The original version of this article was published at Cageprisoners.com
16-year-old girl next door Emily Kay Six is not the “new face” of American terrorism. Rather, she is the quintessential American terrorist.
What did this rather docile looking, church going, volunteer enthusiast high school student from Ottumwa, Iowa do to land behind prison bars on conspiracy to commit terrorism charges? Six was plotting against her fellow classmates at school.
According to authorities, the young girl had “a plan to harm a number of students” in which she had recruited 5 other students to help carry out the plot. In the afternoon of 23 December, a seemingly satisfied Ottumwa Police Department posted the following message from Police Chief Jim Clark on their Facebook page:
“The staff at each school campus has been diligent at establishing an environment where students feel safe and confident that they can go to an adult when they hear things that could compromise their safety or the safety of others. Without having developed that environment, this incident could have ended in tragedy. I also want to reiterate that both the school district and the police department take all threats seriously and we will continue to work side-by-side to ensure a safe campus for students, staff, and visitors.”
Just below this statement, multiple Facebook users commented on the absurdity of the charges against Six, saying that hers was most likely a problem of bullying or peer pressure while one individual, by the name of Vinnie Lathrup who identified himself as Six’s cousin, commented that the authorities were operating on hearsay.
Teenage terrorists such as Six are not an isolated phenomenon in the United States. In 2006, jurors found 18-year-old Andrew Osantowski, of Macomb County, Michigan, guilty of terrorism after prosecutors found instant messages he wrote in 2004 threatening to kill classmates. A search of Ostantowski’s home turned up an automatic rifle, pipe bombs, a schematic diagram of the school and Nazi paraphernalia. Similarly, in 2009, Ashton Lundeby, who was also 16 at the time, was arrested and has since been held under the Patriot Act for making bomb threats.
These cases, and others like them, beg the question: are America’s youth gradually becoming more susceptible to Al Qaeda’s ideology?
The likelihood that American teens are falling into “extremist” political Islamic ideology is rather slim. In Six’s case, the chances this teen landed herself in such a predicament because of bullying or peer pressure, as insisted by Ottumwa residents on the police department’s Facebook page, is most likely the case. But how did this young teen, and others like her, wind up being indicted under such excessive charges?
Dan Boyce, a defense attorney and former US attorney commented about the Lundeby case saying that the Patriot Act, while well intentioned, had gone too far in certain instances: “It very well could be a case of overreaction, where an agent leaped to certain conclusions or has made certain assumptions about this individual and about how serious the threat really is.”
If this were the case, then why are children like Lundeby still being held under the Patriot Act? More importantly, why wouldn’t law enforcement agencies throughout the United States make sure to prevent these egregious mistakes so that children like Six are processed through the appropriate juvenile channels?
The uncomfortable truth, whether Americans want to admit it or not, is that under the Chapter 708A Iowa state law, Six’s charges under conspiracy to commit terrorism, were apt.
However apt the terrorism charges brought against Six may be, they are, no doubt, entirely excessive. While the 2012 New Year ushered the United States into a brand new era, with experts contending President Barack Obama’s signing of the 2012 National Defence Authorisation Act as signaling the dawn of an effective police state, the Six, Lundeby, and Ostantowski cases are likely part of a succession of historical markers indicating the alarming direction the United States has been heading toward in the decade since 9/11.
Since launching the War on Drugs, police forces all over the US have steadily militarised. In the decade since the War on Terror, however, the militarisation of local police forces increased tenfold under the 1033 Programme which permits the Secretary of Defence to transfer excess US military equipment to local and state law enforcement agencies free of charge. In 2011 alone, the Pentagon gave police departments more than $500 million in military equipment marking the record transfer in military surplus. The net effect is what Tim Lynch, of the Cato Institute, says is a “corrupting influence on the culture of policing in America.”
Combined with the heavy militarisation of local police departments, the very culture of policing has also seen a profound shift in the United States since 2000. Under the management of agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which came into existence after the 9/11 attacks, the prioritising of anti-terrorism policing has seen the subsequent creation of systematically diligent counter terrorism police strategies operating alongside new bodies of federal and state anti-terrorism laws – such as Iowa’s Chapter 708A. The very framework of anti-terrorism policing appears to have placed national security concerns above other concerns, in many cases above civil liberties.
In his article Securitizing America: Strategic Incapacitation and the Policing of Protest Since the 11 September 2001 Terrorist Attacks, Patrick Gillham characterises the shifts in American policing from what he calls “Negotiated Management” in the 1980s – 1990s to “Strategic Incapacitation” since 2000. Gillham states, “The primary goals for police in this new era are to preserve security and to neutralize those most likely to pose a security threat.” While Gillham’s article deals primarily with public order policing such as protest, he appropriately poses the question whether strategic incapacitation, where preserving national security is now the paramount objective, has become the normative strategy for general policing throughout the United States. In his article in The Nation about the rise of paramilitary style policing in the United States, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper draws from his own policing experiences revealing that in the decade since 9/11, a SWAT approach, which in normal circumstances was reserved for extreme crises, such as hostage taking, has has come to formulate every day policing where every other emergency call, even minor incidences, are handled like a military mission.
Preemptive policing is another feature new to the post 9/11 style of American policing, targeting “perceived threats”. A description of preemptive policing is also included in Gillham’s strategic incapacitation, whereby, he describes, “neutralising” a potential threat posed by possible transgressors or conceivable dangers, is a primary objective. Thus American law enforcement has come to rely heavily on surveillance, whether monitoring situations using the latest surveillance technology, or by encouraging members of the public to inform the police in case of “suspicious activity” – such as the DHS “see something say something” strategy.
In the perpetual effort to seek out impending threats to “neutralise”, American citizens can actually be charged for a crime not yet committed – in other words, a “pre-crime”. In Six’s case, conversations she likely had with fellow classmates about getting revenge on pupils she had a bad relationship with – or “conspiracy to commit terrorism”. Ellen Cannon of Examiner noted that in his cooperation with the Ottumwa Police Department, the high school Superintendent Davis Eidal indicated that Six was “at the early conversational stage” of planning something.
The evolution of American policing has been a perplexing phenomenon in the post 9/11 world. In a recent investigative piece, Max Blumenthal draws attention to the extraordinary levels of cooperation between the United States and Israel in policing instruction in the wake of the 2001 attack saying that “America’s Israel lobby provided thousands of top cops with all-expenses paid trips to Israel and stateside training sessions with Israeli military and intelligence officials.” Blumenthal continues, “By now, police chiefs of major American cities who have not been on junkets to Israel are the exception.” Blumenthal coins this cooperative trend as the “Israelification of American domestic security.”
“The Israeli influence on American law enforcement is so extensive it has bled into street-level police conduct,” according to director of Fordham School of Law’s Center on National Security Karen Greenberg. Greenberg is also a leading expert on terrorism and civil liberties. “After 9/11 we reached out to the Israelis on many fronts and one of those fronts was torture… The training in Iraq and Afghanistan on torture was Israeli training. There’s been a huge downside to taking our cue from the Israelis and now we’re going to spread that into the fabric of everyday American life? It’s counter-terrorism creep. And it’s exactly what you could have predicted would have happened.”
Furthermore, Israeli former head of Shen Bet, Avi Dichter, who, according to Blumenthal, has been amongst the most prominent to influence American law enforcement officials, including FBI Director Robert Mueller, delineated that intrinsic to law enforcement is an interrelated connection between fighting crime and fighting terrorism insisting that “they were two sides of the same coin.”
Finally, the practice of torture in local US police departments is no longer a farfetched phenomenon. In 2009, a 62-year-old Ohio man had died in the custody of Lee Country police for public intoxication. Photographs of his dead body showed that had been stripped naked, physically restrained, gagged and pepper sprayed. Medical examiners concluded that his death had been a homicide due to the amount of pepper spray deployed by police.
What emerges from here is a very dim picture of what is meant to be a public safety institution which, Stamper describes, is “perpetually at war with its own people”. The results of the United States excessively militarised and corruption enabling police forces are inevitably tragic: innocent people wrongfully shot and killed, people preemptively and wrongfully arrested and imprisoned, home raids gone wrong, or in the cases of Emily Kay Six, Ashton Lundeby, and Andrew Ostantowski, children, most certainly just caught up in nasty teen dramas spiraled out of control, indicted on charges of terrorism.