heard a shot

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

-Abraham Lincoln

Dean Meyers’ head exploded with enough force to fracture his skull in fourteen places and stream four quarts of his blood onto the rain-soaked concrete that glared the harsh reflection of the artificial gas-station lights reaching into the night of October 9th. It was two-days after Iran Brown had been shot outside his middle school, and six-days since the first morning of four killings.

Hundreds of bullets had been aimed at Meyers in what had seemed to him like another life, serving in the jungles of Vietnam as a volunteer infantryman in the US Army. Only one had managed to hit him, striking his left arm and earning him a Medal of Commendation. This bullet, however, was fired out of a Bushmaster rifle by a Sniper who’d already recorded a half-dozen kills in less than a week.

An attendant inside the gas station thought he’d just heard a tire explode, someone else dialed 911. Meyers was dead before what remained of his head slapped against the concrete curb.

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About thirty-six hours later, five miles away from where Caroline Seawell had been shot loading her minivan, Kenneth Bridges stopped at a gas station along I-95. It seemed like a safe place since fifty-yards away a Virginia State Trooper was stopped, lights flashing, at a fender-bender.

The bullet ripped into his left lung, aorta, and pulmonary artery before being stopped by his sternum. The State Trooper who stopped fifty-yard away ran to his body and began CPR, but by the time the ambulance arrived Bridges’ pulse was already gone. His family in Philadelphia heard about another sniper death on the news, began to worry, and then had their fears confirmed when a family friend recognized Bridges’ car on the news.

The response to these shootings combined with ongoing efforts to form a dragnet that was utterly unprecedented in American law-enforcement history.

The Virginia State Police closed down I-95, the main artery of the eastern seaboard that usually is four to six lanes wide, to only a single lane so they could inspect every single vehicle which traveled along that highway. The resulting traffic jam snaked south across Virginia and north into Maryland for miles and miles. Dozens of other law enforcement officers were staked out on the numerous overpasses that span I-95, inspecting the traffic passing beneath them and hoping their flak jackets and firearms would keep them safe.

These actions joined the initial law enforcement response that followed the morning of the first killing, when Maryland State Police were joined by the Secret Service and FBI in pulling over dozens and dozens of white box trucks in the first twenty-four hours after that rush-hour slaughter.

There is no official count of how many white box trucks were pulled over during the weeks of the attacks, the number is likely high into the hundreds. Law enforcement officers were pulling white box trucks over because from eye-witness accounts that was erroneously determined by Montgomery County police to be the model of vehicle that the gunfire was coming from.

Later it would become known that the vehicle that was responsible for the shootings, a dark blue Chevy Caprice, was briefly pulled over by police the night of the first killings for running two stop signs.

But nothing about it seemed overly suspicious, and it was dismissed with a warning by the officer who’d pulled it over.

All told, this same car would be stopped by police nearly a dozen times before the string of clues the investigation was following finally came to be tied to the Caprice. Of all the thousands of goose chases that federal, state, and local law enforcement officials – stretched well-beyond any previous crisis – were sent on from tips that were phoned in, only one eventually pointed them in the correct direction.

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In the preceding three-weeks thousands of local, state, and federal law enforcement officers had been working the case, all pulling over white box trucks because that’s what they assumed their target was driving.

But they were making another crucial error. They’d only been pulling over white males, this because the combined expertise of the FBI and other outside experts all argued that these had to be the machinations of a serial killer, and serial killers are predominately white males.

Chief Moose, the head of Montgomery County Police, had even gone so far as to order that only white males were to be pulled over by his officers, since Moose, himself an African-American, didn’t want to perpetuate racial stereotyping nor inflame racial tensions. It would be one of the most moronic and influential decisions made in the investigation of the case.

When the correct make and model of the Sniper’s vehicle was finally reported by CNN at 10:02pm on October 23rd, in less than four hours the vehicle would be spotted at an interstate truck rest-stop that was soon surrounded by policemen who cordoned the area off and then arrested the men inside the car in the early-morning hours. Had the case gone unsolved for two more weeks there’s no telling how the upcoming election would’ve been affected.

With parents unwilling to let their children play outside, gas stations stringing up tarps, and everyone buying lighter loads of groceries that could be tossed into the backseat instead of placed slowly in the trunk after they scurried as fast as they could to their cars – its almost unimaginable that anyone would be willing to stand, ducks in a row, in a line outside their polling place.

It didn’t come to that. Members of the ATF who were working the investigation were eventually able to tie the clues they’d collected together with one of the thousands of informants who’d called in say he thought he knew who the Sniper might be. When the culprits were caught it became clear that a large portion of the manhunt, easily the largest in American history, had been a thorough waste of time.

They shouldn’t have been looking for a lone while male in his thirties.

They were looking for two males. This fully ended the “serial killer” theory, as there’s no such thing as a team of two serial killers working in tandem. The DC Sniper was in fact a team of two members.

Both of them black, and, most eerily since 9/11 was only thirteen months past – both of them Muslim. Not orthodox Muslims though, as John Allen Mohammad and Lee Malvo were members of the Nation of Islam, the same extremist sect of Islam that Malcolm X had converted to as he decided to wage his war against the Devil.

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The only thing more illuminating than the similarities shared by Ramzi Yousef and John Allen Mohammad are the differences which set them apart. Understanding the roles both men played is extraordinarily important in the history of terrorism on American soil, as they created two sets of rough blueprints.

Yousef’s rough blueprint lay dormant for several years before it was embellished and improved upon for the 9/11 attacks. John Allen’s blueprint still lies untouched, but it’s only a matter of time before it too is dusted off, improved upon, and used again. On the surface, the two men are connected by the fact that they both perceived that the downfall of America was both imminent and deserved.

Ramzi Yousef personally identified with the plight of Muslims in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, and believed that their oppression by the Israeli state was directly financed by the United States of America. So he believed that violently forcing America to remove her influence from the region would free Muslims from Israeli persecution, and justice would be served.

But when history is given a voice it becomes clear that the situation in the Occupied Territories originates as much from the lines drawn by exploitative pens of empire held by hands now long-dead as it does from the inability and unwillingness of long-since buried Arab heads of state to assimilate their Arab brethren into their own kingdoms.

And those two factors did much more than contribute to the present-day situation in the Occupied Territories, they resulted in the creation of the weak states that were full of cracks readily filled by State Shells as they found purchase inside a state and then began to draw strength from the support of its citizens. These State Shells – known in the West by their cold and impersonal acronyms: PLO, HAMAS, ANO – launched the first wave of modern Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

Some of it Symbolic Terror meant to capture attention such as Munich and the airliner hijackings that dotted the Middle East in the 1970s. And some if it Tactical Terror like the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut that was planned and funded by state militaries as a military action meant to cripple an American military presence.

The situation in the Occupied Territories is simply the wound from that age that’s been the slowest to heal, still releasing its lethal toxins into the streets of the surrounding states.

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For John Allen Mohammad, America’s downfall would come because he believed that it was America which had carried out the world’s worst terrorist attacks. John Allen came to see America as the worst terrorist state in the world after serving in the US military. For him, our notorious counterinsurgencies in Southeast Asia and in South America were the vilest of terrorist attacks, and carried so much weight in his mind that the events of 9/11 weren’t a crime so much as a taste of our own medicine.

To commemorate and celebrate the one-year anniversary of 9/11, he went out and purchased the dark blue Chevy Caprice that he would use in the sniper attacks in the following weeks.

And there is truth to the argument that America’s previous counterinsurgencies showed flashes of terrorism. The counterinsurgency, after all, finds its roots in American Special Forces.

Forces who can trace their heritage back to the Jedburghs, who were considered by the Nazi state to be terrorists and treated by their rules of engagement as such. And further back to a man who dreamed up, with open eyes, the roadside bomb and the Improvised Explosive Device – tools which cause their users to straddle the line between guerrilla and terrorist.

The asymmetric means used by the Jedburghs and by Lawrence of Arabia caused those they attacked to be terrorized, and so those men were labeled terrorists by their enemies. Arguing that the lives, some of them innocent, taken by American counterinsurgencies throughout the previous three decades created a balance of terrorism-induced death which was waiting to be paid until 9/11 would widely be considered both treasonous and immoral.

It’s not, however, completely lacking elements of logical support.

As far back as history goes the most efficient military violence has had an asymmetric element of the terrorist, and so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that modern Islamic fundamentalists are following a natural historical progression that’s finally traced itself back onto our own once-secure shores.

You might at first think that the fact both Yousef and John Allen were Muslims was a similarity, but it’s actually just as much a difference.

The Islam that Yousef believed in emerged as a modern response from Muslims who, because of their geopolitical situation, had no where to look for hope or opportunity except to their religion – much like the early Christians who joined in the Crusades. The Islam that induced John Allen to add “Mohammad” to his name shares as many characteristics with Mormonism as it does Islam.

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Both the Nation of Islam and the Church of Latter Day Saints were founded by charismatic American leaders whose original followings were difficult to distinguish from cults, and whose members still aren’t really accepted by the sectarian majority as mainstream.

The version of Islam taught by the Nation has a unique element of racial superiority which causes the rest of the Muslims in the world to denounce it as heresy, so if you asked Ramzi Yousef there’s a good chance he might say John Allen wasn’t even a true Muslim. But shared by both versions of Islam is a heavy emphasis on protecting fellow believers from outside persecution through any means necessary.

For Yousef’s fundamentalist salfi Islam, this is a theme that has been repeated throughout history whenever Muslim societies are left holding the short end of the international stick. Its first notable permutation came on the heels of the Mongol hordes who sacked Baghdad and ended an era of Muslim superiority, then it was reborn in the writings of a Sayid Qutb who saw the same disunity and powerlessness of Muslim states in the 1970s which led to the development of modern televised international terrorism and called Muslims back to what he saw as the purest tenets of the faith.

And it has now risen from the ruins of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon to sear the mark of al-Qaeda onto the international Muslim community’s consciousness. However, Muslims in the Nation of Islam identify one very specific source of oppression.

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Finally there’s the element that most determined their violence. Ramzi Yousef was born in Kuwait, raised in Pakistan, and had never been to America until he came here to destroy its two proudest towers. And although he was an accomplished international traveler and had been well-educated in the West – he was not familiar with America nor comfortable with our mores and our tendencies.

He was not one of us, he did not understand what made us tick or what would terrify us most.

Because he did not understand us he would also be more of a commando than a terrorist – for to spread Terror you must understand the society you’re operating within, how to best manipulate their media, how to most simply skirt their law enforcement authorities, and the simplest way to cause fear and unease to run helter skelter across their lives.

He knew he’d never be able to fit seamlessly into the patchwork of American society, so Yousef fled country as soon as his first attack was made. He knew he’d have one shot at making his name as a commando, and then he’d have to leave.

This is in complete contrast with John Allen, who was calm as he was pulled over by policemen almost a dozen times and was at total ease with them – never betraying himself to the police officers pulling him over. This allowed them to extend the net their Terror cast across several weeks and over hundreds of miles. Yousef only had a few city blocks and a few hours of real Terror.

Yousef was forced to act indirectly, placing a bomb that was equipped with a timer and then leaving without being able to guide death to its mark with his own hand. Allen and his accomplice, Lee Malvo, operated several times in broad daylight and each time were able to intimately bring their targets down with incredible efficiency.

Dividing the thousand-dollar cost of the sniper rifle and the bullets fired, by the ten victims the sniper team killed, each one cost under $100. Whereas Yousef spent $3,000 and killed only six – at a cost of $500 each. And while Yousef’s one isolated attack took several months to bring to fruition, John Allen could choose and eliminate his next target in a matter of hours because he could move effortlessly within the society he was terrorizing. The perfect mutualistic commando.

One final difference is the most telling. Yousef’s nominal goal was to cut America so deeply that she’d be forced to withdraw her support from Israel and in the process allow the Muslims of the Occupied Territories to win their freedom. John Allen’s goal was much different.

And although it contrasted with Ramzi Yousef’s, it was the same ends that – in their final years – both Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were fighting to bring about.

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One year to the day before an assassin’s bullet ended his life on the balcony of his Memphis motel Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave a speech in which he called the United States of America “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Time magazine denounced the speech as “demagogic slander” and The Washington Post claimed that King had “diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”

It was 1967, and our nation was transfixed by the Vietnam War.

In many ways we are still transfixed by Vietnam, so much so that none of us seem to notice that every Black History Month, when one channel or another releases a documentary covering King’s life, the last three years of it are oddly missing. None of these negative statements above are ever mentioned in any of them. This year it was CNN’s “MLK: Words that Changed a Nation,” which like its predecessors skipped from King marching in 1965 to secure voting rights in Selma – to his assassination three years later. It seems for America’s collective memory, those three years never happened at all.

Following the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965, King noticed that these civil rights were meaningless without human rights. For those too poor to eat in a restaurant or afford a home, such as the tens of thousands of deeply impoverished blacks to whom Malcolm X’s message rang true, anti-discrimination laws meant nothing.

By 1967 King was the Vietnam War’s most outspoken opponent, and in those years grew as a staunch critic of what he saw as a militaristic and unjust American foreign policy.

And so in the last months of his life King was organizing “the most militant project of his life,”1 his Poor People’s Campaign that intended to rally America’s poor from every corner of the country and then descend on Washington DC and use nonviolent civil disobedience until the American Congress gave the poor a Bill of Rights.

The poor. Not the black poor, not blacks. Just the poor.

Because Martin Luther King Jr. had begun to see that America’s central problems weren’t an issue of race, but instead of class. In the last years of his life Malcolm X also became colorblind, but in his case it was due to a specific event.

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In 1964 Malcolm X was allowed by Saudi authorities who were at first dubious about his sincerity to undertake the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca which is considered a duty incumbent upon every Muslim who is physically and financially able. During this journey Malcolm X wrote, “I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.”2

His image of the white man as the Devil was finally shattered as he sat and prayed “with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white.” For the first time in his life he’d found a place where “true brotherhood existed among all colors, where no one felt segregated.”3

Malcolm X no longer viewed whites as the enemy, but the specific rich white men who were in power in America and who were keeping America’s blacks – the majority of them disproportionately poor – oppressed.

It was only through Islam that Malcolm X was able to see the white Americans who had told him that he was nothing more than a nigger all of his life as not a product of color, but a product of hatred. And it had been Islam that changed Malcolm X from an ignorant and vicious criminal to a principled and educated leader.

His Muslim faith had been an overwhelmingly positive influence on Malcolm X’s life, as it has been for many Americans who have walked its path of redemption and compassion in the decades since. Without Islam we never would’ve had Mohammed Ali, whose devotion to his Islamic faith allowed him to give up the prime years of his athletic life and make a stand for what he felt justice meant – an act which secured his legendary status and his place in every American heart.

But the path that Islam led Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali down is not the only one that religion can clear for those who embrace it.

Although both King and Malcolm X would’ve reviled his means, it’s hard to think that either men would’ve disagreed with the final ends John Allen Mohammed was attempting to bring about: the disintegration of a rich elite social stratum in America. John Allen hoped to extort tens of millions of dollars from the federal government, funds which would be used to set up Islamic camps used to trained lower-class American children to become snipers who would continue the violence he’d started.

Allen seemed to feel this was necessary to break the cycle of oppression that was tearing America’s poor apart, a cycle that was as vivid in the DC area as anywhere else – as a black man in Washington DC, who is likely poor, is roughly fifty-times as likely to be incarcerated as a white man, who odds are is wealthy.

These new snipers would be raised and trained to bring about justice by destroying America’s economic oppression of her poor, all using John Allen’s flawless blend of Symbolic and Tactical Terror.

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But then John Allen Mohammad was caught, and was sentenced to be executed by the state of Virginia in 2005. His triggerman for the shooting deaths was Lee Boyd Malvo.

It was Malvo who had lain prone in the sniper’s position of choice in the trunk of John Allen’s blue Chevy Caprice, expertly aimed his Bushmaster through its holographic scope that enabled him to look into the eyes of each of his prospective targets, and calmly squeezed out their last breath with his index finger.

Lee Boyd Malvo was just seventeen-years-old when he dispassionately executed ten residents of the DC metro area in a brilliantly calculated wave of indigenous terrorism. He was far from a serial killer, besides using a modus operandi completely out of synch with a serial killer’s and lacking a serial killer’s penchant for victims unified by elements of race, age, and gender Malvo had been trained for years by John Allen to become a consummate terrorist.

Before he turned ten, Malvo was given Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” by John Allen to read every night before bed. He was lectured to by John Allen about guerilla tactics and sniper discipline, and spent countless hours with John Allen training both at a live gun-range and at playing first-person shooting simulators at arcades. Those who encountered the pair before their killing spree began have stated again and again that it was clear the boy was in-training, exhibiting the cold discipline of a young soldier while in John Allen’s presence in the years that led up to that fall.

All the same, whether you want to see him as a serial killer or a terrorist, because of his status as a juvenile Lee Boyd Malvo won’t be put to death.

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He was sentenced on December 23rd of 2003 – twenty-four years and one day after Soviet tanks rolled across the Afghani mountains and set the stage for the Osama bin Ladin to begin his rise to prominence – to spend the rest of his life in prison. And for the first time in his life he won’t feel like a minority, as the men Lee Boyd Malvo is to be surrounded by for the rest of his life will predominately be black. His actions may not even be viewed as crimes by many of those around him, as often the “vilest deeds like poison weeds bloom well in prison-air.”4

However what’s maybe the most indicative for what the coming years may bring isn’t that he’s a notorious Muslim-American terrorist behind bars – it’s that he converted to Islam outside of his prison cell.

American prisons have proven to be the most fertile recruiting grounds in the country for groups who promote versions of fundamentalist Islam, such as al-Qaeda. The FBI now suspects that prisons have surpassed even mosques as the recruiting grounds of choice for Islamic terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda. Largely as a result of this recruiting drive, Islam has become the fastest growing religion in American prisons and converted Muslim prisoners are estimated to number some two-hundred thousand.5

What’s being passed off as true Islam in American prisons today is neither moderate nor modern, it’s the extreme salfi version that’s characterized by rhetoric of murder and intolerance, the same sort that al-Qaeda subscribes to. Some have begun to call it “Jailhouse Islam,” as it bulwarks salfi ideals with the loyalty and violence of prison gangs.

Prisoners are especially ripe for conversion, as their environment amplifies the same feelings of alienation and loneliness – the need for a pack – which bring men into the fold of terrorist cells. Trapped in a threatening and hopeless environment, prisoners exposed to fundamentalist Islam are soon burning bright with the need to manifest their new beliefs as violent action.

And despite all of these factors being reported to everyone from the Director of Homeland Security to members of the House and Senate, next to nothing is being done to correct the system.

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As a result of all of this, the Washington Post reported in a poll in May of 2007 that African-American Muslims were three-times as likely as immigrant Muslims to have a favorable view of al-Qaeda, and are only about half as likely to dislike the group.6

These numbers alone testify to the fact that when Muslim terror again seeks to take American lives, the role black ex-cons have in that violence will be greater and more integral than ever before.

It’s now near impossible for a black man to go through the penal system, which one-third of them eventually do, and not at least be exposed to radical Islam. Many of those in charge of religions education in our prisons ensure that this is so.

The Imam in charge of the firing and hiring of one state’s Muslim prison chaplains, and who exercised complete control over the specific doctrinal points that are to be taught to potential converts until he was forced into retirement in 2003 when the media got hold of his story, told the prisoners he taught that the attacks of 9/11 were justified and that the terrorists involved in it were not murders but martyrs.

The state he was in charge of during his twenty-five-year tenure added fifty-six Muslim clerics, more than any other state in the nation. It is a state with one of America’s largest prison populations, and with America’s largest city. That state is New York, and the man’s name is Warith-Deen Umar.

But even more troubling than the fact that the very state which was most affected by 9/11 was allowing its inmates to be exposed and converted to salfi Islam, are the details of Umar’s autobiography. Despite his foreign-sounding name, Umar is in fact African-American, and he is himself an ex-convict who converted to Islam after his experience in prison.

And it’s not like the potency of “homegrown” terrorism that becomes possible when natives of a country turn against it has gone unnoticed in New York, as the Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism of the NYPD publicly acknowledged it as an emerging threat when he testified before the Senate in September of 2006.

All the same, a 2004 survey revealed that only half of New York prison services were monitored at all, and there’s no comprehensive system that monitors either radical clerics or the radical texts, both of which flow freely from prison to prison. Not only does rhetorical radicalism flow freely within the prison system, it flows unmonitored from it as well.

Between 2002 and 2004 some 90 unmonitored letters were sent from three of the bombers responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. At least one of these was published by an extremist Islamic newspaper. But several more of them found a much more potent audience.

While behind bars in a Colorado prison, the incarcerated bombers found a few extremely motivated pen-pals. Before carrying out their own attack on March 11th of 2004, the Madrid bombers had read correspondence from their American forbearers. Although the FBI is charged with translating correspondence from extremist prisoners within two months, in reality it often takes as long as eighteen months. And this is only for the most dangerous already-identified prisoners, the vast majority of outgoing mail is never read at all.

So when fundamentalist Islam does find root in the American penal system, it’s able to spread from cell to cell and then prison to prison. Neither the words that carry its ideals nor the men who preach them and personally win over individuals are effectively monitored by the system, and so their potential for growth is unlimited. Fundamentalist Islam is growing in our prisons, how fast nobody knows. However the potential to reach a Tipping Point and become a full-out social epidemic should seem like much more than a distant threat.

Especially after the story of one last man is told.

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It is one of the most indelible images of the Civil Rights era. Birmingham police chief, Bull Connor, turning attack dogs and against civil rights marchers and bowling those the dogs spared over with high-pressure fire hoses. Sitting in Bay Shore, Long Island a seventh-grader sat and watched his television, his mouth agape at the violence. And something inside of him began to grow.

David Belfield would later call the feeling “an implacable hatred toward all symbols of American authority,” and in a few years he would refuse to mouth the words of the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of each school day, telling his family that he could tell the words didn’t apply to everyone.26

He’s not sure what in particular pushed him over the edge, but the more he read about American slavery, the more he saw the stark future of other blacks whose lives seemed to be “the Third World in a First World setting,” and the more he read W.E.B. DuBois and works from other discontent thinkers – the more he realized he wanted to act. He’s not clear about whether the assassinations of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were the specific incidents which inspired his course of action, but it seems improbable that they didn’t play some role setting him on his course of action.27

And so, all of this in mind, he did his homework.

Although he knew there was an excellent chance that he’d die in the process, he decided he wanted to take out either Kermit Roosevelt or Henry Kissinger, men he thought had carried out key roles in the violent American-inspired overthrow of two foreign governments. But, as it turns out, that’s not what fate had in mind for him.

Shortly before he turned eighteen, David met a Korean War vet at a meeting of black activists and writers, and admired the vet enough to take him seriously when he told David that he’d stop talking to him unless David read the Koran. After reading Islam’s holy book and being struck, much like Malcolm X, by the fact that the Koran seemed color-blind and by the themes of social justice, David converted to Islam and changed his name to Dawud Salahuddin.

In the following months he began spending time in DC-area mosques and even edited a local Islamic newspaper. It was during this time that Dawud first met with Iranian agents at a student center in northern Virginia run by the Ayatollah Khomenini’s supporters in America. Fresh off the successful overthrow of the Shah, Iran had sent its revolutionaries to America to see what kind of a foothold their interpretation of Islam might find inside America.

And in Dawud they found just such a foothold. He proved willing to follow whatever instructions the Iranians had for him, which at first were to begin recruiting fellow Americans for “political activities and violence.”28

It’s unclear whose idea it was, Dawud’s or the Iranians, but this recruitment would take place almost exclusively in one place. Dawud spent much of the early 1970’s looking for fellow black Americans in a place more and more of his colored countrymen would find themselves in the years to come.

He was, of course, recruiting heavily from prisons.

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Just how many black inmates he won over to Islam will never be known, but we know for sure that at least ten African-Americans that Dawud met were won over because on July 21st, 1980 they either aided or abetted him in the assassination of Ali Akbar Tabatabai. Tabatabai was an Iranian exile living in Bethesda, Maryland who the Khomeini regime suspected was plotting against the newly installed Islamic government in Iran.

To guarantee that he wouldn’t succeed in usurping the clerical regime, all of the evidence supports the allegation that Iranian agents in America directed Dawud to kill Tabatabai.

And so Dawud disguised himself as a postal delivery men and shot Tabatabai in the gut three-times with a Browning semi-automatic pistol he had secreted inside a false package he was carrying, before fleeing in a haphazard but successful exodus to safety in Iran. The investigation into the assassination would reveal that Dawud was assisted by the aforementioned ten associates, most of them disaffected African-Americans like himself.

Exactly what role the Iranian government played in this killing has never been precisely pinned down, but when all the circumstantial dots are connected it becomes hard to argue that the death of Ali Akbar was not the result of a direct order from the Iranian government.

An order carried out by an American operative who had been recruited on American soil.

As tensions between America and Iran continue to thicken the possibility of violent retribution grows. Just what form that retribution may take is impossible to guess, however we do know that since the 1970’s Iran has been actively recruiting agents from our black prison population. In the decades since our prison population has jumped exponentially, and a disproportionate amount of that population consists of African-Americans who have all the more reason to be angry at an established government they see as corrupt, oppressive, and racist.

Iran found one pissed off black man ready to kill on American soil thirty years ago. Now, with literally millions more pissed off black men who have been exposed to a violent and intolerant version of Islam in prison ripe for recruitment on our streets, the possibility that open conflict with Iran will result in acts of Tactical Terror carried out by black ex-con Muslim converts cannot be ignored.

Generations ago warfare adopted the idea of recruiting and training members of a targeted society to carry out violence against it. The Jedburghs and Green Berets adopted a strategy that other nations, Iran included, have learned from and have likely sought to imitate. And the members of American society ripest for conversion are inarguably black ex-cons, who have not only tasted the sting of racism but the dehumanizing tonic of a life imprisoned.

If that violence happens, it will spiral. And whether or not it spirals out of control and passes the event horizon of a Tipping Point may be out of our collective control.

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The message of today’s prison Islam is just another form of the extremist salfi version always characterized by the rhetoric of defiance and revolution. However it’s a message that always has some basis in the reality of real injustice, and it’s been heard before. By masses who feel the weight of subjugation and oppression, the weight of being repressed by an inimical authority that’s determined to ignore freedom and justice in the name of corrupt power and unchecked wealth. And who decide to fight.

We’ve seen them in the imperially occupied land which served as the stage for Jesus’s death, in the French squares where modern scholarship first coined the term terrorism to explain the chorus of noble heads thudding into baskets, and on the frosted Russian streets finally warmed by the explosive birth of propaganda by deed.

These masses have risen up before against an oppressive authority they’d come to see as a manifestation of evil.

And they will rise up again, in their attempt to tremble the devil. Almost everyday we’re warned by a fearful and breathless media of the threat that some foreign Afghani, Paki, or Iraqi poses against our nation. That the terrorists will come across our borders with irrational hatred in their hearts. That they can somehow be stopped if we’re just vigilante enough, that if you look cross-eyed at enough immigrants we’ll somehow catch the ones who resent us and seek to kill us. That the only thing we have to worry about is the outsiders who hate us.

But the real terrorists are already here, and that their hatred is due to our own shortcomings and the injustices within our own borders.

Behind walls we built but refuse to see.

Ultimately, John Allen Mohammad and Lee Boyd Malvo failed to bring the full horror of their plans to life. But then although Ramzi Yousef failed to bring down the Twin Towers, he showed just how easy it was to try, and created a template for those who came after him. He created a small crack in our wall of invincibility, which while seeming to remain tiny would actually be growing and spreading before suddenly bringing down it’s target in a gushing roar of glass and death.

And in the same way that his Operation Bojinka failed in its attempt to bomb a dozen international jetliners but still inspired the British plot that was likewise foiled in the fall of 2006, the DC Snipers created an example to follow and a crack in our sense of security. Just like Ramzi Yousef – they showed what was possible, and hinted at what was to come.

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It’s only a matter of time.

It took al-Qaeda eight years to finish what Yousef had showed them was possible in New York City, and the British cell over a decade to attempt to mimic Operation Bojinka.

The ferocity and alacrity that terrorists who are native to a soil, who are mutualistic, can attack with has already been well-demonstrated through events classically considered terrorism. This mutualism shares an inseparable heritage with the development of Western military strategy since the Jedburghs and Green Berets, it since has become a stunted and twisted afterbirth.

And the most notorious examples, the men who carried out 3/11 and 7/7 who were deeply integrated into the societies they attacked, are only the most recent and successful examples. Another example occurred in 1994, on Argentinean soil. It took less than a year for two devastating attacks, against a Jewish Community Center and the Israeli Embassy, to be executed there after being ordered by Hezbollah’s leadership. Together the attacks took 113 innocent lives.

In contrast, it took roughly seven-years for al-Qaeda, using foreign operatives, to bomb the American Embassies in Africa, and five-years for the 9/11 attacks, again using foreign operatives, to go from planning to execution. Although Argentina seems a long way off from Hezbollah’s home in Lebanon, Argentina hosts a community of Lebanese immigrants that’s six-generations deep and so is well-acquainted with the Argentinian way of life.

Because of the mutualistic support from members who had intimate familiarity with Argentina, the terrorist were able to plan and carry out an extremely effective attack in less than a year. And even as short as the lifespan of those potent attacks were, in the case of the completely mutualistic 3/11 and 7/7, the attacks went from conception to execution in just a few short months.

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In August of 2005, California’s Folsom State Prison hosted a cell of Islamic converts who planned to attack US military recruitment centers, among other civilian targets. The men are said to have thought highly of bin Ladin, and the attacks on the military recruitment center was likely an act of shared protest against America’s involvement in Iraq, while the specific civilian buildings targeted echoed the message sent by Ramzi Yousef’s blast.

Just as Ramzi Yousef was attempting to kill as many Jews as possible to make a statement against Israeli’s involvement in the Occupied Territories, the Folsom Cell was targeting Israeli government facilities and Jewish community buildings.29 And their plot had its own unique wrinkle, they were also targeting U.S. Army recruitment centers, an apparent condemnation of American foreign policy.

The radicalization and conversion of this cell occurred well under the radar of California state prison authorities, no surprise since prisons in that state operate at over 200% capacity and prisoners seeking to convert others to radical Islam often conduct themselves as model prisoners to avoid the purview of an already overworked prison staff.

However what’s most frightening about this incident isn’t that prisons in every American state are operating at well above their intended capacity, have highly overworked staffs, make little or no effort to monitor Islamic extremism within their walls, and so are unlikely to notice radicalization. The only reason the Folsom Cell was discovered at all was that one of the ex-cons dropped his cell phone at the scene of a robbery meant to finance the group’s impending attacks.29.5

Jose Padilla, who allegedly planned to bomb several apartment buildings and detonate a dirty bomb on American soil, converted to Islam while in prison. Richard Reid, the convicted British shoe-bomber, also converted to Islam while in prison. Several of the Madrid bombers spent time in prison before they converted to their militant brand of Islam.

And these are just the cases the American public knows about. It is the worst of systems that bring about the worst in men.

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We are all still waiting for the other shoe to drop. In the years since the morning of September 11th the specter presented by Osama bin Ladin has seemed to be growing weaker and weaker.

He no longer appears on our television screens promising his retribution for crimes committed against his fellow Muslims. For several classes of kindergarteners, 9/11 is as much a historical event as Pearl Harbor. They weren’t alive to see either event happen, and so in the mind of a child – a mind that has no way to appreciate the difference between one year before they were born and over fifty years – both events are in a distant past.

But those children were born into a world that is markedly different from the one that existed before that September day.

On 9/11 the Islamic reformation was announced to the world in the final rumbles of the collapsing Twin Towers, and the group known as al-Qaeda succeeded in shoving the wheel of Political Terror into motion by provoking America to attack and begin a war against it. First in Afghanistan, next in Iraq.

Just as in the 1970s when Western-initiated instability fell against Palestinan refugees, who in turn tumbled into Lebanon and caused that nation to collapse into a civil war that created fissures of poverty and neglect throughout the region – fissures later filled by the State Shells who invented modern terrorism in a successful attempt to gain power and prominence. Today the West has again created the turmoil and unrest in the Middle East which again spreads unchecked across the region and serves so well to incubate acts of terrorism. And yet now, something’s different.

The globalization of the passenger jet and the television news camera have been rapidly outpaced by the interconnectedness created by the internet and the cell phone. No longer does a company decide what images and words are broadcast across the oceans, today billions of individuals across the world can record, document, and broadcast every mundane experience of their lives. And every horrific event as well.

So now instead of targeting the West only where globalization had caused the West to physically overlap with it and where it was strongest, a terrorist group has managed to metastasize away from a physical location – riding inside the internet’s cables until it found another place to draw strength from.

This time, inside the West itself.

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And so in Madrid hundreds died when men who had never stepped foot on the land al-Qaeda had emerged from and who had immigrated to find a better life in the West decided to declare their allegiance to al-Qaeda by striking back at their host because, they said, the West was waging war against their fellow Muslims in Iraq. Two years later similar attacks gutted London’s insides, and this time men who had found a home in the West willingly killed themselves in their attack, demonstrating that they had an even deeper devotion to al-Qaeda.

America, a land founded by wave after wave of immigrants, has been spared since 9/11. More than any nation on earth America welcomes strangers of every color and faith into her fold, it is here that members of nearly every culture have found a place that provides them with peace and their children with hope for a better future. Accordingly, it wasn’t an immigrant who brought modern terrorism against us. It was one of our own.

Someone who’d lived his entire life with us, who understood us. And so armed with this knowledge he was able to create a wave of terror that was more powerful and more pervasive than any history had ever seen. For three weeks just two men made tens of millions of Americans across the east coast felt as if every moment might be their last. Every breathe, every look, every touch.

These two men were both Muslims, but also being American they saw that our greatest crime wasn’t against their fellow believers who lived thousands and thousands of miles away.

It was right here.

Because the terrorist attacks of radicalized black prisoners will be a native response to our own internal injustice and oppression, they will take on the distinctive characteristics of indigenous terrorism. When the leadership of former convicts who have been converted to militant Islam in prison coalesces, it will seek to begin the cycle of true Political Terrorism.

Political Terrorism, remember, follows a three-step chain-reaction that can only be catalyzed within a society laced with the proper concentration of social conditions.

The first step is Symbolic Terror, dramatic violence, the more enrapturing and menacing the better. This leads to the second step, which will always occur if an act of Symbolic Terror is effective: capturing the media’s attention. With the media enraptured and disseminating the fear created by seemingly indiscriminate violence throughout society, the third and final step of provoking the establishment to commit its own acts of violence begins.

This retribution marks the start of Political Terrorism. It, in turn, both gives the terrorist group credit and marginalizes the retaliating authorities by pushing them off the moral high-ground that allows them to exercise violent means of coercion.

During the Civil Rights movement the use of civil disobedience sought to jump to the third step of Political Terrorism, bypassing the violence of Symbolic Terror. And this effort largely succeeded.

However, the establishment did them one better.

Instead of only responding with the simple violence, the authority dealt with civil disobedience by removing its perpetrators from public view. Mass incarceration was the answer to non-violent civil obedience, and for two generations it’s worked. Instead of violently repressing the nascent political group, it simply removed the troublemakers from society and placed them out of sight.

But we’re now in the worst economic depression since at least the 1930s. And as the unemployment rate for black males draws near to double the national average, and the foreclosure rate on black homes skyrockets past whites, the inevitability of a cataclysmic boiling point is drawing nearer and nearer.

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As the Sicarrii of ancient Judea first attacked the most prominent symbols of oppressive Roman rule, so to will our own native terrorists first seek to attack the symbols of the establishment that placed them behind bars.

In the UK and Madrid the attacks were carried out by immigrants who felt themselves part of an already organized and established group. They saw themselves as members of al-Qaeda, an organization that already had a clear mission statement and several dozen attacks to its name. And their attacks were meant as retaliatory acts of war – the men responsible for all of the attacks went out of their way to document the fact that they saw themselves as soldiers participating in warfare – those attacks were a response to the civilian deaths their host nations had played a hand in causing in Iraq. Not as acts of the Symbolic Terror that is meant to galvanize a group at the nascent stages of its formation.

It won’t take much for the establishment to begin reprisals. The level of trust between the police presence in innercity America and it’s black inhabitants typically falls somewhere between laughable and nonexistent.

Widespread arrests will be made to try and find the terrorists responsible for the violence, and when some of the men – almost all of them innocent – being arrested resist and the police respond with force the flames will be stoked further still.

Especially when such incidents are recorded on camera, as Rodney King and Nathaniel Jones have already borne out.

Rodney King was just one man being smacked around by a few cops, and yet his arrest set inner-city Los Angeles ablaze. Imagine what will happen when dozens of such arrests are recorded and played back not only on the Evening News, but available for free download on YouTube and other internet sites. Another preview of the unrest this will stir was provided when the unarmed Oscar J. Grant III was shot in the back on New Years Day 2009, and the entire incident was recorded on a camera phone and downloaded online.

It’s not hard to imagine what the response will be when some of them inevitably result in the suspects’ deaths – an inevitable result when the police fear for their own lives because they think they’re arresting a devious terrorist who has already tasted blood.

The greatest threat to America is not outsiders who don’t know us coming here to do violence, it is violence done by men who are already here.

They may be rallied by outsiders who are sent here by a foreign regime to stir up unrest inside America, but the men who pose the greatest threat to us are already here. They are the men who have been locked down inside a system that held them in place for their inculcation with a strain of Islam that has already once attempted to tear the delicate and imperfect fabric of our society apart.

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The outcome of bin Ladin’s attempted rise to prominence as the prime defender of Islam will also likely hold different consequences for Europe than for America, depending on how those nations handle their Muslim immigrant communities. But no one person and no one force alone will be enough to steal the mantle of leadership away from bin Ladin and pry al-Qaeda’s fingers off their strangle-hold on Muslim truth.

Perhaps it is our Muslim-American communities that will determine where Islam’s fate rests. Within our more assimilated Muslim immigrant community there is the possibility that Muslims offering alternatives to bin Ladin’s international message of extremism and violence will be raised and nurtured by the dreams that their parents came to America to find. But even this might only stem the flow of blood, as the series of reformations that defined the Christian faith across the centuries were all marked by the beast of aggressive human rage.

War and conflict will go on.

And each year when the world’s Muslims are united in the stark and breathtaking brotherhood of oneness before God after traveling from their homes and across the soft dessert sands that have always cradled both our violence and our faith, the most that can be hoped for is that some of them, a few at a time, might seek a little more intently to see us as a part of that eternal and humbling union even though we are not there to share in the tenets of their belief.

But what happens in Mecca will not decide Islam’s destiny in America. The fate of Islam, and maybe even our own fate, seems destined to return to the start.

And to rest in the hands of men who first began to pass Islam as a message of hope and renewal into the hands of their brothers. Hands America had first placed in visible chains, and now places invisibly in chains that are drawn tighter and grow thicker each time a father is locked away from his child, a child whose best chance of understanding his father will now be someday to share in his bondage.

Whose future seems destined to be one of pressing walls, cold lights, and empty dreams.

It might take some imagination, maybe even a skittish one. But we can see him. He sits. And he waits. We cannot see the walls that contain him.

Walls we allowed to be built and we in many ways refuse to admit even exist at all. Walls we tell ourselves were brought down by a dream over a generation ago. Even though we cannot see these walls, we still must share his story. Because it is a story that will either save us from the brutal and merciless hatreds of our past, or cause us to be consumed by evils that have been tirelessly guarded by our own injustices.

And the next page is his to turn.

D E D I C A T E D     T O :

my Father,

a Fish,

and a Farmer

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