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Politicians use case to push their personal agendas
Exploiting the sniper tragedy

By Nicole Colson | November 1, 2002 | Page 2

AS SOON as police announced the name of the suspected Washington, D.C., sniper, the media circus began.

Pundits speculated that suspected sniper John Allen Muhammad must have a connection to terrorism--simply because he took a Muslim name in 2000. On the Fox News Channel, headlines claimed that Muhammad and his 17-year-old companion John Lee Malvo were known "to sympathize with 9/11 hijackers." Meanwhile, CNN sank to a new low, asking Muslims to "defend" their religion on the air--the implication being that all Muslims are "prone" to violence.

When Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995, no one dared to suggest that his Christian beliefs were responsible. But as far as the media were concerned, Islam must be the source of the problem.

Meanwhile, they downplayed the one thing that John Allen Muhammad and Timothy McVeigh have in common. Both were taught how to kill by the U.S. military.

McVeigh served in the Gulf War as a gunner on a Bradley Fighting vehicle--helping to bulldoze Iraqi soldiers in their trenches as they surrendered. Muhammad also served in the Gulf War--and trained to be a marksman while in the military.

Within 24 hours of Muhammad and Malvo's arrest, prosecutors in several states began a turf war over who would get to put the two on trial--and kill them. "We intend to vigorously pursue the death penalty in this case," said John Wilson, police chief of Montgomery, Ala. "We're going to make an example of somebody."

Virginia and Alabama officials say that they should get the first crack at prosecution--because Maryland has a moratorium on executions while a study of the racism of death row is completed. Meanwhile, Maryland officials made it clear that nothing would stop them from prosecuting the two suspects "to the full extent," as Gov. Parris Glendening put it.

This is political opportunism at its most disgusting--with politicians dueling to exploit the sniper nightmare to advance their political agenda. All the while, no one asked about the root causes of this terrible killing spree--the violence at the core of this system.

In the very weeks that the sniper claimed his victims in the surrounding area, politicians were hard at work in Washington, D.C.--planning a horrific war on Iraq that will use all the hardware of the most powerful military in history. At home, millions live in poverty in the world's richest country, and more young Black men end up in the prison system than in college. The politicians want to add to the brutality of this system by executing two disturbed and desperate men--and they call that "justice."

The U.S. is far and away the most violent society in the advanced world. That's not because of individuals like John Allen Muhammad--but because of a system that breeds despair and bloodshed.

Trained to be killers

JOHN ALLEN Muhammad served two terms in the National Guard, was sent to the Middle East during the 1991 Gulf War as a combat engineer and trained to be a marksman. This military background is something that Muhammad shares with many notorious serial killers of the past.

Jeffrey Dahmer and David Berkowitz both had military training. Charles Whitman, the sniper who killed 16 people in 1961 from the tower at the University of Texas, had just been discharged from the Marines.

"The ability to watch a human being's head explode and to do it again and again--that takes a kind of desensitization to human suffering that has to be learned," David Grossman, a former U.S. military psychologist, told reporters.

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh certainly learned. He even used a term coined by the Pentagon during the Gulf War to refer to the 19 children killed in the bombing--"collateral damage."

"We did some terrible things to those Iraqis," McVeigh once wrote in a letter to his aunt. "Killing Iraqis was real hard at first, but after awhile, killing [them] got easier."

A killing spree that the media ignores

SINCE JUNE, the bodies of at least 10 people have been discovered in the desert near Phoenix, Ariz.--most with their hands bound and shot in the back of the head. But the media haven't cranked up round-the-clock coverage of the murder spree in Arizona. Because the victims are undocumented immigrants.

In the latest assault, a group of 16 immigrants who were waiting to be smuggled across the Mexico border near Red Rock, Ariz., were attacked by two men wearing camouflage fatigues. Two of the workers were killed, and 11 others remain missing.

At least two anti-immigrant groups in the area--the American Border Patrol and Ranch Rescue--have boasted of their vigilantism. The groups send out patrols of as many as 50 people armed with semi-automatic weapons to hunt undocumented immigrants.

Roger Barnett, who heads Ranch Rescue, recently told a reporter that he and his brother have detained 8,000 illegal immigrants over the past five years. He said that immigrants sometimes "get mouthy with us"--and that he is "forced" to become physically aggressive.

But the media aren't talking about Barnett. The message is clear: immigrant lives just don't count as much.

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