Bart Gellman’s cover story in the current issue of Time is essential reading. One of the premises of the post-9/11 security environment is that small bands of dedicated activists can gain access to weapons of mass destruction and wreak havoc over major population centers. That risk has existed for some time, but technological advances do in fact bring chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons steadily within the reach of more people. It’s dangerous to focus exclusively on radical Islamists as the threat, because it’s far more diverse. When we look at terrorist incidents that have struck America in the last two years, for instance, a good number of them wind up being tied to domestic extremists—sometimes of the right and sometimes so crazy that it’s difficult to pin them down on the ideological spectrum. Consider, for instance, Joseph Stack, who flew his Piper Cherokee into a building that housed an IRS office in northwest Austin in February, leaving two dead and thirteen injured. The screed he left behind reads like a wacky hybrid between tea-party libertarianism and Marxist hate speech.
Or consider the case of James von Brunn, who attacked the National Holocaust Museum in June of last year. Gellman’s account of von Brunn is mesmerizing:
Von Brunn was an avowed white supremacist with a history of violence that reached back decades. He had spent six years in prison after an attempt to take hostages at the Federal Reserve in 1981. After finding only disappointment in organized groups, Von Brunn retreated to his website and railed against passive comrades. “The American Right-wing with few exceptions … does NOTHING BUT TALK,” he wrote. At 88 and hospitalized with a gunshot wound he suffered at the museum, Von Brunn did not loom large in the public eye as a figure of menace. He was profiled as a shrunken old man, broke and friendless, who ended another man’s life in an empty act of despair. He died seven months later in prison before he could be tried.
What authorities did not disclose was how close the country had come to a seismic political event. Von Brunn, authoritative sources say, had another target in mind: White House senior adviser David Axelrod, a man at the center of Obama’s circle. The President was too hard to reach, in Von Brunn’s view, but that was of no consequence. “Obama was created by Jews,” he wrote. “Obama does what his Jew owners tell him to do.”
Gellman has brought solid, nuts-and-bolts investigative journalism back to Time magazine. This piece is an eye-opener.