This month I read about a young Muslim couple—he is 22 and she, 19—arrested in Mississippi. Their crime was trying to travel abroad to join the Islamic state. Apparently they had been exchanging emails with an FBI agent pretending to be an Islamist, and he’d encouraged them in this endeavor. These young people hadn’t committed any violent acts or even, as far as I know, crossed the street against the light, but they are facing 20-year sentences.
In 2010, 19-year-old Mohamed Mohamud was charged with attempting to bomb the Christmas tree lighting in Portland, OR. Some months before, his father had contacted the FBI, asking for help, because Mohamud was exchanging emails with an Islamist recruiter. Instead of confronting the youth and warning him to keep his nose clean, FBI agents masqueraded as Islamists, concocted the plot, supplied him with a fake bomb, and then arrested him. He is now serving 30 years.
After Mohamud’s arrest, I happened to have a conversation with an FBI employee about it. He was distressed on behalf of the young man’s family, who felt betrayed by our government. However, he said, a few people must be sacrificed to convince the majority that there is an FBI agent hiding on every corner. I argued with him, but in the end, I believe, he had to rationalize what the organization had done so he could keep working for them.
In 1969 I was part of the women’s collective that published Rat, a so-called “underground” newspaper. Our members had different points of view, and the articles we published reflected that. I came from the Gay Liberation Front. Other members were oriented toward the Cuban revolution, or militant socialism, or radical feminism; one followed Yippie politics, and I think three were part of the Weather Underground. These last three never used their real names and kept to themselves. In November 1969 one member—Jane Alpert—was arrested for blowing up buildings. I was 25 then, and it was the height of the Vietnam War. At times I doubted my own antiwar convictions, wondering if the Weather Underground was right, and I simply lacked the courage to “bring the war home.”
During my time at Rat, an elderly neighbor told me that the FBI had tried to question her about me. She had told them nothing—reasonably enough, since all she did know was that we lived in the same building. Then a man I can only assume was an FBI agent provocateur offered to teach me how to assassinate people. I got away from him as fast as I could.
Maybe it was cowardice, or embryonic smarts. Maybe it was the awareness of my own limitations that kept me writing and speaking and going to demonstrations, rather than committing acts of violence. Whatever the reason, I managed to avoid entrapment and prison. I feel sorry for those young people who have been entrapped, whose lives have been sacrificed to feed the reputation and swell the budget of the national security state.