The arrest of Yemeni-American shopkeeper Mufid Elfgeeh in May didn’t attract much media attention, but his indictment this week on charges of attempting to provide material support to ISIS has made him a national story. The news sets off two types of alarms, one of which is a bullshit detector. On the one hand, Elfgeeh’s arrest is being hyped as the foiling of an American ISIS operative, proof of the threat the group poses to The Homeland™. Watch this CNN report, in which Wolf Blitzer says Elfgeeh was “working for ISIS”:
The only problem with that, as the story goes on to explain, is that this guy didn’t work for ISIS, he wasn’t in direct contact with anyone from the group, he was trying to aid and support two FBI informants who were pretending to be ISIS sympathizers. If this sounds at all familiar, it’s because the Bush-era FBI made a career of polishing turds into heroically-foiled terror plots, like the geniuses who handed over their plans for a pizza-based assault on Fort Dix to some dude at a Fotomat, to the devious mastermind who managed to purchase a fake shoulder-fired missile from the FBI and sell it to the FBI, to the terrorist cosplayers whom the FBI bought boots for.
The new charges against Elfgeeh are being covered in much the same way, as evidence of ISIS’ threat to der Homeland, even though this guy had no contact with ISIS. Wolf even goes on to explain that this guy has no contact with ISIS, and that somehow, that’s what makes it so scary!
The pants-crapping likes of Lindsey Graham and Sheriff Koran Books have convinced a lot of Americans that ISIS is about to rain terror down on them, but so far, the Obama administration has admirably resisted hyping the threat that returning ISIS fighters pose to Americans at home. The fact is that there is no credible threat posed by the Americans who have joined ISIS, and the administration has sent some fairly strong signals that even if they did try to return home, we’ve got a pretty good handle on them.
Even so, the potential for a long-term threat from a terrorist safe haven in Iraq and Syria has brought the administration perilously close to uttering the words “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” The line between clear-eyed threat assessment and five-alarm freakout is perilously thin, and the stuff that bad decisions are made of.
There’s a part of this story, though, that isn’t getting the same sort of attention that Elfgeeh’s attempt to aid fake terrorists, and that is the fact that he was arrested in May for buying real guns, in order to carry out a real mass shooting. Again, the fact that this guy couldn’t manage to buy guns from someone who wasn’t the FBI makes him hard to take seriously as a threat, but it is a reminder of the very real threat that the terrorism pants-crappers have been ignoring for years.
In 2011, American al Qaeda operative Adam Gadahn called on homegrown extremists to exploit nonexistent American gun laws to tool up for terrorist attacks at gun shows, and the U.S. intelligence community has long been aware that the group has been planning Mumbai-style attacks. Under current law, ISIS sympathizers don’t need to go to Syria and come back to pose a threat, they can just go to a gun show and get everything they need to launch a devastating attack here at home.
For some reason, though, the Obama administration has been reluctant to engage on the issue of terrorism as it relates to gun control. In 2011, when Gadahn’s first video surfaced, I spent several weeks pressing White House officials on what was being done to close the loopholes that would allow such an attack, even dropping the question into the middle of conversations on other issues. They would not touch it. Last Monday, on the eve of President Obama’s speech, I met with White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest, and one of the things we discussed was whether there would be any effort to include measures to mitigate this threat in the president’s plan to protect the Homeland from ISIS. He promised to get an answer for me. He has not.
Given the political pressure from vulnerable Democratic senators, it’s little wonder that the Obama administration doesn’t want to reintroduce gun control as a huge issue, right before the midterms. Maybe we can go a few more weeks of dodging these bullets, but at some point, the president needs to put Republicans to the test. The conservative base that howls about calling a mass shooting a terrorist attack needs to demonstrate that they’re willing to do what’s necessary to prevent one. Let’s hope he does it before one of these homegrown ISIS assholes gets his shit together.