Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Problem with Christie's Terror Narrative

At this point, Governor Chris Christie no longer appears to be a relevant contender for the Republican Presidential nomination. According to the most recent polls as of Wednesday, he had just 4% support nationwide and 0% in Iowa. Given his lackluster performance in the recent presidential debate, which was notable primarily for his eagerness to start an armed conflict with Russia, there's happily no reason to think that he'll re-emerge. This is certainly a good thing. Christie essentially represents the pure fear and war play within the Republican party, and we should wish him as much failure as possible in his campaign accordingly.

With all that said, one of his remarks during the debate is still worth calling attention to and correcting. Even if he no longer has a chance, the narrative he's trying to sell is still dominant for many voters. And that narrative consists of two key things which are contradictory, but somehow still simultaneously believed:

*The US government has successfully defended America against terror attacks, and its actions are necessary to continue to keep us safe.
*The US government lacks the surveillance powers needed to keep us safe, and that's the only reason any attacks get through.

See the problem there? On the one hand, people are asked to believe heroic figures like Christie have caught and prosecuted many terrorists that would do us harm. On the other, people are reminded that we are deeply vulnerable because we don't have the tools to catch terrorists. And while the American people don't seem to like Christie as the vehicle for these ideas, they haven't rejected the ideas themselves.

In reality, the themes expressed above can be reconciled by the ugly truth that most of the "terrorists" prosecuted since 9/11 were elaborate sting operations. In most cases, the authorities had paid informants that were actively trying to persuade otherwise peaceful people to committing violent acts of terrorism. And the persuasion usually involves significant logistical support from the informant to plan the attack. In other words, most of the time, the FBI is just solving terror plots they themselves created. It's a waste of tax money that doesn't make anyone safer and it ruins innocent people's lives.

In Tuesday's debate, Christie highlighted his involvement in some of these counterterrorism cases as a means to show his experience on terrorism. Unfortunately, one of the cases he explicitly cited by name, the Fort Dix case, is a perfect example of how counterterrorism shouldn't be done. For most of the defendants involved, it was simple entrapment. And the only thing they were actually guilty of was buying illegal guns, which conservatives aren't supposed to care about anyway. But because they were prominently accused of terrorism and there was video evidence of them at an American shooting range, that was enough to convince a jury to put them away for life in prison. Christie built his political career partly by celebrating this injustice as a key achievement.

In case you're unfamiliar with this story, I recommend checking out the long-form write-up on this story from The Intercept. People have abandoned Christie as a candidate for a long time, but they need to abandon his ideas as well.

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