The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
The Perpetual Three-Dot Column
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by Jesse Walker

Thursday, October 24, 2002
SNIPER WATCH, CONT.: As the sniper mysteries begin to resolve themselves, we're left with a scenario that has something for everybody. The alleged killers are Muslims, but not Arabs or Asians. One is a veteran, but he isn't a white supremacist -- indeed, he isn't even white. They've expressed sympathy for Islamic terrorism, but have no apparent connection to any "Fall offensive." Assuming that they are indeed the shooters, the biggest puzzle to be sussed out is whether they were working entirely on their own or are part of a larger network. For reasons I've already
laid out, I think the on-their-own theory is more likely, though that doesn't exclude their receiving aid or training, witting or not, through some suspect associations.

Some thoughts. First: Assuming that I'm right and that this is not part of a centrally planned Al Qaeda offensive, this has both good and bad implications for the fight against terror. On the negative side, it shows that, as a lot of us have warned, you can't stop terrorism by simply cutting off the head. Decentralized "leaderless resistance" is almost impossible to contain, especially by conventional military means.

On the plus side, there is the relatively low level of damage involved in the attacks. I don't want to minimize the death and suffering of the last few weeks, but by the standards of war this was a battle with very few casualties -- largely because, even if the shooters had political motives, it isn't war. It's crime, and it can be contained the way crime ordinarily is contained, through good policework and vigilant self-defense. If this is the future of the war on terror, than maybe we should stop thinking of it as a war at all.

As I wrote a few months ago: "You can't fight this [kind of] threat with the standard hawkish strategy. You can't fight it with the standard dovish strategy either. There's no single source to target, no single grievance to mollify. You can only try to make your society as resilient as possible, to minimize the damage attackers can do and maximize the opportunities for other citizens to stop them."

Of course, there's still a lot that hasn't been explained: the Tarot card or cards, the demand for money, the exact nature of the killers' ideology. They may turn out to be closer to the Black Muslim style of Islam than the Taliban kind, while freely adapting ideas from the media image of serial killers (e.g., the Tarot deck). They might have wanted the money to pay for further attacks, or they might have been using their Muslim ideas as an excuse to grab some money. Their motives are still murky, though they seem much clearer now than this time yesterday.

Me, I'm still waiting for the other batch of conspiracy theorists to weigh in. Any moment now, I expect I'll get an e-mail with this header:

Bush Knew Sniper Attacks Were Coming!

posted by Jesse 1:05 PM
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