Now For the Real Sniper Hunt


The various narrative threads of the D.C.-area sniper saga seem to be coming together in ways that can comfort everyone.

On the most obvious level, everyone of good will can be glad that (apparently) the killer has been caught and a maddeningly successful reign of murder and terror ended.

But on the ideological level—the fight over how best to make sense of the story—the police procedural resolution is merely an ur-text that will undoubtedly spawn a variety of stories, to be used according on one's preference. Alleged sniper John Allen Muhammad (whose original name was John Allen Williams) and alleged sidekick John Lee Malvo (whose original name, we suspect, will turn out to be Dick Grayson) have cooked up an ideological smorgasbord that can feed a huge and varied crowd.

For example, in the case of Timothy McVeigh, ideological enemies of the U.S. government, or simply irony lovers, liked to stress that someone who made himself a violent enemy of the United States government and people was trained to kill by that very government representing that very people. Muhammad is, like McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran—a man who apparently learned his murderous skills from the U.S. government himself.

And Muhammad's young ward Malvo is a non-citizen immigrant, apparently without any legal papers—which will delight those who insist that America will never be safe until we stop letting foreigners in.

Not just a soldier, Muhammad is also a convert to Islam—a fact which will provide tasty grist for the mills of those who stress that the real enemy in the war we are fighting is not something as inchoate as "terror," and that we must look more closely at domestic Islam as an ongoing threat.

Yet, although he is a Moslem, there is no apparent evidence that he is connected to any organized terrorist organization of the Qaeda ilk, which will please those who hesitate to link every domestic crime, however awful, to the necessity for overseas military intervention.

The real story of the sniper is, we hope, over. Let the stories about the story begin.