards the notion that "hate" and the readiness to commit acts of politically-inspired violence are exclusive to right-wing fringe groups, I am afraid their conclusion that "the threat of domestic terrorism remains very much alive" is probably correct. The shocking thing about McVeigh's bomb is how easy it was for him to get the ingredients and assemble them. All over America, in those rooming-houses and motels, notice has been taken. Probably the coming crop of terrorists will be as politically diverse as the last: government-hating militia types and white racists no doubt, but also eco-loonies, white-hating blacks, assorted foreigners with a grudge against America, and perhaps a resurgence of old-style leftists. It is a dismal prospect, but it would be foolish to think that the impulse to make your political statement by means of terror died in Terre Haute on Monday morning.