Miami "terror" busts: conspiracy or thoughtcrime?
The standards for what constitutes a terrorist conspiracy continue to get radically dumbed down. Most Americans don't seem to care, as those targeted invariably belong to some fringe and seemingly extremist sect. In this case, it appears to be an offshoot of Moorish Science, an indigenous American tradition held to be utterly heretical by ultra-orthodox Sunnis of the al-Qaeda variety. However, this has not stopped the mainstream media from (inaccurately) portraying the suspects as linked to al-Qaeda. The June 22 arrest of seven men in Miami's Liberty City district came in a raid by some 20 FBI agents in full-on paramilitary gear. Yet authorities immediately admitted the so-called "conspiracy" seems to be little more than a bunch of bad-ass braggadocio. OK, maybe these guys wanted to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower. But, as we have asked before, is wanting to a crime? As in recent "terrorism" busts in the United Kingdom, federal authorities are rushing to embrace the Orwellian concept of thoughtcrime. Some relevant excerpts from the June 24 Miami Herald coverage (emphasis and interjected comments added):
They thought they were joining al Qaeda, but they were not. They were led by a "Moses-like figure" who carried a cane through Liberty City and wore a cape or sometimes a bathrobe. They allegedly sought to sow death and terror, and they ended up in leg irons.
The seven men arrested in an alleged terrorist plot believed they were conspiring with al Qaeda "to levy war against the United States" in attacks that would "be just as good or greater than 9/11," according to a federal indictment unsealed Friday.
The campaign was to begin with the bombing of the 110-story Sears Tower in Chicago, according to the indictment, though an FBI sting foiled the plot long before it reached that point.
Also discussed were attacks against federal buildings in Miami, officials said, and four other cities not identified in the charging documents.
"Individuals in America made plans to hurt Americans," U.S. Attorney General Albert Gonzales said during a news conference in Washington.
But that's where it stopped -- with plans, authorities said.
The men, allegedly led by Narseal Batiste, each swore an oath of fidelity to al Qaeda called a bayat but never met with an authentic representative of the group responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, according to authorities.
They were not able to obtain explosives and no weapons were found, officials said. In Chicago, police said there was no credible threat against the Sears Tower and no arrests were made there.
"This group was more aspirational than operational," said John Pistole, the FBI's deputy director.
Authorities said the group was infiltrated by a government informant, was under surveillance for months and no longer posed a danger. The loyalty oaths were captured on videotape, indicating that FBI agents obtained a warrant to plant recording devices in the group's windowless warehouse headquarters.
So the loyalty oath was not to al-Qaeda, but to an FBI infiltrator. But if you didn't read down to the tenth paragraph you wouldn't know that. Even then, it is only implied, rather than explicitly stated (although it is entirely obvious). Why is the Miami Herald playing along with this charade?
"You don't want to dismiss it just because they don't have a pot to pee in," said a federal law enforcement source who asked not to be identified. "What happens if guys like this run up against somebody for real who can really finance something serious?"
For the most part, authorities framed the case as one against a "homegrown cell" of would-be terrorists, but said the seven could have inflicted great harm.
According to the indictment, Batiste, 32, called his men "soldiers" in an "Islamic army" that would wage a "full ground war."
He said he wanted to "kill all the devils that we can," officials said, and he wanted most of his group to attend al Qaeda training this past April.
The suspects called their meeting place -- a warehouse at 6260 NW 15th Ave., where some of them were arrested Thursday -- "the embassy," authorities said.
"They lived and worked in the United States, enjoyed all the freedoms our great nation offers, yet they pledged their allegiance to al Qaeda," Pistole said in Washington. "Their goal was simple: Commit attacks against America."
No they didn't. They may have thought they pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. They may have wanted to pledge allegiance to al-Qaeda. But they only pledged allegiance to an FBI infiltrator. And Pistole talks about "freedom"? Do you think he grasps the irony?
Gonzales compared them to terrorists in Madrid, London and Toronto.
"Left unchecked, these homegrown terrorists may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al Qaeda," Gonzales said.
Someone approached by Batiste to join the group contacted the FBI, initiating a full-court press from the Miami anti-terrorism task force, authorities said. The task force soon planted the informant in the group.
"They did not believe the U.S. government had legal authority over them," Pistole said. "They were separatists."
At the same time, the seven were fooled for six months by the government informant who pretended to be an al Qaeda operative, according to the indictment.
Ah, finally! This rather salient fact is stated overtly! In other words, if not for the FBI, these men would have nurtured their empty terroristic fantasies in peace, and we would never have known their names.
They needed help acquiring everything from machine guns to rental vans and boots, even giving the informant a list of their shoe sizes, according to the indictment, and they were led by an eccentric man who called himself Brother Naz and Prince Manna.
A friend described Batiste as a "Moses-like" figure who would roam the neighborhood in odd clothing, carrying a crooked wooden cane as he recruited vulnerable young men.
Not exactly good sleeper-cell protocol, eh? Here's the clearest proof these guys were just harmless wingnuts.
Others said he was a martial arts devotee who sometimes wore camouflage and led his followers through late-night physical exercises -- in plain view of neighbors.
The six other defendants were identified in the indictment as Patrick Abraham, 26; Burson Augustin, 21; Rotschild Augustine, 22; Naudimar Herrera, 22; Lyglenson Lemorin, 31; and Stanley Grant Phanor, 31.
None made any substantive public comment since the arrests, but some friends and relatives expressed shock -- and doubt that the men were guilty.
'HUSBAND IS INNOCENT'
"I believe my husband is innocent of all the accusations against him," said Minerva Batiste, 34, wife of the alleged ringleader.
Despite early reports to the contrary, it did not appear that the men were members of mainstream Muslim communities.
A close friend of one of the defendants said Batiste's teachings come from the Moorish Science Temple of America, an early 20th century religion that blended Christianity, Judaism and Islam with a heavy influence on self-discipline through martial arts.
This "early 20th century religion" is actually still very much alive, and the emphasis on martial arts is largely in the writer's imagination. See the better-informed Wikipedia page on Moorish Science.
The four-count indictment charges all seven with conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, conspiracy to maliciously damage and destroy by means of an explosive, and conspiracy to levy war against the United States.
Excuse us, but how can they be guilty of "conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization" if there was no foreign terrorist organization involved whatsoever? How can they be guilty of "conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists" if they were depedent on the guy they thought was a terrorist to buy money for boots?
Four of the defendants had prior arrests for mostly small-time crimes -- misdemeanor battery, marijuana possession, illegal possession of a firearm, or driving with a suspended license.
Nothing in their criminal pasts would have suggested an interest in domestic terrorism, authorities said.
Listen to what their relatives have to say. From the Chicago Tribune, June 25:
MIAMI -- Elizene Phanor says she knows nothing of the alleged plot to blow up the Sears Tower. And neither did her son.
Phanor, the mother of Stanley Grant "Brother Sunni" Phanor, one of seven suspects in what the FBI says was a plot to attack the Chicago landmark, said her son is a God-fearing Christian who was recruited into a neighborhood group to do good works and study the Bible.
He is a man of Jesus Christ, she said, not a jihadist.
"One thing I know. My son is no criminal. My son, no gun. My son don't have no bomb," Phanor, 63, said Friday, sitting on the front porch of the single-level home on the edge of Miami's Liberty City neighborhood where her son was born. "My son never killed people. My son loves people."
Stanley Phanor, 31, who is in jail on what authorities said is an unrelated state charge, has not made a court appearance in the Sears Tower case. But Elizene Phanor said alleged plot ringleader Narseal "Prince Manna" Batiste recruited her son and other men in the area about a year ago to join a neighborhood group to study the Bible and give food to the hungry and clothing to children.
Neighbors said the men engaged in militaristic activities, but Elizene Phanor said they were merely exercises and martial arts. The men were not training to become terrorists, she said.
Phanor spoke quickly and emphatically about her son, often drifting into her native Haitian French and clutching her chest, while friends drifted on and off the porch. She posted a sign on her fence reading "Justice for Stanley PH" with an image of Jesus below it.
Her son, whom she called "Sunni," was raised Roman Catholic and attended a local Catholic school, St. Mary's, until 10th grade, when he went to public high school. He then went to Tallahassee Community College for two years.
Phanor's mother described him as a quiet man and diligent son who cared for her and his older sister after his mother divorced when he was 5 years. He liked running with others in the neighborhood, or playing basketball and catch. The porch where she and other family members and friends sat Friday was covered with tile that her son laid for her, she said.
She said he attended church with her every week.
"My son has a good heart"
Another of the men, Abraham, is an undocumented immigrant from Haiti; Lemorin is a permanent resident. The other five are said to be US citizens.
Lemorin apparently went by the name "Brother Levi-El," which is a sure sign that he is a follwer of Moorish Science, not orthodox Islam. The Moorish-Americans (as they call themselves) are generally Black folks who either take the title "Bey" or a name followed by the suffix "El." Bey is a Turkish honorific; "El" (pronounced "eel") is a corruption of the Arabic article "el" or "al." But in Arabic, the unorthodox Moorish Science pronunciation is never used, and the article is always a prefix, never a suffix.
The website Alt.Muslim points out that this supposed conspiracy (which, we would add, was not even really a conspiracy) was free of any connection to orthodox (or, as they would say, "actual") Islam:
The association with Islam and terrorism is so complete that every article discussing yesterday's arrest of seven men in Miami for plotting to blow up the Sears Tower - the tallest building in America and designed by prominent Muslim American engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan - is soaked in Islamic terminology, even though there were no actual al-Qaida operatives or Muslim Americans involved. The odd circumstances around the event include a cult-like group named the "Seas of David", which has 40 to 50 members who call themselves "soldiers of God"... They passed their time selling African-American hair care products and, in the words of a group member, "train through the Bible..."
Alt.Muslim also notes the interesting irony that the structural engineer who oversaw construction of the Sears Tower was a Muslim, Fazlur Rahman Khan
Not only is Islam being impugned in this incident, but so is Moorish Science. As we have noted, the Moorish Science movement has become increasingly factionalized since the death of its founder, the Prophet Noble Drew Ali, in 1929, and the "Seas of David" appears to be an insignificant micro-schism. While the notion that Moorish-Americans constitute a separate "nationality" is integral to all branches of Moorish Science, the tradition has generally emphasized universalism and tolerance. It should also be noted that Moorish-Americans do consider themselves followers of Islam--but this perception is certainly not shared by orthodox Muslims, either Sunni or Shi'ite.