In 1998, British journalist Simon Reeve wrote a book titled “The New Jackals.” It was critically acclaimed for its level of research. It was the first look into the new age of apocalyptic terrorism, because it detailed the impetus, rise and methodology behind Ramzi Yousef, the young British-educated mastermind of the massive bombing of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. Part of Reeve's long investigation was the first link to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
Then Sept. 11, 2001, happened.
Within weeks, the book was reprinted and reissued, and became a worldwide bestseller because it explained what motivated this new breed of terrorism on American soil. (In later printings, Reeve writes an epilogue that assesses the current status al Qaeda and warns we remain vulnerable.)
That fear seems like a lifetime ago. And it was. There is now an entire generation born after the World Trade Center bombing of 1993 and 9/11. That fear is just ingrained in them.
Fast forward to 2020. Forget the pandemic (as if) and its repercussions. Once again the fear is here.
Fortunately, this time no children died in a school shooting. There was no Ryder truck filled with diesel fuel and fertilizer blowing up a third of a federal building. There was no rampage.
But there was rage.
A foiled plot to storm the Michigan State Capitol, abducting a sitting governor, and attempt to start a civil war in the works.
Federal and state officials Thursday announced terrorism, conspiracy and weapons charges against 13 men, saying that at least six of them had hatched a detailed plan to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has become a focal point of anti-government views and dissatisfaction over coronavirus control measures.
According to published reports, the men met repeatedly during the summer for firearms training and combat drills and attempted to build explosives; also, they gathered several times to discuss the mission, including in the basement of a shop in Michigan that was accessible only through a “trap door” under a rug, the FBI stated.
The men wanted to take her hostage before the election, and then move her to a “secure location” in Wisconsin for a “trial.”
“When I put my hand on the Bible and took the oath of office 22 months ago, I knew this job would be hard,” Whitmer said on Thursday, in reaction to news of the arrests. “But I’ll be honest, I never could have imagined anything like this.”
The state charged an additional seven men, all from Michigan, with providing material support for terrorist activities, being members of a gang and using firearms while committing felonies.
The men were said to be affiliated with a separate extremist group, known as the Wolverine Watchmen, and the state’s attorney general accused them of publicizing addresses of police officers, threatening to start a civil war “leading to societal collapse” and planning to kidnap multiple state leaders.
So America's new normal is domestic terrorism against government officials in the hopes of starting a war between citizens and militias and extremists?
To what end?
When Reeve wrote “The New Jackals” he felt the world needed to understand the “why?” The “how can this happen?”
Fortunately, it didn't. The biggest news of this particular news cycle is the one that did not happen. And yet we should be alarmed. We should be demanding that the layers be peeled back until we understand why it is happening.
It is easy to blame President Trump, who refuses, at times, to condemn white supremacists and violent right-wing groups. Or for his symbolic (and sometimes not symbolic) calls to action among extremist groups.
But Reeve looked at the camps that created the jackals. He looked at the demographics, the sociology, the psychology and all of the factors that went into that uprising that spurred so much hate against America.
But what about the hate within America? Do we really understand the divisions? Where the first wedge came from, and who pounded into our nation?
These men in Michigan were jackals. And until we fully understand why this extremism is being planned, nothing will be normal. We remain vulnerable.