The FBI Informant Behind the Cleveland "Anarchist Plot"

Remember the Great Anarchist Plot to Blow Up a Cleveland Bridge? Sabrina Rubin Erdely has a great piece in Rolling Stone on the case [pdf], taking a close look at the unhappy, alienated people who got roped into the plan and at the FBI informer who organized everything.

When you're done reading it, you can compare Tom Junod's similar story about the "Waffle House plot" in the rural South. The agent provocateur in Junod's story worked for the DHS instead of the FBI, and the people he entrapped were angry old right-wingers rather than angry young left-wingers, but under the surface it's a strikingly similar narrative. After that, take a look at any of the alleged jihadist conspiracies -- here's a recent example -- that followed the same basic outline. Apparently, there's a lot of federal officials who think the easiest way to foil a terror plot is to cook it up yourself.

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  • sarcasmic||

    Apparently, there's a lot of federal officials who think the easiest way to foil a terror plot is to cook it up yourself.

    The only domestic terrorists they catch are the ones they create.

  • Ptah-Hotep||

    Those budgets are not going to justify themselves you know.

  • John||

    This is dangerous and stupid because one of these days one of these plots is going to work before the FBI can stop it. But I don't have much sympathy for the people involved. How exactly do you get roped into a plot to blow shit up? Reason makes it sound like it was some kind of time share scam.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    But I don't have much sympathy for the people involved. How exactly do you get roped into a plot to blow shit up?

    If someone offers to sell you a bomb, respond to them with a polite "Fuck off!", and walk away.

  • Robert||

    And then they shoot you like Diallou, or whoever it was who told cops to fuck off when they asked to buy drugs.

  • RickC||

    Fast and Furious anyone?

  • Lowdog||

    What about the OKC bombing? It could very well be conspiracy theory bs, but there has been talk since the very beginning that the FBI was involved in some form.

  • John||

    I don't think the FBI was involved. But I would not be surprised if they were watching McVeigh and fucked up and let him pull off the job.

  • tarran||

    In a free society with no welfare state, there is very little terrorism:

    people need to produce to eat, and are rewarded for their production. The first saps their energy, the second saps their motivation to engage in violence.

    The welfare state allows people to work on their terrorist planning/plotting, as did many of the 9-11 hijackers while living on the dole in Hamburg.

    The lack of a free society deprives them of any avenue to better their lives through their own labors, dramatically removing the opportunity costs associated with engaging in political violence.

    To date, the U.S. is largely free, and the sort of people who can't build a life for themselves here tend to have difficulty in functioning - meaning that they're not the sort of people who could carry out an attack successfully.

    Worryingly, that is changing... The low level of workforce participation is, in my mind, a harbinger for great political violence in the future.

  • Jesse Walker||

    Not to defend the welfare state, but by this argument we should also do away with inheritances and stock dividends.

  • tarran||

    No, we shouldn't do away with inheritances or stock dividends. Unlike government-administered charities which are funded at gunpoint, they aren't immoral.

    Moreover, to eliminate them, you must annihilate the sort of freedom that permits people to keep to fruits of their labor.

  • Jesse Walker||

    No, we shouldn't do away with inheritances or stock dividends. Unlike government-administered charities which are funded at gunpoint, they aren't immoral.

    Yes, I'm aware that one is coercive and the others aren't. But your argument about the welfare state and terrorism doesn't hinge on that -- it applies to anything that allows people to have money and free time.

    In the Cleveland case, incidentally, the FBI informant actually gave the plotters jobs. Of course, he also let them drink on the job, so I suspect they weren't working all that hard.

    (Just to be clear: I don't want to abolish inheritance or dividends. I'm just saying that if you offer this particular argument for abolishing welfare, you're opening the door to ideas you might not like.)

  • sarcasmic||

    But your argument about the welfare state and terrorism doesn't hinge on that -- it applies to anything that allows people to have money and free time.

    It's not a simple matter of having free time and money.

    When your livelihood is dependent upon plunder, then your entire sense of morality becomes corrupted.

  • tarran||

    I'm just saying that if you offer this particular argument for abolishing welfare, you're opening the door to ideas you might not like.)

    OK. Let me go rummage around my desk for my clutching pearls; I'm sure I've got them here somewhere.

  • sarcasmic||

    Voluntarily passing along accumulated wealth to people who are free to grow it is in no way comparable to being dependent upon handouts obtained through coercion.

  • sarcasmic||

    How exactly do you get roped into a plot to blow shit up?

    You allow yourself to trust a charismatic and energetic government agent who has all the skills and knowledge to commit such an act, and allow that person to overcome your objections when you sober up or otherwise think better of the idea.

  • JEP||

    Thank God someone reads G.K. Chesterton!

  • The Late P Brooks||

    How do you get roped in/

    You say something like, "That fucking pig who beat that homeless kid to death; somebody should back over him with a garbage truck."

    "Here are the keys to my garbage truck. Tomorrow I'll give you his detailed schedule so you'll know where to wait for him. Need some pocket money?"

  • John||

    And you just keep the keys and hope to run the guy over the next day? And they were going to blow up a bridge. Who did the bridge beat to death?

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    That article was pretty depressing. These kids seemed like broken souls who found a purpose in violence. I don't know if they would have concocted this scheme on their own, but they were very willing to carry it out. Prison time is justified. However, the FBI needs to be reformed and this type of "investigation" needs to end. Go find actual terrorists plotting actual attacks, please.

  • sarcasmic||

    I don't know if they would have concocted this scheme on their own, but they were very willing to carry it out. Prison time is justified.

    I disagree. If they never would have done anything had they not met the government agents, then I see no reason to lock them in a cage.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I know, I'm going back and forth on this too. But the episode at Applebee's where the two guys spent 10 minutes actively trying to detonate the bombs with the cell phones doesn't feel right to me. They pulled the trigger, thankfully it just went "click".

  • sarcasmic||

    I still think there's a difference between seeking something out yourself, and having small inclinations nursed by a government agent into a full blown plot of the agent's design.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    24 to 36 months of prison, just to give these kids time to wise up? At some point, you have to take responsibility for your actions, and planting and attempting to detonate two bombs was their action. Young, angry, naive, and duped into a plot, yes. But they were trying like hell to make those fake bombs go off.

  • sarcasmic||

    But they were trying like hell to make those fake bombs go off.

    Fake bombs that they could not have, and arguably never would have, been able to plan out and make without the aid of the government agents.

    These people are guilty of being idiots and suckers, not terrorists.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    Who did the bridge beat to death?

    Sorry, Captain Literal.

    You say something like, "America is a rogue nation ruled by plutocratic despots. We must strike a blow for economic justice and The PEOPLE."

  • John||

    If you say that, then are a dangerous idiot. Once again, you can't be roped into a plan to commit a violent terrorist act, unless you want to be a terrorist.

  • ||

    They're certainly idiots, but these morons were much too feckless to be dangerous on their own.

  • tarran||

    So how come so many Germans participated in the pogroms and the Holocaust? Are Germans unusually predisposed toward violence and cruelty?

    Did Dr Milligan randomly get a larger than normal percentage of people willing to administer fatal shocks during his infamous experiment?

    The fact is, it's possible to induce people to do vile things that they would never do on their own. The entire science of running a bootcamp is based on this. The 20th century is full of horrors perpetrated by decent men who had been convinced that evil was OK, their duty, or even morally good.

    I'm not saying these guys are innocent lambs. They chose to go down this path. However, we shouldn't pretend it was a path they ever would have walked down without massive encouragement.

  • John||

    Are Germans unusually predisposed toward violence and cruelty?

    yes. They participated in it because there was a old and particularly nasty strain of anti-semetism in German culture.

  • sarcasmic||

    They participated in it because there was a old and particularly nasty strain of anti-semetism in German culture.

    That's just dumb. Seriously, that's Tony-grade stupidity.

  • Gray Ghost||

    They killed a whole lot of people in those camps besides Jews, John. I like Richard Rhodes's explanation, citing Lonnie Adams's work on violent socialization, for why Germans were able to do the things they did.

    You're never going to run out of idiot losers who, if given means and support, will do sociopathic shit like blow up a bridge. Or an airport. Or a Federal building.

    The key is whether they'll be able to do the act on their own. Someone like Khaled Sheikh Muhammad, yeah. This 18 year old idiot, or the guys in NY who thought you could float a bomb through a kerosene pipeline, no. You want to kill the organizers of terrorist violence, not necessarily the foot soldiers. And not guys who wouldn't be terrorists if you weren't giving them the bombs and a map. Problem is, it's a lot harder to find the organizers---even assuming any are here in this country---than it is to turn some jamoke with a hardon against the West into a bridge bomber.

    It wastes time, money and resources, but the press conference afterward sure looks good, doesn't it? And I'm sure that DHS's budget will go through without complaint, which might not be the case if there weren't a string of these domestic terror arrests.

  • sarcasmic||

    If you say that, then are a dangerous idiot.

    All the bad intentions in the world are harmless without skills and knowledge to carry them out.

    If you cannot concoct or carry out a plan without the skills and knowledge of the government agent, and you have made no effort to acquire the skill set to concoct or carry out a plan on your own, then you are just an idiot who got suckered by an enterprising government agent.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    The feds like to prime the pump sometimes. They get antsy waiting around for shit to happen.

  • Brendan||

    The best way to prove a conspiracy is to manufacture it. These guys did something similar with evidence and it turned out for the best.

  • The Hammer||

    Who was it who was talking about how much safer all the post-9/11 policies have made us and how many real terrorists we've caught?

  • The Late P Brooks||

    What percentage of the people in Zucotti Park last fall were on the government payroll, in one way or another?

    "Wall Street is right down there, man. What are you going to do about it?"

  • Dan Clore||

    Thanks, Jesse. That article answered a question I had (I'd seen that they talked about blocking the bridge with traffic cones, now I know that they didn't do it).

    It also reinforces the suspicion I've had that the conman/informant deliberately steered these guys (who obviously wanted to *do something*) toward the bridge plot, so that there would be dramatic federal charges involving so-called WMDs and a target used in interstate commerce. He definitely put a lot of pressure on them to go through with the plot.

    I also suspect that the way he provided them with booze and dope was deliberate, not just to make them like him, but to worsen their judgment and make them easier to influence. Alcohol in particular is well-known to alter judgment in a manner likely to make one discount risks.

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