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Jihad Jane: Terror by Reason of Insanity

A Commentary By Froma Harrop

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Consider the case of "Jihad Jane." Divorced twice (first marriage at 16), Colleen LaRose was arrested for drunkenness in Texas. She ended up living with a boyfriend in a Philadelphia suburb and taking care of his elderly father. Let's say that LaRose was not one of life's winners under conventional definitions.

But thanks to the Internet, LaRose could transform her drab self into an international woman of mystery: Jihad Jane. With her blond hair, blue eyes and American passport, LaRose became a very useful creature to radical Islamists. They told her to go kill a Swedish cartoonist, and she said OK.

And so who is Jihad Jane? Is she a real terrorist, or is she a disturbed woman who never played the cards of life very well -- and perhaps not with a full deck?

Hers is the "changing face of terrorism," security experts tell us. With tight surveillance of travelers from the Mideast, terrorist groups are recruiting Americans and Europeans who are lonely and angry, and can blend in with their societies.

That's why one should take care in ascribing serious political motives to unstable people acting violently for some cause. Sadly, the more sophisticated the argument, the more they get away with it.

Last month, Andrew Joseph Stack III flew a small plane into a building that housed Internal Revenue Service offices in Austin, Texas. It was only by luck that he didn't murder more than one innocent inside.

Stack was apparently mad at the IRS. He and his wife had tried to weasel a tax-exempt status by creating a church in their home. After the IRS told them to pay taxes like everyone else, Stack posted his tale of persecution online.

Austin's mayor bemoaned the many who called Stack a "hero." But the new Massachusetts senator, Republican Scott Brown -- while not going that far -- did offer a political reading, thus raising Stack's status above that of deranged killer.

"I don't know if it's related, but I can just sense, not only in my election but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated," Brown said on Fox News. "They want transparency. They want their elected officials to be accountable and open and, you know, talk about things that are affecting their daily lives."

Is he out of his mind? I'm referring to Brown.

Soon after, John Patrick Bedell wounded two police outside the Pentagon, before he was shot dead. Bedell had issues, too. He questioned "the truth" of the Sept. 11 attacks and the suicide death of an army officer in 1991. Bedell's anger with Washington was no doubt heartfelt.

The American who has spread more fear than any other is the "anthrax mailer," whom the FBI believes was Dr. Bruce E. Ivins. As Americans reeled from the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Ivins apparently sent out letters containing deadly anthrax power. Five died as a result, the Postal Service spent hundreds of millions on clean-up, and frightened Americans started opening their mail with rubber gloves.

A skilled Army microbiologist and family man, Ivins turned out to be nuts besides. The bureau learned that he liked mailing letters from distant locations late at night, collected pictures of blindfolded women and had written an e-mail message saying, "I can hurt, kill and terrorize." Ivins committed suicide in 2008.

And so where do we begin? Had Ivins complained about his taxes and sent the letters to IRS offices, some segment of American society would have undoubtedly hailed him a great man.

Really. Stack, Bedell, Ivins and Jihad Jane could all be deemed terrorists by reason of insanity. That some have slicker explanations than others is about all that separates them.

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