Guest Editorial: US lags in tracking radicals
Evil reared itself Wednesday morning at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, Calif. That’s when heavily armed husband and wife Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik made their way into Farook’s office holiday party and unleashed terror.
By the time the shooters fled, 14 were dead and another 21 wounded. It was the most carnage inflicted in the United States since six teachers and 20 children were shot and killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
The mass murder in San Bernardino was predictably sensational, as evidenced by the fact that #SanBernadino was shared on Twitter more than 333,000 times Wednesday — notwithstanding that the city’s name was misspelled.
No less predictable were the remarks of several political figures — both anti-gun advocates and foes of settling Syrian refugees in the U.S. — who apparently couldn’t resist the temptation to exploit Wednesday’s tragedy.
That included President Barack Obama, who ranted to CBS News about the need “for commonsense gun safety laws,” while also urging Congress to enact legislation preventing individuals appearing on the government’s “No Fly List” from purchasing firearms.
But even if Obama got his wishes, it would not have prevented Wednesday’s carnage. That’s because California already has the nation’s strictest gun laws, based on the latest report card issued by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
As to enacting a law to prohibit those banned from commercial flights from legally obtaining guns, that would not have stopped Farook and his wife from obtaining their assault rifles and handguns.
That’s because neither of them was on the feds’ No Fly List, otherwise Farook, a Pakistani-American born in this country, could not have recently flown to Saudi Arabia and returned to the Inland Empire with his wife, Malik.
The myth promulgated by Obama and other gun control advocates that stricter gun laws will prevent the kind of mass murder that occurred in San Bernardino ignores an inconvenient truth — that there is an extremely small, extremely radicalized, extremely dangerous segment of the U.S. population that may not have sworn allegiance to America’s enemies, but almost certainly identifies with them.
That’s the disquieting finding of a report released this week by academics with George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Support for radical Islam in this country has reached “unprecedented” levels, according to their report, “ISIS in America: From Retweets to Raqqa.”
The forward was written by former nine-term Southern California Rep. Jane Harman, now president and chief executive of the nonpartisan Woodrow Wilson Center.
“The new radicalization crosses borders,” she noted. “Loners don’t have to leave their basements to find extremist messages. Some radical Islamists coordinate complex attacks using PlayStations, while some hatch plots without even contacting a known terrorist.”
So how to prevent attacks like that at the Inland Regional Center? “It takes a 21st century approach,” Harman posited.
“The Internet overhauled radicalization,” she pointed out, “and it should upgrade the way we study it.” Indeed, she continued, “Some of the best information is open-source, plastered on message boards or a 19-year-old’s Twitter feed.”
That explains, in part, the 56 individuals arrested in the United States this year on terror-related charges, the most since 2001. The average age of arrestees was 26, and 86 percent were male.
Alas, Harman fretted, “Policymakers have been slow to adapt; spies would still rather squint at satellite photos than scrape Facebook feeds.”
That suggests to us that our national security apparatus needs to start recruiting digital natives and train them to use their social media skills to ferret out potential lone wolves, like 28-year-old Farook and 27-year-old Malik may turn out to have been.
That would by no means guarantee that another Inland Regional Center won’t occur. But we believe it would at least decrease the likelihood of further horror.