Commentary: Greatest danger to America is the enemy within

Almost daily I talk with a good attorney friend about the pressing political, social and sometimes mundane local news of the day.

He usually initiates the early morning calls while on his way from his home in Tarrant County to his Dallas office or the Dallas County Courthouse. And he most often starts the conversation with a provocative question.

The other day he began by asking, "What is the difference between an al Qaida terrorist and a misguided American terrorist?"

Before I had a chance to respond, he gave the answer:

"The planes they fly."

I know him well enough to know that he was reacting to the "suicide bomber" who had crashed a plane into an Austin office building that housed employees of the Internal Revenue Service.

He was more agitated than usual. I correctly guessed it was because of the debate raging over the Internet on whether the disgruntled pilot was a terrorist or just a common criminal. My friend was more than upset at a growing online response praising the attacker as some kind of hero while, at the same time, supposedly renouncing his cowardly act.

We both agreed that Andrew Joseph Stack III, the 53-year-old pilot, was a terrorist. He had planned to kill himself, while destroying a building and taking the lives of people he didn't know, all in the name of striking a blow against the evil U.S. government (the IRS in particular).

What is the difference between him and the al Qaida operatives who crashed into the World Trade Center towers, except for the size and make of the planes they used?

Some have suggested that Stack's motives were not driven by religion like the "Muslim jihad" movement. Many Muslims will tell you that al Qaida's religious rationalizations are just that -- rationalizations.

The latest news about Stack is that part of his discontent with the IRS is that the agency refused to accept his bogus claim that his house was a church, a scheme used several years ago by the so-called tax deniers.

He decided to take out his frustration on a building and the people in it, killing a true patriot who was a Vietnam veteran. It was remarkable that many more were not killed by the crash and subsequent explosion and fire.

But enough of Stack and his insane act.

Americans, who are obsessed with the thought of foreign (and more specifically Muslim) terrorist acts against this country, must realize that throughout the years we have been in much more danger of home-grown terrorists, most of whom had no concept of Islam.

The numerous lynchings, cross-burnings, bombings, rapes and sundry other destruction of people and property over the last 100 years far outweigh the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

I do not mean to discount the loss of life and security experienced on that dreadful day, but we must face our own American demons as we continue to put a face on the foreigners who wish us ill.

In the past few weeks, a series of church burnings in East Texas reminded us of a time in the 1950s and 1960s when churches were the targets of racists' bombs and fires. Some might attribute these latest acts of violence sheer mischief or vandalism.

But these criminals are terrorists.

As far as I know, Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the Oklahoma City federal building, was not a Muslim, but he most definitely was a terrorist.

I fear there are more to come.

Yes, there are foreign despots who would wish us harm and who are willing to die if they can take a few Americans with them. But there also are Americans who are driven by fear and anger and an insane hatred of those they feel are not -- and never will be -- like them.

It has been well-reported that many people in this country are buying up guns and ammunition, preparing for Armageddon -- not a war against robbers and burglars and home invaders, but against their own government.

Could some of them be the potential next terrorists?

Most of these folks are not al Qaida or the Taliban or Muslim.

They are our neighbors.

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