The other terrorism-and pondering Portland

Carla Axtman

Honestly, I'm ashamed of myself. I don't know why I didn't see this. But I'm grateful that Sarah Mirk did.

Blogtown: What About That Other Terrorism Case?

While we're racing around trying to learn all we can about Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the 19-year-old accused of plotting to bomb Pioneer Square, I want to point out that his case is the second politically-motivated bombing case in Oregon courts right now.

Father and son Bruce and Joshua Turnidge are facing aggravated murder charges for allegedly building a bomb and planting it at a bank in Woodburn Oregon. The blast killed two police officers and took the leg of another who responded to a phone call warning employees to get out of the bank. When FBI agents stopped by his house, devout Christian Bruce Turnidge struck up conversation about the importance of the right to bear arms (saying, "Every ballot should come with a bullet.") and called Obama a racial slur. His house was filled with weapons and friends testified as state witnesses at the trial that he had tried to organize an anti-government militia and cheered that the Oklahoma City bombings would "teach the government a lesson."

Sarah goes on to point out that both the Turnidges and Mohamoud were trying to kill civilians for political reasons--and the Turnidges actually succeeded. Yet Mohamoud is being charged with a much more serious federal crime. Further, while Mohamoud told the FBI what he wanted to do, the Turnidges had more than 50 conversations with friends about blowing up a bank.

So here's an additional question: Did the City of Woodburn close parking around the bank and beef up security in the area (which incidentally, is close to a major shopping center)--and consider joining the Joint Terrorism Task Force?

Not that I've heard. But apparently if the alleged terrorist in question is Muslim--it's appropriate to consider throwing away your principles around civil liberties and government oversight into the crapper. I sincerely hope Portland turns out to be better than this.

To (mostly) quote Anna Griffin:

For the moment, the smartest move for Portland's politicians is to sit back, hush up and let the professionals in law enforcement and the courts do their work.

And while they're at it--stop pushing Portland into the position of being a fearful town of reactionaries. There's enough of that in the US already. Portland doesn't need to go there, too.

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    They're white.

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    I guess I just don't get it, Carla. I suppose it's possible to read all sorts of racial and religious implications into this.

    But that's completely ignoring the fact that this kid tried multiple time to contact individuals in Pakistan, in an area where we are currently engaged in active combat.

    And that's ignoring the fact that Oklahoma City, as horrible as it was, was never shown to be anything other than the act of two deranged individuals, while 9/11, the attack on the Cole, the Madrid train bombing, and the London subway bombing are clearly the act of a well-organized international organization bent on destroying the U.S.

    Do I think the FBI is more interested in tracking individuals who make phone calls and emails about bombs and how he can travel to Pakistan than a right wing nut job who spouts off about the evils of government--or wait that's Glenn Beck, isn't it?

    Yes. I do. It's unfortunate that race and religion overlay this but I don't think they have much to do with the differences in these two cases.

    And by the way, what the heck difference does it make that Turnidge made racial slurs about Obama? It's disgusting but pure baiting on Mirk's part. Why is it relevant? Is the claim that the Woodburn bombing was some sort of strike against Obama? Against black people? Or what? Sadly, there are still racists in the US. That doesn't mean we sic the FBI on their ass.

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        The fact that the Portland bomber failed means nothing. Others have succeeded. The fact that the kid is of a minority race is irrelevant. The Turnidge case has gotten plenty of publicity and deservedly so. White Christian bombers have never lacked for publicity and it's ridiculous to suggest otherwise. There happens to be a worldwide phenomenon of people attacking civilians in the name of Islam. There are vicious anti-government types also, who must be guarded against but their outrages are much rarer.

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            Well, the Turnidge bombing trial has been front-page news in the Oregonian every day for a few weeks now.

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              I don't think that was the point, Kari. When terrorist acts carried out by Christians occur - even when they are, as in the case of the anti-abortion bombings and murders, carried out by people acting explicitly based on religious motivations - they virtually never elicit calls for Christians as a whole to apologize for those acts, nor do we see lengthy articles talking about why homicidal violence is or isn't part and parcel of the Christianity, right?

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        I agree with you but not for the reasons you think. If we were at war with China and there had been multiple Chinese terrorist acts worldwide including one that killed thousands of citizens, and the Turnidges had been Chinese, yes, it would be all over the news.

        Substitute whatever race or religion you want.

        The "50 times" referred to above was the testimony of a single construction co-worker of the Turnidges. That is nothing like conspiring over international borders (if that is what it turns out Muhammud did).

        And the FBI is involved in violent right wing groups. How soon we forget that one of Timothy McVeigh's stated reasons for the Oklahoma City bombing was government actions at Ruby Ridge.

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          But we are not at war with a people, country or religion despite the fevered wishes of many (ironically both the extremists and the hawks on "our" side share that wish). So your analogy with China in the hypothetical is as bogus as the propaganda of neoconservatives who seek to cast this as a clash of civilizations.

          We are "war" against the equivalent of the KKK. Disgruntled extremist lunatics who use religion to justify (and a times with legitimate reason unlike the KKK) acts of violence against western societies and the United States in particular.

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          I'm confused about your responses, Paul. Above you allege that Oklahoma City was nothing more than the act of "two deranged individuals" - but here you seem to be acknowledging that it was connected to a broader movement of organized right wing groups. In fact, it took place in a context of wide scale militia movement organizing, and the movement sought intentionally to propagandize and recruit among people in the military.

          The Oklahoma City bombing in fact forced the Feds to respond much more aggressively to cracking down on the militia movement, which receded in its aftermath. But it's very much on the rise again, and so it's entirely appropriate for the FBI to be monitoring and acting against domestic terrorist groups with no foreign connections. They've posed a consistent threat and, whether of the militia or anti-abortion variety, have carried out those threats on numerous occasions.

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          I am concerned with the shifting parameters of what is defined as terrorism. If we only act upon threats that have any sort of international context, then we are only endangering more lives. Also, why are there environmentalist groups and militias included on the terror watch list if only Muslim extremist groups are considered threats? A "War on Terrorism" can be a very dangerous thing if it is either too inclusive or too exclusive.

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      Unless I missed the story, we aren't at war with Pakistan, last I heard they were at least nominally an ally. But that is beside the point. The point here is that in the Woodburn case, the Feds washed their hands of the case, preferring that it be tried, I would imagine, as a murder case-there is no Federal jurisdiction in a murder case. But in the case of the young Muslim, they are using the case as political pressure to force the Portland PD's involvment in the JTTF. and here, from 2005 , Also, in the Turnidge it is being argued that there was no intent to harm anyone and the bomb only went off because of mishandling by the officer trying to defuse it. Do you suppose that the young Muslim will be allowed to argue that there was no intent because the parts (provided by the FBI) were faulty?

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    At the same time this was all going on, it was reported that the Department of Homeland Security has gotten into copyright law apparently. The government is using legislation intended to go after terrorist, to shutdown file-sharing sites for example. No surprise here and, no shame. The crazy laws that had African Americans only legally partially human, were used to create the laws that treat corporations as people today. Wonderful how that all happens. :-(

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    Some unfortunate 'facts' that turn the premise upside down:

    1. The Turnidges are being tried for murder and face the death penalty.
    2. Both the Turnidges and Mahamud share the term 'fanatic'. While the young man's religion (jihad) had everything to do with his fanaticism, the two accused murders did not have a religious fanaticism.
    3. Because the Turnidges are right wing fanatics of the worst sort, there have been no ultra liberals jumping to their defense.

    Trying to draw a line of comparrison between the two bombing plots is like comparing apples to ball berings. Thy're both round, but other than that nothing is alike.

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      So what if one attempted act of terrorism was motivated by religious extremism and the other motivated by antigovernment/political/financial extremist motivations?

      How does that in any substantive way "turn the premise" (whatever you think that might be) "upside down"?

      I do agree that there are some circumstances that make the two crimes somewhat dissimilar for comparison sake, that is the Woodburn "bombing" was an attempted extortion scheme and setting off the bomb was not the end-goal. It only detonated when the police attempted to open the enclosure of the bomb with a crowbar with brute force (and yes this is being circulated among law enforcement on how NOT to handle suspected explosive devices).

      However, the centrally valid point that we should be drawing form both these incidents is that both threats to public safety can and must be addressed through competent law enforcement and our criminal justice system and not through completely counterproductive and ill-conceived wars and invasion of countries.

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    A number of plots by the Christian Patriot movement have been successfully identified and prosecuted by the FBI. The anti-govt. connections and rhetoric by the Turnidges have been discussed but I would like to see more information about them, more specifically their ties to the Christian Patriot movement. Their racial slur is not the relevant point here, it's the anti-govt., anti-police apparent motivations that are relevant here. These guys have a history of anti-govt. hatred, often focused on law enforcement. It is not an accident that law enforcement officers were killed here. The bombs were intended to maim and kill police officers, and they succeeded.

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    The word "terrorism" is so convoluted and controversial, that it's often difficult - if not impossible - to agree on one definition alone. Compound that with the fact that no criminal law definition exists for the term.

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    How is premeditated murder by bomb related to terrorism? These guys weren't trying to terrorize anyone. They were trying to murder someone.

    terrorism: "A psychological strategy of war for gaining political or religious ends by deliberately creating a climate of fear among the population of a state."

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    My memory says that since 9/11 there have been many more successful right-wing terrorist acts in the U.S. than Muslim related attacks. The only one that ended with casualties was the army doctor that killed other soldiers in Texas. Meanwhile, in addition, to the Woodburn duo, there were several attacks that resulted in deaths from rightwing anti-government wackos. (Suicide plane against the IRS in Texas, gun attack in PA, murder of soldier in midwest)

    The implication that there is no national conspiracy that ties these murders together ignores the common theme of the murders and what they say before and after the assaults. However, the media just does not give them any attention beyond the local news.

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      Equating the tragedy in Texas where several soldiers were killed as a "right-wing terrorist attack" is a serious misstatement of the known facts.

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        You are right. My writing did not convey my message. The Texas soldier deaths was the one Muslim-related incident leading to deaths in the U.S. The other murders were anti-government types.

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    It was my impression that the pioneer square bomber, while interested in making connections with other jihadists, completely failed. So,while he had motivation in common with the terrorists we are all afraid of, he was on his own practically (except for the FBI).

    Honestly, to me this seems like it has more in common with school shootings than 9/11. Only for this dude the in crowd that filled him with rage wasn't limited to peers at school, but rather included Christian America.

    I am not sure if the argument that we have to take Islamic motivated violence more seriously than anti-govt. violence because there is this big international well planned and equipped terrorist conspiracy that we need to break down holds water when the individuals we find doing the bombing are not organized, affiliated, or equipped by such an organization.

    Whether this guy would ever have been any practical threat if not for the FBI is questionable but there is no way to know that. But desire to hurt people is not illegal. The Turnidges actually did kill and hurt people. Mohamoud did not, and despite what he thought, he never really got close.

    The Turnidges are being tried for murder apparently, and Mohamoud is being tried for Attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. (Although since there was never a weapon of mass destruction, I am not sure how that works out.)

    I don't know how to say which is more serious I guess, because murder is pretty serious if not as high profile. I could speculate as to other reasons Mohamoud should face more publicity or even a higher penalty than the Turnidges, but there is no way to know what thinking went into the various decisions all along the way that led to the present.

    Maybe it would be a good idea to see a chart of all the places where "terror" related charges overlap the "regular" charges and statisics of how and when each has been practically applied. I realize that each case is different, but you'd think a list of guidelines could be worked out at some level to demonstrate that racism or public opinion WASN'T the key element. It seems unfair if two people committing the same crime for the same sort of reason get widely different consequences based only on whether they were caught by FBI or someone else.

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      Although since there was never a weapon of mass destruction, I am not sure how that works out.

      Good question.

      Does attempting to sell a dime-bag of oregano under the belief it is pot constitute the same crime as actually traffic pot?

      Should trying to rob a bank with a fake gun attempting the same crime as actually having a real and loaded firearm?

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        I believe both of your questions go to intent. If I buy a bag of oregano from an undercover officer, believing that it is weed, I believe the charge is purchasing weed.

        I know a lot of dudes are in prison for selling macadamia nuts under the guise of crack.

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          Drug convictions require proof that the substance in question is, indeed, an illegal drug. Analysis of the 'drug' is critical evidence.

          And no one gets busted for purchasing a bag of anything from a cop (unless it's a truck-sized bag). The crime would be sales of the drug or possession for sales, which again would require proof that the substance is illegal.

          I'd be interested in seeing some evidence about macadamia nuts. I can certainly see how such a person would run the risk of being beaten to death, but jail?

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        But was it even supposed to be a WMD? I had the impression that the van was supposed to be filled with conventional explosives, not a baby nuke...

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    I haven't heard much about the Turnidges motives. If you hate the government and "just" want to encourage said government to hand over money, why bomb a bank?

    Bet they are or have been in touch with some hate group. The "nuts" love company.

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    A point that should be considered is that the FBI would have taken jurisdiction and the U.S. Attorney would have taken the lead in prosecution if somebody who knew the Turnbridge's and their plans had reported them to the FBI or police. Because the bombing had already happened, the FBI made a reasoned decision to not take the lead. Domestic and extremist terrorism inside the United States has been a concern and the Federal Government knows it is a growing threat. Local and state government officials and policing agencies need to take this seriously and participate in intelligence sharing and task forces, but these government agencies are prudent when they work to minimize public fear and hysteria (while encouraging public vigilence and concern). These terrorists, both domestic and extremist, win when we succumb to fear and surrender our civil rights in the name of security.

    The FBI and US Attorney are taking the lead on the Portland bombing because there is an international connection and because somebody alerted the federal government early in the planning stages. Regardless of the rhetoric surrounding this young man, the truth on how the investigation was run in the lead-up to the attempted bombing will come out. For now, we should remember that this young man intended to kill Oregonian and the FBI wouldn't have connected with him in the first place if he hadn't made his intention known to somebody somehow.

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    If detonating a bomb in a bank is not terrorism, then what the hell is terrorism?

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