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According to news reports, now-deceased jihadi attacker Elton Simpson was indicted in 2010 and 2011 and given probation for lying about going abroad to seek jihadist paramilitary training. Given how their failed attack panned out, it would seem he needed a good deal more training. Thankfully, one local police officer outside the building was brave and quick-witted enough to foil the attack. But let's put this in perspective. Simpson and his roommate, Nadir Soofi, had the element of surprise, came in with body armor, each had an assault rifle and still managed to get taken out by a single police officer with a pistol before they could do more damage than shoot a school security guard in the foot. It was, thankfully, probably the most pitiful terror attack we've seen in some time.
In DC and New York there's a whole community of what we might call professional Islamophobes, people in the political and media world who see Islam itself - not just a fringe of violent extremists - as a deep threat to the United States and Western Civilization itself. Even folks who recount numskull claims about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the Obama White House, as Matt Duss told Catherine Thompson yesterday, even those people see Geller and her clown partner 'Islam scholar' Robert Spencer as "an embarrassment."
Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller
Jamie Kirchick isn't in that category exactly but his description of Geller captures the dynamic nicely.
But Geller isn’t performance art. She’s deadly serious. The problem is that, contrary to her self-imaginings and those of her deluded followers, she isn’t a latter-day Golda Meir. She’s what you would get if Fran Drescher and the late ultranationalist anti-Arab rabbi-turned-political leader Meir Kahane reproduced.
For those of us who genuinely want to combat extremism and promote liberalism in the Muslim world, Geller is a uniquely toxic presence in the public discourse. She makes it easy for Islamist apologists to avoid debate, as they can always point to Geller and her outrageous behavior for ready examples of how pervasive “Islamophobia” has become in American society.
We call Geller's outfit a 'hate group', and it is a perfectly fair and accurate designation. But it understates the nonsense and unwitting self-satire of her whole enterprise. Embarrassment, toxicity, simply a clown. It came out yesterday that Geller's Garland spectacle had already gotten the attention of ISIL and al-Shabaab jihadis who posted about it and called for retaliation. In a parallel sense, it's hard to imagine that these hardened fighters and others in training camps in Pakistan and Somalia didn't similarly shake their heads when they heard how badly these goofs made out.
Obviously the US was the scene of the most catastrophic, certainly the most spectacular terrorist attack in history. But we're lucky that, in contrast to Europe, most of our homegrown radicals either don't turn to violence, don't find a sufficiently large support infrastructure for attacks, get clipped by aggressive counter-terror surveillance or just turn out to be too hapless and stupid to do much damage.
Simpson and Soofi are reminiscent of earlier inept and hapless jihadists the FBI rolled up in various stings. Remember the KeyStone Cops crew who got clipped in 2009 for a physics defying plan to burst tunnels and flood the above sea level island of Manhattan. Or how about the 'Liberty 7', the calesthenics-cum-cult warehouse group which, in one of TPM's more memorable turns of phrase, were so early in formulating their plans for jihad that they hadn't yet gotten around to converting to Islam. And let's not forget Rezwan Ferdaus. His plan was to get two or three really big model airplanes to fly into the US capitol (pictures here). The FBI was happy to help. There's an almost endless number of these plots, similarly far-fetched, sometimes serious, and often ridiculous.
Giant model airplane employed in sting operation against Rezwan Ferdaus.
Some see these plots and say the FBI is wasting its time or entrapping morons. But I don't agree. While there may be technical questions of entrapment in some cases. It certainly serves a purpose to have potential terrorists know that maybe a quarter of the terrorist mentors or fellow conspirators are actually FBI agents or informants. That sort of putting sand in the gears and sowing mistrust and uncertainty is a key element of counter-terrorism work. But let's be honest and thankful that most of the domestic jihadis are not terribly bright, well-trained or capable of pulling off big attacks.
One can easily imagine - in fact I would pay good money to see - a Chris Guest/Harry Shearer/Michael McKean production chronicling the intricate, ridiculous and mundanely commonplace lives of these goofballs intertwined together. (I should note that something kind of like this has already been done. 2010's Four Lions. Tonally a bit different but similar. I heard about it when it came out but confess I've never seen it. I should and will.)
Yes, Simpson and Soofi were more dangerous and evil. But in terms of clownishness and buffoonery, Geller and Co and their would-be attackers are really two sides of the same coin, a collision of two clown cars who paradoxically need each other to justify their existence. Happily, no one but the attackers were seriously hurt.