The news this morning is full of the arrest of yet another American on charges of “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization.” Nobody’s suggesting that 20-year-old National Guardsman Nicholas Teausant of Acampo, CA is a terrorist, or that he provided any help whatsoever to terrorists, or that he was in contact, ever, with any actual terrorists. But, the media breathlessly report, he’s still facing charges that can put him in jail through to the 2030s.
Well, seems that he was on a camping trip sometime last year – or maybe not; investigators couldn’t corroborate that the camping trip ever happened – but anyway, afterwards, Teausant is reported to have said to some guy that he had been on a camping trip and had talked with friends about “blowing up the LA subway,” but that they hadn’t done anything because “they” had been “tipped off”.
“Some guy” turns out to be an FBI informant, who, knowing that he will get good money for reeling in an actual honest-to-goodness terrorism suspect, puts Teausant in touch with a “mentor” who would approve his application to go fight for the genuinely vicious terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The “mentor” is, of course, an FBI agent, who helps Teausant arrange bus and rail travel from his home to the Canadian border, where he is promptly picked up by law enforcement.
Oh, Teausant also mentioned online that he wanted to join God’s army. Well, you know, Allah’s army – he is a Muslim convert, after all. How nice it is that we Christians reject all such military imagery.    … (over 2,250,000 results for “join god’s army” on Google).
Can we do a “but for” analysis here? Any alleged plotting to blow up the subway (a) may never have happened, (b) may have been nothing more than dumb teenagers bragging round a campfire, and (c) had definitely blown over because of a tipoff. There’s no evidence other than the paid informant’s testimony that such a plot ever existed, and it would have been profitable to the informant to have made it up out of whole cloth. It would also have validated Teausant’s desire to be thought of as a badass by someone he thought was a friend, to have made it up out of whole cloth himself. We’ll have to see whether any actual evidence emerges that this plot is anything more than teenaged braggadocio – but try finding a media outlet that is expressing any skepticism about it whatsoever.
Also, Teausant was apparently trying to figure out how to go to Syria and fight against Bashar al-Assad. This horrifying offense was committed at the same time that the US government was … trying to figure out how to go to Syria and fight against Bashar al-Assad. Last time I checked, Assad was a brutal dictator. But the winds have changed, and now that some of the people fighting against him are Sunni radicals inspired by, but actually repudiated by, al-Qaeda, I guess that makes Assad now a staunch American ally and defender of secular values? Maybe we should start calling him “Uncle Bashy”? Gee, it’s so hard to keep up.
So, because it’s 2014 and not 2013, lo and verily, let there be anathema upon Teausant and all those seeking to unseat Assad. Check back in next week to see whether we’re still at war with Eastasia.
Teausant’s mother Teresa, interviewed by the Lodi News-Sentinel, says:
“I feel my son is a victim here as much as anything else,” she added. “I fully believe that my son has been tricked and lied to and deceived. My son would not openly and willingly go harm anybody.”
She loves her son. But it’s not ridiculous at all to suggest that Teausant was led up the garden path by the FBI. Among their post-2001 efforts to produce a steady crop of “terrorists” to justify their budgets are the NATO 3 and the Occupy Five, as well as the Newburgh Four, the Fort Dix Five, the Liberty City Seven and many more. The New York Times and the Guardian provide good overviews if you care to delve further.
Any fair-minded observer who has followed this stream of cases will recognize that they form a pattern. The FBI gloms onto dim, vulnerable, manipulable people, and cultivates them via paid informants, encouraging them to firm up plans further than they were ever likely to have done on their own, until they can collar them. Then, in a blaze of publicity, the FBI pats itself on the back for catching the “dangerous terrorists” they themselves create before the terrorists could attack us all.
I’m not arguing that wanting to join a vicious Islamic splinter group in Syria is a wise or sensible thing to do. I’m arguing that the “good groups” and the “bad groups” in Syria are hard to define, and that the choice of who is a terrorist organization and who a plucky band of freedom fighters is a highly politicized decision on the part of the US government.
In a more sensible legal environment, Teausant would walk free because, let me think now, because we have a First Amendment and he is entitled to say whatever dumb thing he wants to so long as he doesn’t actually harm anyone, and the FBI informant and agent would be being charged with entrapment.
We are not, alas, in a sensible legal environment yet, so the FBI will keep on creating its own terrorists to order, and a certain portion of America’s none-too-bright teenagers will be chewed up as a result. Good luck, Nicholas, you’re going to need it; in our system, your conviction is near-guaranteed, and you’ll be sent to a supermax like the terrifying threat to our way of life you most indisputably are. Sorry about your little daughter, but hey, she will probably never remember you, and prison life will make us all safer by making you feel much more friendly towards America. That’s how these things work, right?
UPDATE: AN IOTA OF INCLINATION
On Techdirt, which has now linked to and written about this article (thanks, guys!), commenter Rikuo makes the point that the FBI did not, legally speaking, commit entrapment here. Rikuo is perfectly right. According to current legal definitions of entrapment, all that the FBI has to demonstrate is that Teausant had an iota of inclination towards committing conspiracy to provide material support to an actual terrorist organization, in order to load him up with the same fifteen years’ maximum charges he would be due if he had actually provided actual support to an actual terrorist organization, as opposed to an FBI “mentor.” Teausant does appear to have had that iota of inclination, and in the law’s eyes, it doesn’t matter whether it would ever have come to fruition as a chargeable offense without the FBI’s assistance. In suggesting that “in a more sensible legal environment”, the agent concerned would be charged with entrapment, I was also implicitly arguing that it would have to be an environment where entrapment were rather more broadly defined than the law defines it today.
The material support statute (note, this is Clinton-era, not 9/11-era) goes on to say two things worthy of further note.
First, it says that “No person may be prosecuted under this section in connection with the term “personnel” unless that person has knowingly provided, attempted to provide, or conspired to provide a foreign terrorist organization with 1 or more individuals (who may be or include himself) to work under that terrorist organization’s direction or control or to organize, manage, supervise, or otherwise direct the operation of that organization. Individuals who act entirely independently of the foreign terrorist organization to advance its goals or objectives shall not be considered to be working under the foreign terrorist organization’s direction and control.“ Teausant had a misplaced belief that he was going to provide material support to a terrorist organization, and so, though working “entirely independently” of ISIL, he is being charged as if he was not.
Second, most reassuringly for everyone concerned, the material support statute excludes everyone important by stating, “No person may be prosecuted under this section in connection with the term “personnel”, “training”, or “expert advice or assistance” if the provision of that material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization was approved by the Secretary of State with the concurrence of the Attorney General.”
Oh. Well, that’s all right then.