NPR, Newsweek, and WaPo, among others, have focused lately on why or whether recent domestic terrorist-like activity can be charged as such. Here’s my question: Who cares? If the perpetrators committed a crime (or a tort), then the courts can sufficiently deal with that, but the question needs to be “when and where are they going to be tried?”
The justice system does not include the media, nor does it include the masses of readers, viewers, and retweeters, and it surely doesn’t operate as fast as the court of public opinion. It does, however, serve as a solution to problems, if we can just get there. The biggest problem with the court of public option is that no one has a law degree, and their only exposure to the law appears to be with TV judges and shows depicting court scenes that are over in minutes and not hours. The reality of the justice system is it is quite difficult to try someone for thoughts and feelings, which are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Folks can only be tried for actions and behaviors.
If you have seen photos of the perpetrators, you’ll likely agree that none of them would, as my drill sergeant used to say, make a good pimple on a real soldier’s behind (paraphrased). They aren’t in the best shape, usually don’t have matching uniforms, and don’t seem to have very good leadership. As we saw with James Fields, the murderous driver in Charlottesville, these guys may have a military-like structure, but they may not be able to cut it in today’s military.
When they do, they are quite dangerous, but even when they don’t (like Fields, who lasted a mere 4 months, it appears) they are able to absorb some amount of training, discipline, and knowledge. I suspect many both in and outside the media will show some contrasts with veterans Timothy McVeigh, who had Militia ties when he blew up the Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, or Micah Johnson, who had been a member of a Black Supremacy group when he shot fourteen police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five, in 2016. Now, none of these examples demonstrated brilliant minds or anything resembling genius, but surely you agree that their crimes would have been a bit tougher to investigate . . .. But the analysis should really should be focused on folks who were in the military long before those guys.
The U.S. Military is often tasked wth maturing individuals, by providing an environment in which they learn to think things through, learn from their mistakes, and experience success. That environment doesn’t always produce shining examples of contributing members of society, unfortunately, and history is littered with rosters of criminals who had “done time” in the military.
Consider the Hounds, a group of soldiers, many of whom had been street gang members in New York, who formed a White Nationalist (by today’s standards) group in San Francisco, California. They had just finished battling Mexico (in the Mexican-American War) and were discharged shortly before the California Gold Rush gave folks a reason to move to the area formerly known as Mexico. The group known as the Hounds transformed into the San Francisco Society of Regulators, the closest thing to a police or security force that the ships captains had, and they needed someone to round up the hundreds of stray (non-military) sailors who had neglected their responsibility to offload the ships in the bay and dashed instead to the mines to find their riches.
Once the Hounds/Regulators completed that mission, they “served” the shopkeepers and barkeeps by drinking in their establishments and leaving without rendering payment, claiming the city owed them. In their spare time they harassed, or worse, the foreigners (many of whom were from Mexico and countries in Central and South America), and generally created an unsafe city.
And they were never taken to court!
By todays standards, the Hounds/Regulators would be considered a Domestic Terrorist Extremist (DTE) group.
Just like many current DTE groups, the Hounds/Regulators were military-trained gang members. The FBI is especially concerned with the dangerousness of DTEs with members who have received military training.
Military-trained gang members pose a serious threat to law enforcement and to the public. They learn combat tactics in the military, then return home to utilize these new skills against rival gangs or law enforcement. Military training of individual gang members could ultimately result in more sophisticated and deadly gangs, as well as deadly assaults on law enforcement officers.
That’s the standard finding for the biennial National Gang Intelligence Center report that summarizes the national threat of gangs and other crime groups. It applies to Domestic Terrorist Extremists (DTEs), as well as to street gangs and Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs).
Military-Trained Gang Members (MTGMs) display indicators that they received military training either directly or indirectly. Indicators of military training include the use of military tactics, weapons, explosives, or equipment to conduct gang activity, and the use of distinctive military skills, particularly if gang members are trained in weapons, tactics, and planning, and then pass the instruction on to other gang members. Military tactics include the techniques and strategies taught in a variety of military occupational specialties, ranging from tactical assault to organizational leadership strategies.
The FBI has reported military-trained gang members in all branches of the military since 2005. Of all the issues with gangs and the military, street gang, OMG, and DTE members who have transitioned from the military back to the civilian community are the biggest threat, and the only issue that can be addressed without assistance from the military. Estimates of the number of MTGMs run from between 20,000 and 200,000, or between one and ten percent of the gang members in the country, and that doesn’t include the members of gangs in the military. Even more recent research found about 20% of DTEs claimed to have been in the military.
The membership numbers aren’t well addressed by the agencies that track them, but they do show a problem. If they were in the military, they were released to the community. If they are in the community, then that’s who needs to address the problem. The criminal justice system needs a chance to work, from the police to the courts to corrections. These folks are first, criminals, so why are we worried about their DTE classification? The Hounds/Regulators weren’t tried due to an ineffective justice system. McVeigh was tried, convicted, and sentences to death, and was executed many years ago. Johnson pronounced the same penalty on himself, and it was delivered at the scene. These perpetrators should be given the same opportunities to experience the results of their actions. Their thoughts are protected by the U.S. Constitution, but there actions are not. Stop trying them in the court of public opinion (and stop “countering” their protests.
Get them to court!