The recent plot to detonate an IED in a busy North Carolina airport received very little media attention. Perhaps because it was foiled, perhaps because the plotter was not a Muslim, or perhaps because the FBI was not involved either in furthering it or foiling it.
On October 6, a narrowly foiled terror plot failed to capture national media coverage despite the attack’s clear intent to kill innocent Americans. According to reports, the alleged perpetrator, 46-year-old Michael Christopher Estes, planted in the Asheville Regional Airport an improvised explosive device — which was later rendered safe by bomb technicians from the local police department, several minutes after it was scheduled to detonate. The bomb, filled with shrapnel, was reportedly part of Estes’ plan to “fight a war on U.S. soil” of which the bomb was but the first blow. Estes waived his Miranda rights and admitted his guilt in front a federal judge this past Tuesday.
Though the story was largely ignored by corporate media for much of the past week, it gained renewed attention following an article written by Shaun King and published in the Intercept. In the article, King argues that the lack of attention given to the terror plot was due to the fact that Estes is a white man. King may have been on the right track. Certainly, as King points out, had Estes been a Muslim the reaction would have been quite different and most likely would have included a swift response from the president.
A problem with this narrative emerged when it was revealed that local jail records indicate that Estes is not white, but rather a Native American. However, King’s argument still stands to a significant degree, given that Estes appears “white” in his mugshot and does not fit the stereotype of the “typical” terrorist. But, in addition to the politics of race and religion in instances of terrorism, there seem to be additional factors at work that led to the lack of coverage of this attempted terrorist attack.
If a tree falls in the forest and the FBI was nowhere near it . . .
Several other explanations might be looked to for the burying of Estes’ crime. For instance, the corporate media and U.S. government have been accused for years of burying cases of right-wing extremist violence, a phenomenon that the Southern Poverty Law Center has shown to have taken more American lives since 9/11 than have Muslim extremists. Yet, Estes isn’t necessarily a right-wing fanatic, as little about his personal political views has been revealed at this time. In addition, the fact that the attack was foiled and caused no injuries likely made it unappealing to a media that often highlights violent content.
The most likely reason — other than Estes’ race and religion — is the fact that this was a domestic terror plot that was not groomed by the FBI. According to several reports, including one from Human Rights Watch and another by the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California Berkeley, nearly all of the “highest-profile” domestic terrorism plots in the U.S. since 9/11 have featured direct involvement from FBI agents or informants. In other words, of the domestic terror plots that have made the news and received widespread coverage, almost all were part of “sting “operations conducted by the FBI, operations that some argue border on entrapment.
Yet, in Estes’ case, the FBI was neither involved in his bomb plot nor responsible for foiling it.
Thus, it is possible that Estes’ case has been ignored because the FBI, and the U.S. government in general, were unable to predict that Estes was set to commit an attack, or move to thwart that attack, despite the government’s push for increased spying powers over American citizens and other reductions of civilian privacy. In other words, the much-touted ”counter-terrorism” apparatus of the government failed in this case.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald noted in 2015, several FBI-linked domestic terror plots that received national media coverage have been used to argue for the continued expansion of the burgeoning national security state. Estes’ cases highlights the failure of the national security state, despite all of its funding and increasing power. Any media coverage of the Estes case could not be used to bolster the FBI’s “success” rate in thwarting terrorists — a curated track record that has led to increased FBI funding and a drastic expansion of its undercover “counter-terrorism” program, a program that has the capacity to create terrorism out of instances where it would not normally exist.
“The problem with the cases we’re talking about is that defendants would not have done anything if not kicked in the ass by government agents,” Martin Stolar, a New York lawyer who has represented domestic terror suspects “set up” by the FBI, told Mother Jones in 2013. “They’re creating crimes to solve crimes so they can claim a victory in the war on terror.”
Though it is certainly possible that Estes’ case was ignored because he fails to fit the stereotype of a “terrorist” in popular American consciousness, it is equally possible that the story failed to capture significant media attention because it fails to serve the government’s “counter-terrorism” narrative used to justify the erosion of American civil liberties since 9/11.
Top photo | Composite image of Michael Christopher Estes.