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:Now that the Senator has gotten the "facts" out of the way, it's time to start making generalizations!
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!
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.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?
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).
[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.