Perhaps the most unusual thing about the Boston Marathon bombing is that it happened at all. While we've seen all manner of terrorist bomb plots since September 11—the Times Square bomber, the underwear bomber, even the guys who fantasized about destroying the Sears Tower—all have been thwarted by the FBI, the perpetrators' own bumbling, or both. If one or both of the suspects in last week's attack, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, were motivated by radical Islamic beliefs, then they will have the dubious distinction of being the first jihadists to have set off a bomb on American soil since the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
While America has been fixated on the threat of Islamic terrorism for more than a decade, all but a few domestic terror plots have failed. Between September 11, 2001, and the end of 2012, there were no successful bomb plots by jihadist terrorists in the United States. Jihadists killed 17 people in the United States in four separate incidents during this time, according to data collected by journalist Peter Bergen and the New America Foundation. All four of these incidents involved guns, including Nidal Hassan's shooting rampage at Fort Hood, which killed 13 people. In contrast, right-wing extremists killed 29 people during those 11 years.
The jihadists' record as bomb makers would probably be even worse if not for the FBI, which has reeled in dozens of would-be terrorists with its controversial informant program. Of the 203 jihadist terrorists counted by the New America Foundation, just 23 got their hands on explosives or materials to make a bomb; more than half of those obtained the components (often nonfunctioning) from federal informants or agents as part of a sting. Of the 174 nonjihadists, 51 right-wing terrorists and 5 anarchist terrorists tried making bombs. Only five of the right-wing terrorists got their bomb-making supplies via sting operations.
Using a slightly different methodology than Bergen, Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation also found that "homegrown" jihadist terror plots have had little success. Most post-9/11 plots, he writes, most "never got beyond the discussion stage, and most of those that did were stings in which the FBI provided fake bombs." A Mother Jones examination of the cases of more than 500 defendants charged in terrorism-related cases after 9/11 found that 31 percent were nabbed in a sting, while 10 percent were lured by an informant who controlled the conspiracy. Perhaps one reason the Tsarnaev brothers' alleged plot went as far as it did was that they did not seek out collaborators, avoiding tipping off the FBI—which had already checked out Tamerlan but apparently decided not to investigate him.
Among the revelations in last weekend's New York Times profile of National Rifle Association chief executive Wayne LaPierre was this delicious nugget: "His fantasy," according to a former colleague, "was to retire from the NRA and open an ice cream shop in Maine." Should LaPierre ever beat his swords into ice cream scoops, here are a few suggestions for flavors that will set him apart from Ben & Jerry's:
For much of its more than 140-year history, the National Rifle Association promoted gun ownership, shooting, and hunting as good, clean, constitutionally-protected fun. That changed in the past four decades as the NRA transformed into a hardline group closely allied with the gun industry and the conservative establishment whose only solution to gun violence is evermoreguns. Watch the shift unfold in this collection of ads promoting the organization from the early 20th century to the present.
1920: "Rifle shooting is a mighty fine sport." This Remington ad in Boys Life declared that the NRA was "a United States Government organization." It wasn't, but that gives you a sense of just how tight the gun group and the government once were—before the NRA entered its current state of perpetual freak-out about the feds coming for Americans' guns.
1951:"A 50-Cent Junior Membership" Sure, you might shoot your eye out if you got a Red Ryder air rifle. But you'd also get the chance to join the NRA and win some of its "beautiful, official" marksmanship awards. The NRA-product tie-ins continue to this day: Several gun makers automatically enroll buyers in the organization.
1957: "More fun with your guns!" The NRA described itself as a "great sportsman's organization" in this ad from Guns magazine. Among the benefits of NRA membership: a "distinctive" lapel pin and the "right to buy government surplus gun equipment."
1970: "Hunters Beware!" Sounding more like the contemporary NRA, this ad warned about "powerful forces—possibly well-intentioned but ill-informed—working eagerly yet relentlessly to curb and eventually abolish the hunting rights, privileges and freedoms you enjoy today." Bonus: A guest appearance by future pro football Hall of Famer Chris Hanburger.
1973: "Only you can save hunting…" The tone is ratcheted up in this ad, which urged hunters to fight those who "want hunting stopped forever" by joining the NRA. "Tomorrow will be too late."
1982: "I'm the NRA" This famous campaign, launched in 1982, was intended to demonstrate the NRA's broad appeal. Ads included kids (such as eight-year-old BB-gun enthusiast Bryan Hardin), women, African Americans, cops, and clergy. A more recent version of the campaign has featured NRA celebrity board members Tom Selleck and Karl Malone.
Late 1980s: "Why can't a policeman be there when you need him?" Fears about violent crime fueled these ads promoting concealed-carry laws. The notion that gun laws are ineffective because criminals break them remains a core NRA argument, as does the idea that armed citizens routinely fend off attackers.
Late 1980s: "This is the most dangerous place in America." "These streets, once ruled by Jefferson, Lincoln, Truman, are now ruled by criminals," intoned newly minted NRA spokesperson Charlton Heston while walking the gritty alleys of Washington, DC. "A few blocks away our leaders sleep in safety." That line presaged the NRA's post-Newtown ad accusing Obama of being an "elitist hypocrite" hiding behind armed guards (see further down).
1993: "What's the first step to a police state?" The photo of goose stepping Nazis in this foreshadowed NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre's infamous description of federal agents as "jackbooted government thugs" two years later.
1993: The "Laughing Criminal" ad. If you think House of Cards is realistic, you'll enjoy this TV spot, conceptualized by LaPierre, which suggested that gun control is promoted by cynical politicians unwilling to get tough on crime. It also suggested that career criminals are discerning news watchers. Bonus: Watch for the appearance of the stereotypical '80s nerd, who just happens to be pro-gun control.
1995: Bill Clinton is "daffy." With the number of hunters on the decline, you'd think the NRA would embrace high-profile recreational shooters. Yet in this poster sold to its members, the NRA unintentionally distanced itself from its longtime stance that hunting was central to gun rights, declaring that "Mr. Clinton, the Second Amendment is not about duck hunting."
1997: "Gun rights are lost on our kids." Heston promised to lead a $100 million, "three-year crusade…to restore the Second Amendment to its rightful place as America's First Freedom." For the kids, of course.
2013: "Are the president’s kids more important than yours?" All the anti-government paranoia, fear-mongering, and liberal-baiting of the past few decades culminated in this video, produced in the wake of the Newtown massacre. By opposing putting armed guards in every school in America, Obama proved himself to be "just another elitist hypocrite" whose kids are protected by the Secret Service.
Plus: Read more about the history of the Senate hair salon where lawmakers get their taxpayer-subsidized budget cuts.
Calhoun: Fotosearch/Getty Images, Burnside: Library of Congress, Kennedy: Library of Congress, Thompson: AP Photo, Biden: Brian Synder/Reuters, Edwards: Mike Segar/Reuters, Sen. Strom Thurmond: Larry Downing/Reuters, Hutchison: US Congress, Paul: US Congress
Last week, CBS News got its hands on a copy of a Star Trek-themed training video the IRS made for its employees in 2010. The video and a Gilligan's Island-themed one also shot in the tax agency's in-house studio reportedly cost $60,000 to make. William Shatner is not amused:
So I watched that IRS video. I am appalled at the utter waste of US tax dollars.
Predictably, congressional belt-tighteners have set their phasers to outrage. "There is nothing more infuriating to a taxpayer than to find out the government is using their hard-earned dollars in a way that is frivolous," fumed Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.). (Meanwhile Congress is acting highly illogically by spending $380 million on photon torpedoes that don't work and no one wants.) Cowed by its critics, the IRS has apologized for "the space parody video."
At least none of your tax money was spent on acting lessons:
And so far, no one is freaking out about these Star Trek-themed spots produced by the Social Security Administration. Probably because they feature George "Sulu" Takei, who is awesome.
And let's not forget the time NASA decided to name a spaceship after the USS Enterprise.