The East Coast's two major dailies had difficulty coping with
the surprise ending of the sniper story. They had become so wedded to the
idea that the killer was a lone white gun nut that the reality of an
African-American Muslim convert went down hard. In a headline that had been
written the previous evening, The Washington Post reported, "Police Look for
Former Soldier for Questioning in Sniper Case." Of all the known facts about
John Muhammad -- that he was a failed businessman, twice-divorced father,
Muslim convert with anti-American sentiments -- the Post chose to highlight
only that he was a former soldier. Members of the military still seem a
suspect class as far as Post headline writers are concerned.
The New York Times meanwhile informed readers that John Allen
Muhammad and John Lee Malvo were being investigated for ties to "skinhead
militia groups." It's almost pathetic how badly some segments of
establishment America want to believe that the only danger we face comes
from white supremacists. In reality, Muhammad, one of the alleged snipers,
is a member of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam.
The Post certainly deserves credit for reporting that the 1990
Chevy Caprice the pair had been driving was checked several times and its
license plate researched as many as 10 times by police during the awful
ordeal. It seemed to keep showing up in the neighborhood of the crimes. Yet
though police questioned Muhammad on more than one occasion, they sent him
on his way each time. "We were looking for a white van with white people,"
admitted D.C. police chief Charles Ramsay.
As someone who glanced uneasily at every white van in the
vicinity for two weeks, I'm on record (not in print, but you can ask my
friends) as doubting whether a white van was ever involved. It was never
clear why the police were so stuck on this theory when none of their leads
was really solid. The most important witness who claimed to have seen a
"cream colored" van leaving the scene of the Falls Church murder turned out
to be a liar.
Police constantly reminded us that eyewitness reports are
dubious. Why then did they not take their own advice? This "profile" of the
shooter as a white loner with an interest in guns wasn't based on anything.
It was spun by dubious "experts" peddling theories for cable TV. There are
no data showing that 95 percent of serial murderers are white. In fact, one
of the most quoted profilers admitted that about 55 percent are. It's fine
to have a hunch that the shooter is a crazed white guy, but to ignore other
evidence on that basis can cost lives -- and arguably did in this case.
Suppose the police had gotten it into their heads that a black guy was the
likeliest suspect in the shootings and had let slip a blue car that kept
showing up near the crime scenes because it was driven by whites? The outcry
would have been overwhelming, and Chief Charles Moose of Montgomery County
would be facing disgrace instead of hero status.
The matter of Muhammad's political/religious views has received
scant attention -- no doubt out of fear of seeming anti-Muslim. But surely
it is relevant that Muhammad chose the Nation of Islam; the most radical
brand of Islam indigenous to America and the one led by an incendiary bigot
named Farrakhan. As Daniel Pipes points out, the group's first leader,
Elijah Muhammad, told members of the Nation of Islam "you are not American
Neither should we assume, as many analysts are now rushing to
conclude, that Muhammad and Malvo had no ties to international terrorist
groups. This is white van redux. Let's collect all the facts. Michael Ledeen
in National Review Online asks how a man so reduced in circumstances that he
was living in a shelter nonetheless seemed to have money (and false identity
papers) for foreign travel. Muhammad was also reported to the FBI twice for
suspected terrorist ties.
On the basis of information gleaned since his capture, it does
not appear that Muhammad was in any way psychotic. He wasn't getting
instructions from a dog, like Son of Sam. But we have learned that he and
Malvo hated America and spoke approvingly of the September 11 terrorists.
The lesson of this episode is: keep an open mind. If you're
looking only for a white van, the terror express could roar right by and
you'd miss it.