First thing I thought when I started reading (and writing about) the “plot” to blow up the Sears tower in Chicago, was: Where’s Flavor Flav with his giant pocket watch?
Rather than trained terrorists for whom stealth and secrecy is the golden rule, these guys seem to have strutted around a poor African-American neighborhood in Miami wearing military-style garb (sometimes also turbans), standing guard and doing exercise drills. You know, like the S1Ws in the old Public Enemy hip-hop shows. And just like the S1Ws, seems like these guys didn’t have any real weapons either. The indictment against them is pretty hilarious, because it makes clear that the only contact these guys had with “al-Qaeda” was through a U.S. government undercover agent posing as a Qaeda operative. So the indictment says they swore oaths to al-Qaeda and sought its assistance in waging a ground war (yes, a ground war!) against the “devils” on U.S. soil. But, of course, any such “oaths” were administered not by al-Qaeda, but by a U.S. government agent posing as al-Qaeda. (I’m sure the lawyers are going to have fun with this one!)
The tragicomedy is evident in the list of requests made by the group’s leader to what the indictment calls “the al-Qaeda representative,” meaning the undercover agent: Boots, uniforms, machine guns, binoculars, bullet-proof vests, vehicles and radios. A ground war, started by an army of seven. Oh, and not forgetting this: They also provided “the al-Qaeda representative” with “a list of shoe sizes for the purchase of military boots.”
These guys, most of whom have Haitian names, appear to be part of some sort of urban rage cult that makes reference to various religions although doesn’t appear to have anything in common even with those versions of Islam that are deemed by the Qaeda types to sanction terrorism. Clearly they had grand fantasies about wreaking havoc. But what worries me is that the Feds seem good at busting these occasional groupings of wannabes and chumps, while the serious transnational plotters seem to elude them (as in the group described in the Suskind book that had apparently put into operation a plot to mount a gas attack on the NYC subway, only to have it aborted by Ayman Zawahiri — but they still managed to leave the U.S. again long before the security services got wind of the scheme).
Guys like this are dangerous, of course, in the way that any millenarian cult could be. But the idea that their arrest represents the foiling of a serious a new terror plot against an American city seems to be overreaching a little. If the next generation of white high-school shooters in the Columbine tradition proclaims themselves to be soldiers of Osama bin Laden, we wouldn’t treat them as such. And I’m not sure that the “Miami Seven” are much different.
I also got to thinking that if you look back now to the heyday of Public Enemy — for example,
watch the video of ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona’ and you’ll see stuff — angry young men engaged in paramilitary posturing, playing with weapons and in the climactic scene, blowing up the Arizona state house — that these days might get them busted for a terror plot!