Sen. Dan Coats On The Boston Bombing: You Know Who We Need To Keep An Eye On? Loners.

from the because-constant-surveillance-makes-the-unsocial-more-sociable dept

In the right hands, an attack like the Boston Bombing can make terrorists of us all. All it takes is a “type.” Columbine turned trench coat ownership and Marilyn Manson fandom into signs of impending, shotgun-toting DOOM. (Or rather, “doom.” Sorry.) 9/11 turned anyone with darker features and a copy of MS Flight Simulator into a suicidal zealot. Newtown turned Call of Duty players into ticking time bombs. (Mass Effect players already were ticking time bombs, but often exploded harmlessly into walls of text in Kotaku comment threads.)

Every tragedy creates a new archetype for politicians to focus on, as though suspects could be determined simply by one notable characteristic. If we (as one nation, under surveillance) could just track this one type of person, we’d be terrorist-free for years to come.

Senator Dan Coats has declared his pick for the One Type we should be keeping tabs on. In his appearance on ABC’s This Week, Coats selected the Archetype Most Likely to Harm Americans. Of this, he seemed 100% sure, although his grasp on which Tsarnaev brother he is referring to is decidedly more vague, as Daniel Drezner at Foreign Policy points out.

If we go to the transcript, here’s his first intervention, on whether Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should be Mirandized:

COATS: I think we should stay with enemy combatant until we find out for sure whether or not there was a link to foreign terrorist organizations.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even though he’s a citizen?

COATS: Even though he’s a citizen. There have been exceptions to this before with the public safety issue of course on Miranda rights. But also the fact that he’s traveled back to his hometown which is a Muslim area, could have been radicalized back there.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That was his brother though.

Now you have to hand it to Senator Coats here — inside of ten seconds, he makes a dubious statement about the law and a factually incorrect statement. It wasn’t like these were obscure facts, either, like the capital of Chechnya or something. So, great prep work, Senator Coats’ staff!

Now that the Senator has gotten the “facts” out of the way, it’s time to start making generalizations!

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, what do you do though if no connection to a specific group is found? Instead we just find that these young men were inspired by al Qaeda, but not directed. That’s almost impossible to find.

COATS: Well it is. And that’s the reality of the world we’re now living in. Because we not only face terrorism from abroad, that is, planned and coordinated. We face these lone wolves or these others or whoever gathers together that has a vengeance or a demented mind or who has been kind of radicalized through over the internet or through a mosque or whatever. We’re going to continue to have to understand that is a threat to America also.

That’s why we all need to be engaged in not only looking out for this type of thing, but helping identify and see, whether these loners, is there a kid in the classroom that’s just —

RADDATZ: He wasn’t a loner. He wasn’t a loner (emphasis added).

True, as Drezner offers “in fairness” to the confused senator, it did seem as though the Tsarnaevs were operating without any sort of supporting network (much as Coats seems to be himself). But is this what Coats really wants?

[L]et’s skip the preliminaries and get to the more basic point. Is Dan Coats suggesting that high schools profile which kids are loners and put them onto a “possible terrorist watch list”?

“Loner” covers a lot of territory. There are loners who have been ostracized by their peers. There are others who have opted out, so to speak, and prefer a solitary existence. Coats doesn’t really seem to know what he’s aiming for, but he’s obviously not going to let that stop him from dragging “kids in the classroom” into the national debate on terrorism.

If Coats were in charge, the acronymous agencies in charge of our nation’s security would be filling their database with all sorts of presumed threats. The weird kids who just don’t “fit in.” The kids who have no desire to “fit in.” Agoraphobics. J.D. Salinger. Sufferers of social anxiety disorder. Some shades of the autism spectrum. Lighthouse operators. Morrissey fans. Former world champion chess players. Florida Marlins season ticket holders.

More seriously, is this what Coats really thinks is a valid method for combating terrorism? Should we (meaning various law enforcement and security agencies) start tracking “loners” at an early age in order to prevent theoretical acts of terrorism? If anyone’s concerned that a certain student doesn’t have enough friends or participate in enough extracurricular activities, I’m sure additional conversations with school administration, guidance counselors, school psychiatrists and (the now de rigeur) “law enforcement liaisons” should make these troubled youths feel more “normal.”

It’s quite possible Coats didn’t mean for the statement to come across as terribly as it did, especially considering his blissful unawareness of the subject matter at hand, but I’m sure there’s an underlying comfort hidden within his moronic suggestion. Terrorists aren’t like “normal” people — they’re weird and frightening fringe dwellers who are clearly defined by their stunted social skills and desolate Facebook profiles. Only freaks commit acts of violence, not someone who appeared to be, for the most part, your average foreign exchange student. This sort of “truth” is easier to take. It’s just another form of stereotyping — a very safe option that rarely arouses the ire of the targets and offends no particular group.

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Comments on “Sen. Dan Coats On The Boston Bombing: You Know Who We Need To Keep An Eye On? Loners.”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This time I’m a computer engineer with a job, college degree, and perfect scores on the math portions of the SAT, SAT II, and GRE.

Sorry to ruin your Red Bull drinking, jobless, professional wrestling fan steriotype…. Though I probably could challenge Tim on knowledge of real sports (football, baseball, soccer, basketball).

Vidiot (profile) says:

The Secret of Miranda

I know it’s just a minor point on the Senator’s Idiocy Hit Parade, but that Miranda thing… seriously. The question of whether or not to “read him his rights” — what, is Miranda a secret? Is it written in Esperanto, and needs to be translated so that you know you have rights? What if he’s already heard it? Considering its repetition from the days of Jack Webb and Dragnet, all the way through all the dozens of Law and Order franchises… how can anyone, even an immigrant, not know what the words and concepts are?

And better yet, Miranda isn’t about having rights… it’s about getting reminded of them. The rights are already in place.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: The Secret of Miranda

The problem there is, the ASSUMPTION. Since you’re dealing with law, with facts and evidence, you cannot assume anything to be true. What if a cop arrests someone today, and that person is a US citizen who hasn’t watched/read Jack Webb, Dragnet and Law & Order? You can’t just assume someone knows their rights. It is very possible for someone to not know that whatever they say at the time of arrest could be used against them.
If you take the time to watch this video (over 40 mins long),
I’ll condense it down though. Basically, the law professor explains that even the most innocent of statements, spoken by innocent individuals in front of a cop, can and have been used to convict. What if the guy being arrested says something innocuous that ends up convicting him, but he wouldn’t have said it if he’d been reminded of his 5th amendment rights?

Vidiot (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Secret of Miranda

Guess I was looking from the other end… a suspect who, although not Mirandized, knows enough to invoke those rights nonetheless (and clams up). I understand Miranda’s purpose… formal notice… but wondered, as that whole no-Miranda-for-you media cycle unfolded, whether the officials involved really thought that omitting the notification would actually change his right to remain silent. Or that it would force him to run his mouth, when simple common sense says otherwise.

btr1701 (profile) says:

Re: Re: The Secret of Miranda

What if a cop arrests someone today, and that
person is a US citizen who hasn’t watched/read
Jack Webb, Dragnet and Law & Order? You can’t
just assume someone knows their rights.

I’m personally in favor of the Miranda rule being eliminated entirely. It was a ridiculous decision when it was first issued and only gets more ridiculous with each further judicial ‘refinement’ of the rule.

The U.S. provides criminal defendants with more due process and substantive protections than any other society in the history of mankind. We bend over backward to give the accused every presumption of innocence and put high hurdles before the government to convict.

If you as a citizen can’t be bothered to educate yourself on the basics of what your rights are and what burden the government meet to convict you, then that’s on you. There ought to be some minimum personal responsibility on the part of the citizen and that’s where I’d draw the line.

Wally (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Please tell me how you combat someone who has been brainwashed…then tell me how far you get not incapacitating the person before he does more damage under the right circumstances.

I can tell you this right now…the brothers were brainwashed into doing what they did. It wasn’t some belief in a latent lie like 72 virgins awaiting you upon your death which was used for the 9/11 attacks…oh no, just a brainwashing and conditioning plain and simple. It is much wiser to get a psychologist to detox his conditioning than to interrogate him in a police station.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

OK….The SS was brainwashed to believe that Jews were bad…are you doubting the subliminal power of actually brainwashing some one??? I mean it doesn’t really take much.

The Chinese term 洗腦 (xǐ năo, literally “wash brain”) was originally used to describe methodologies of coercive persuasion used under the Maoist regime in China, which aimed to transform individuals with a reactionary imperialist mindset into “right-thinking” members of the new Chinese social system. To that end the regime developed techniques that would break down the psychic integrity of the individual with regard to information processing, information retained in the mind and individual values.

kitsune361 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

That’s hilarious how backwards they got that etymology in the Manchurian Candidate.

“Allow me to introduce our American… visitors. I must ask you to forgive thier somewhat lackadaisical manners as I have conditioned them, or BRAINWASHED them, which I understand is the new American word for it…”

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