SO JOHN MUHAMMAD wasn’t an angry white male after all. He wasn’t some 20-something suburban loner, another Timothy McVeigh with militant, right-wing animosities, like all the experts, criminologists, and profilers spent weeks telling us he would be.
His arrest neatly highlights the defects in politically correct profiling, the only sort of profiling that’s still tolerated these days, the kind that invariably concludes that the suspect — never mind the ethnic and religious realities of the War on Terror — must be an LWG, a lone white guy.
It was the LWG theory that caused officials working the sniper case to spend weeks looking in all the wrong places until Muhammad and his sidekick, John Lee Malvo, were kind enough to start dropping hints as to their actual identity. Were it not for their arrogance, authorities would still be pulling over every white van driven by any white male in the greater D.C. area.
Unfortunately, not all terrorists are as helpful or as Muhammad and Malvo. Take those responsible for sending out packets of anthrax to journalists and politicians across the eastern seaboard last year, who still remain at large. FBI officials are convinced that an LWG is responsible. After all, the actions fit the profile.
Maybe it’s time to draw up some new profiles.
Under the current profiling regime, it’s unacceptable for a cop who, while looking for a suspected drug-dealer, decides to pull over a suspicious-looking African-American motorist. And heaven help the airport screener who admits to paying more attention to the young Arab men passing through his security checkpoints. That sort of profiling is considered immoral, rank bigotry, and officially, no one, not even the hard-nosed president or his attorney general, will condone it.
Yet it’s permissible when the profilers look at the circumstances of a crime and draw up an ethnic and personal profile of the likely suspect, as long as the composite sketch comes out male and light-complexioned. Only the sort of profiling that, in the case of the snipers anyway, would have suggested the truth — that the criminal was a non-white, American-hating Muslim — is prohibited.
That’s why throughout Muhammad and Malvo’s shooting spree, the talking heads went to great pains to assure the public that although someone was busily terrorizing the nation’s capital, the acts of terror were most certainly not acts of terrorism.
Yet when authorities found their man, he defied every stereotype the experts had set for him. Muhammad was an African-American, a Muslim convert, and a member of Louis Farrakhan’s odious sect, the Nation of Islam. He openly sympathized with the 9/11 terrorists. On the LWG scale, he was a mere one for three.
Perhaps the LWG theory isn’t the catch-all it’s cracked up to be.
And perhaps now, with the nation at war with Islamic radicals, it’s time to expand our criminal profiles to consider some of the more likely possibilities when it comes to acts of terror. While the War on Terror has netted one LWG — John Walker Lindh — there have been many others who don’t fit the PC profile, starting with the nineteen 9/11 hijackers and the continuing with Jose Padilla and John Muhammad.
The next time a terror attack of some sort unleashes, officials and pundits might want to consider profiles more consistent with the current geopolitical order — ones not confined to the LWG theory. In fact, they might want to broaden their investigation of past attacks, too.
The culprit in last year’s anthrax scare, we are told, is surely some malcontent white guy — a former, mid-level government scientist with an ideological axe to grind. For the better part of the last year, federal officials have trained their attention — without finding any evidence or filing a charge — on Steven J. Hatfill, a former U.S. Army scientist who has repeatedly denied any involvement.
On Monday, the Washington Post exposed the woeful inadequacy of the LWG theory as an explanation for the anthrax attacks. “A significant number of scientists and biological warfare experts,” the paper reported, “are expressing skepticism about the FBI’s view that a single disgruntled American scientist prepared the spores and mailed the deadly anthrax letters that killed five people last year.” Such an attack, the experts observe, “would require scientific knowledge, technical competence, access to expensive equipment [including a $50,000 spray dryer and an electron microscope worth several times that] and safety know-how that are probably beyond the capabilities of a lone individual.”
The weapons-grade anthrax used by last year’s terrorists is 50 times finer than anything ever produced by the onetime U.S. bio-weapons program and 10 times more so than its former Soviet counterpart. To achieve that sort of potency, scientists reason, a terrorist would need a full laboratory, several well-trained assistants, hundreds of thousands of dollars and, most likely, the support of the local government.
It just so happens, according to the Post, that one government is known to possess the necessary equipment to develop precisely that sort of anthrax — Iraq. Moreover, Saddam Hussein’s regime has also been known to use the same sort of dispersant, silica, that terrorists used to spread the spores contained in its lethal envelopes.
Saddam Hussein would seem a more likely suspect in the anthrax attacks than Steven J. Hatfill, but that’s apparently an option the FBI is unwilling to pursue, preoccupied as it is with the LWG theory.
And as long political correctness continues to inhibit the War on Terror, winning it will prove mightily difficult.