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Terror at home

As the shootings in Ft. Hood, Texas, and Orlando show, violence is always with us.

November 07, 2009

In a 2005 speech at Ft. Bragg, N.C., President George W. Bush laid out his latest justification for the war in Iraq: "There is only one course of action against [terrorists]: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home. The commander in charge of coalition operations in Iraq -- who is also senior commander at this base -- Gen. John Vines, put it well the other day. He said, 'We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad, or we deal with it when it comes to us.' "

But of course, fighting the enemy overseas doesn't mean we're not still fighting him here at home too. He struck Thursday in Ft. Hood, Texas, killing 13 people and wounding 30. With the nation still mourning those deaths, he hit us again Friday in Florida, shooting six in an Orlando office building.

Sometimes, the enemy we're fighting is a radical Muslim fundamentalist. The suspect in the Ft. Hood slayings may have been that kind of terrorist; he was certainly Muslim, and allegedly shouted "Allahu akbar," or "God is great," before opening fire. Sometimes he's a communist maniac, such as Lee Harvey Oswald. Or he's a government-loathing, right-wing conspiracy theorist, such as Timothy McVeigh.

Domestic terrorists tend to be loners, not organized militias like the ones we're fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Organized or not, terrorists think it's heroic to murder unarmed and unsuspecting people. They nurse bitter resentments in the dark against those who live in the light. They are driven by a kind of messianic zeal that, to them, justifies even the most heinous acts. They are so blinded by hatred that they will believe virtually anything about their enemies -- us -- no matter how farfetched. They are an unstable compound made up of ignorance and anger, often mixed with religion or political extremism. They could go off at any time.

Not all killers, of course, are terrorists. The suspect in the Orlando killings may have been a copycat emboldened by the previous day's blood bath, or he may have been just a disgruntled worker with a grudge and a gun. Terrorists use violence against ordinary people to further a cause. What they hold in common is self-righteousness -- an unshakable conviction that their actions are universally correct, even divinely sanctioned. They are always wrong.

Even if we "win" the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and at this point it's hard to picture what "victory" would look like -- it won't keep us safe from such people. The enemy may be weak, but he has always been with us and always will be.

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