As most of you probably remember, four men from Newburgh, New York were arrested a few weeks back after they took part in what they thought was a plot to blow up a synagogue in the Bronx. Instead, the bombs were fake, and the ringleader of the operation was a government informant trying to mitigate his own legal troubles.
The cable news shows made a huge deal about the arrest as if it were some chilling reminder of the dangers of homegrown terrorism, but the reality was that without the informant, these four morons couldn’t have plotted to change a light bulb. The “leader” was being paid in weed by the informant and was high when they got arrested. Another of the four was described by his own sister as being “the dumbest person on this earth”. And a third one had previously been judged insane in an immigration hearing. This was nothing more than a desperate and persistent man trying to work a deal with cops finding whatever patsies he could dreg up in order to give police some “bigger fish”.
It’s hard to have sympathy for anyone who would even go along with a plot to blow up a synagogue (or any other place with innocent people inside), but I’m also not afraid of people like the Newburgh four. People that stupid and gullible are far more likely to be a threat to themselves than anyone else. And as Zachary Roth writes, it leads to some questions about how useful it is to do this in the first place:
Let’s be clear about what all this might and might not add up to. If these men were willing to go through with planting what they believed to be deadly bombs — as they appear to have been — then they should be charged, and, if convicted, sentenced to jail-time. (Their lawyers, of course, will likely claim entrapment, and it’ll be up to a judge and jury to weigh that claim after hearing all the evidence.)
But the emerging evidence that “Maqsood” aggressively targeted these men, and may have convinced them to participate in the plot only by offering them money and gifts, raises a different question: is pursuing “plots” that may well never have existed in the first place were it not for the work of a government informant, really the most effective way for the federal government to spend its finite terror-fighting resources?
I think what we should do is take some folks who’ve been arrested for various offenses like fraud and tax evasion and allow them to mitigate their sentences by going into churches around the country and recruiting disaffected crazies who would be willing to help them blow up a Planned Parenthood office. Then, after we bust like 4 or 5 “terrorist plots” in middle America, we can ask that question again.