Politics & Policy

Crazy Times

Added security outside the White House, September 23, 2014. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Disturbed Americans rack up attacks that al-Qaeda and the Islamic State would envy.j

Americans are right to be concerned about the Islamic State, al-Qaeda, and other international terrorist threats.

But in recent days, we’ve seen a sudden flurry of disturbing examples of non-terrorist Americans carrying out terrorist-style attacks against other people.

Let’s stipulate that Alton Nolen, the Oklahoma man who beheaded one of his co-workers, may be a case of “do-it-yourself jihadism” — he had no direct ties to terror groups but behaved as an ally of those groups. Nolen converted to Islam, and a prosecutor said he had “an infatuation with beheadings.”

Then there’s the strange case of Federal Aviation Administration contract worker Brian Howard, who attempted suicide, then allegedly attempted arson of an FAA control center, prompting enormous numbers of delayed flights across the country:

According to an affidavit, first responders found smoke when they arrived in the basement of the control center after a 911 call about 5:40 a.m. Friday.

They also found blood on the floor. They followed the trail and found two knives and a lighter and then Howard, who was in the process of cutting his throat, according to the affidavit.

The paramedics took a knife from him and began to treat Howard, who told them to leave him alone. Howard was taken to a hospital in Aurora.

Then there’s the recent White House fence-jumper:

Omar J. Gonzalez, 42, jumped over the fence of the White House on Friday and dashed past security before being apprehended by officers near the North Portico doors.

We subsequently learned that Gonzalez ran through several rooms before being tackled by an off-duty Secret Service agent.

Prosecutors said at an initial hearing on Monday that Gonzalez was carrying a knife, and also had two hatchets and a machete, as well as 800 rounds of ammunition in his vehicle nearby

Prosecutors revealed that he had been stopped on August 25 while walking along the south fence of the White House with a hatchet in his waistband, but he was not arrested.

And on July 19, after being spotted driving recklessly in a gray Ford Bronco, Gonzalez was charged in Wythe County, Virginia, with evading arrest and possession of a weapon after he was found in possession of 11 weapons, including a sawed-off shotgun, assault rifles and knives, and map — with the White House circled, prosecutors said.

Then there’s the White House shooter of 2011 — who we learned this week was much more dangerous than the initial Secret Service reports suggested:

The gunman parked his black Honda directly south of the White House, in the dark of a November night, in a closed lane of Constitution Avenue. He pointed his semiautomatic rifle out of the passenger window, aimed directly at the home of the president of the United States, and pulled the trigger.

A bullet smashed a window on the second floor, just steps from the first family’s formal living room. Another lodged in a window frame, and more pinged off the roof, sending bits of wood and concrete to the ground. At least seven bullets struck the upstairs residence of the White House, flying some 700 yards across the South Lawn . . . 

Ortega had left his Idaho home about three weeks earlier, during a time his friends said he had been acting increasingly paranoid. He kept launching into tirades about the U.S. government trying to control its citizens, saying President Obama “had to be stopped.”

He had arrived in Washington on Nov. 9. He had 180 rounds of ammunition and a Romanian-made Cugir semiautomatic rifle, similar to an AK-47, that he had purchased at an Idaho gun shop.

(This is not the first time the White House has been the target of chilling attacks — quickly forgotten in the news cycle. On September 12, 1994, Frank Eugene Corder crashed a stolen small private plane onto the South Lawn of the White House. On October 29, 1994, Francisco Martin Duran fired 29 shots at the White House before being tackled by brave citizens.)

Disrupting the air-traffic-control system, shooting at the White House, invading the White House . . . al-Qaeda and the Islamic State would love to do those sorts of things. But Islamist terrorist groups are, so far, beaten to the punch by garden-variety troubled and disturbed Americans.

This doesn’t even get into the disturbingly routine cases of school shootings. Americans have feared a Beslan-style school massacre since 2004, but so far the threat to our children hasn’t come from ruthless Chechens or cold-blooded al-Qaeda members — just our own citizens, driven by their own demons.

The world has always had crazy people, and those who take out their incomprehensible anger at the world by lashing out at the innocent with violence. But there’s something particularly unnerving about these latest cases, demonstrating how one individual can disrupt the lives of so many people. Forget far-reaching terrorist networks; one “lone wolf,” acting for reasons only he can understand, can evade all of our nation’s security checkpoints, all of our far-reaching NSA monitoring, all of our preparations and alert statuses and special ID areas, and still commit terrible acts or come close to doing terrible things.

Does this reflect a copycat phenomenon? Or is this just a normal baseline of troubled individuals lashing out, magnified and sensationalized by a 24/7 media cycle? Or does something about our modern society make troubled people feel the need to lash out violently, in the public’s eye, on a grand scale?

John Carpenter’s 1995 film “In the Mouth of Madness” imagined a horror fiction writer whose works drove readers to homicidal madness. Terrifying as that concept is, it simplifies the trigger for great evil. In the real world, we must carry on, vaguely aware, but unafraid, of the potential for great evil to strike out upon us with no warning.

— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot on NRO.

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