A Confederacy of Dunces?

by Kieran Healy on June 24, 2006

Listening to the reports about the Miami “Seas of David” alleged terrorist cell, I couldn’t help returning to the thought: what did these jackasses really think they were doing? The fact that they were seeking to establish contact with Al Qaeda (rather than being part of that organization from the beginning) was one red flag. The rather mixed bag of plans was another. The odd cultish overtones yet another. “Jim Henley’s reading of the indictment”:http://highclearing.com/index.php/archives/2006/06/24/5234 suggests further grounds for suspecting that these guys were less evil terrorist geniuses and more greedy idiots.



Mary Catherine Moran 06.24.06 at 10:46 pm

Well, yes. But.

The same might be said of the jackasses who were recently arrested up in Canada. Witless wannabes every last one of them. But it doesn’t take a genius for evil to set off a bomb in a subway car. The terrorist as freelancer — inspired by, but with no real connection to, Al Qaeda — is a bit worrisome.


Kieran Healy 06.24.06 at 11:02 pm

I’m not saying they shouldn’t have been arrested. Henley’s question (and this may differentiate them from the Canadian crew) is whether they were ever really planning to do anything besides con an “Al Qaeda Contact” out of some goodies. On the other hand, the economic rationality theory needs to be set against the fact that you’d have to be a fucking idiot to think this was the easiest, least-risky way to make some money. (Even the least-risky illegal way.)


etat 06.24.06 at 11:47 pm

This story had the marks of high farce from the start. I decided to count the days until it was overtly recognised as such. One day later it seems pretty clear in this part of the blogosphere. How long til the mainstream press picks it up?

Batiste et al may have had seriously evil intentions, but since the Steve Kurtz arrest, I cannot take security forces on their word about the seriousness of a person/situation. It may be that Batiste is an inarticulate and not-quite-sane individual who would otherwise be wandering the streets, and who is in no position to mobilise resources against an overhyped and near-slanderous accusation by a security agency.

Kurtz – as a relatively well-off academic – is in a position to defend himself against agency bollocks. Batiste – who may be less of a threat than your neighbourhood squeegee merchant – sounds like he has zero resources. A perfect victim.


Maria 06.25.06 at 3:01 am

It reminds me of some would-be IRA heads my brother defended a couple of years ago. They wanted to do a robbery to show what good provos they could be, if let in. Somehow the heist plans required them to have police uniforms. So they got them – 15 years out of date – and drove to a suburb outside of Dublin, got out them out of a van and started to kit up. But they’d chosen a neighbourhood that’s notorious for being full of retired Gardai (police) and taxi drivers and were immediately dobbed in.

Then, when the poor incompetents were convicted and sentenced(no amount of good lawyering could prevent that), the real IRA (as opposed to the Real IRA) refused to have them on the political wing of Portlaoise prison. Now that’s farce.


bad Jim 06.25.06 at 3:03 am

I’m inclined to hang with Henley’s take:

On December 22, Narseal Batiste sketches a grand vision of “wag[ing] war on the United States from within” – and then gives the “al Qaeda representative” everybody’s shoe sizes.

On December 29, Batiste’s “Islamic Army” take delivery of their cool new military boots.

In all likelihood, these are not the terrorists we’re looking for.


abb1 06.25.06 at 3:28 am

It’s weird. If I were an FBI guy running a sting like this, I would’ve kept it running until I get something substantial; I mean, hopefully this would lead to finding some real cells, or hopefully a whole network, which is what a sting operation is supposed to be all about.

This is more like:
– hey, wouldn’t it be fun to see this building blown up?
– yeah, I suppose so.
– uh-huh, you’re under arrest, buster!


Brendan 06.25.06 at 5:54 am

Isn’t it interesting, incidentally, how the right wing blogosphere simply lost all interest in this story as soon as they found out that it wasn’t Muslims (or at least not orthodox Muslims) or Arabs who were involved? (So did the mainstream media at least in the UK). But gosh, as they keep on telling us, they’re not racist or anything…I mean they keep on saying they aren’t and they wouldn’t lie would they?

So what could the explanation be for this extremely mysterious fact?


Brett Bellmore 06.25.06 at 6:28 am

Actually, we lost interest when we found out they were incompetent dweebs who probably wouldn’t have accomplished anything.


Doormat 06.25.06 at 8:55 am

Yeah, I’m with Brett actually: even on the day it happened, the BBC news in the evening was making a big point about how “there was never any serious threat”. And the news cycle moves so fast: we have had some people arrested recently in the UK on serious (if not exactly by “international terrorism” standards) terrorism charges, but the World Cup and Cadburys recalling a million chocolate bars are more exciting. I do take Brendan’s point though: there does seem to be this “meme” (for want of a better word) that the interesting terrorists are hardline arab muslims with plans on the scale of 9/11. This is a problem, as it’s the other guys who are actually far more common, and they will be caught by usual police methods, not over-the-top new laws…


Daniel 06.25.06 at 9:37 am

there is a special Al Qaeda for stupid people; I think the British 21/7 bombers were part of it.


luci 06.25.06 at 12:26 pm

I decided to count the days until it was overtly recognised as [high farce]…How long til the mainstream press picks it up?

On the liberal NPR (National Public Radio in the US), I’ve heard 2 or 3 terrorism “experts” soberly discussing the seriousness of the homegrown terrorist threat, and their relief that law enforcement apprehended them before they could realize their ambitions.

The incentives of a for-profit media really work against a press outlet reporting, “this isn’t really a story, just a bunch of hype.” They know where their bread is buttered….

“Next up on Live at Five: Could your kitchen sponge be killing you?”

Like the WMD nonsense, when politicians AND the press have their incentives aligned, we’re screwed.


abb1 06.25.06 at 1:20 pm

Why, if the story is that “this isn’t really a story, just a bunch of hype” – then they will go with that story. But someone important – a celebrity – has to say it out loud. And repeat it a few times. Then it’s a story.


Cian 06.26.06 at 11:01 am

“Cadburys recalling a million chocolate bars are more exciting”

Actually to be fair, the Cadbury’s thing was probably a bigger story – they made the decision to put salmonella infected chocolate into the shops. I mean come on.


Dave F 06.28.06 at 7:00 am

A bunch of independents has already sown death in the London Underground. The general level of idiocy of such freelance groups is not reassuring or amusiung — it is more worrying, since their behaviour is much less predictable and may well pass under the radar. Random terror is a far scarier prospect than the purposeful variety.


Bruce Moomaw 06.28.06 at 10:40 pm

Can’t we just compromise by calling them “evil idiots”? (As I understand it, they were looking for UNIFORMS, presumably labeled “OFFICIAL TERRORIST”.) But then I remember that one comparable moron, Richard Reid, came within a hair of blowing a jetliner to kingdom come with exploding shoes…

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