On the Friday before Christmas, “Breaking news alerts” came out on the 24-hour mainstream news cycle that a 26 year old Modesto, CA man was arrested on a federal charge of providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization. The alleged plan was a mass casualty attack on Pier 39, a ranking candidate for San Francisco’s most well-known tourist trap. Pressed suits full of melodramatic reporters were on hand to remind everyone to stay safe and vigilant, more aptly to remind everyone of the set of vague and ill-defined external threats that are perpetually meant to keep a population, as any victim of abuse, in anxious compliance. Even the acting mayor of the city assured San Franciscans that “our way of life,” would not be assuaged, and of course promised more police.
Everitt Aaron Jameson, former US Marine
It’s a story that ties up nicely and advances the ever growing paternal and nativist narrative about mysterious dangers that the new regime, in all its clumsiness, is alone equipped to protect us from. I was sitting in a laundromat just across the water from Pier 39 when the story broke, and what struck me instantly was how razor thin the shell game was. Even the highly publicized facts of this case say something bleak and concerning about the status of contemporary popular ideology, and the State’s hunger to fuel paranoia and to target anyone who fits, even in the most tangential way, into a criminalized category.
Lay the order of events out chronologically, add a basic understanding of FBI counter-surveillance practice, what you have is not a story of domestic radicalization and terrorism. Rather, what emerges is a story of surveillance, thought policing, targeting, and media fear mongering. Our only goal in this short intervention is to expose that layer of the story that is still in the process of coming to light or being buried, and to raise important questions that are left strategically open in the story that is being told.
What We Know
- According to CNN and multiple AP and MSM news outlets, Everitt Aaron Jameson, a 26-year-old Muslim convert from Modesto, California became the subject of FBI interest in September. From CNN:
“The FBI started watching Jameson in September after becoming aware of social media activity in which he “liked” or “loved” posts about terror attacks and ISIS, the affidavit said. Undercover employees of the FBI posed as supporters of ISIS and contacted Jameson, the affidavit said.”
Here’s an example of a post that the FBI apparently found concerning. Posts like this were flagged as terrorist sympathy and made Jameson’s Facebook page the subject of surveillance, and ultimately made him the target of a months long entrapment campaign.
- The affidavit avoids a direct admission of this, but media sources confirm that the FBI initiated contact with Jameson. Agents were posing to be senior members of ISIS. The agent who ultimately met with Jameson in person (the only such meeting) identified himself as an immediate subordinate of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. There was apparently no communication whatsoever between Jameson and any member of any foreign terrorist organization.
- Communications between undercover agents and Jameson throughout the Fall were vague at best. Jameson expresses his willingness to use or donate resources for “the cause,” the meaning of which is never expressed in any of the communications in court record. He makes vague references to Western colonialism saying things like, “the kuffar (loosely translated to “unbeliever”) deserve everything and more for the lives they’ve taken. He uses Arabic pejoratives like this against the US.
- What is being described as a “terror plot” in the media amounts to some vague suggestions that Jameson made in a single, in-person meeting with an undercover agent. He suggested a strategy in the broadest sense. Concrete plans were not reached. Relevantly however he indicated a willingness to die. We’ll revisit this.
- Jameson attempted to back out of the alleged plot on what appear to be moral and conscientious grounds two days before his arrest saying, “I also don’t think I can do this after all. I’ve reconsidered.”
Jameson’s Family Tells a Drastically Different Story
He and his father (a self-identified Pentecostal) would argue amiably about their respective religious beliefs. His father even quotes him as saying, “yeah Dad, we all believe in the same God.”
Jameson’s family, in conversation with the Modesto Bee, tell of Jameson as a distraught young man. He had lost his two young children to Child Protective Services after their mother Ashley was incarcerated. They divorced in 2016, and after a long battle with CPS Jameson once and for all lost custody of their children three months ago. Incidentally around the same time he became the target of a federal investigation.
His father reports that he was frequently suicidal. Authorities also confirmed that he was held on suicide watch when taken into custody. Despite struggling with depression, he maintained a close relationship with his family. He shared his difficulties with his father, and his religious convictions with many in his family. His faith even made him the subject of teasing. Days before his arrest Jameson and his father even attended a Raider game in Oakland.
Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, the veracity of the facts presented in the court affidavit and in the subsequent media storm, brief though it was. Jameson is still far from a picture of a terrorist master mind. At worst a slightly unstable man, he likely saw himself as having little to lose. He was in a position highly vulnerable to the kind of manipulation that we know the FBI to be capable of. We also know that his suggestions of violence were loose, ill formed, and abstract. He assumed guidance and direction from the FBI agents who were the actual architects of the alleged plot. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, when lofty fantasizing about violence started to feel like something real Jameson easily saw that this path was not for him.
No matter how the dots of this story connect, we are forced to recognize the shallow simplicity of seeing this man as a terrorist threat. Consider further how Islam is portrayed in the media. Consider what a white Muslim, with no family history or traditional relationship to the religion, in one of California’s most conservative counties, might come to understand about the meaning of being Muslim. As we alluded above, his family jokingly nicknamed him ISIS. Consider how suggestible such a person might be to the perception of being sought from across the globe for service to his faith.
FBI Entrapment: The Public Strategy
This struck me as an extraordinarily obvious case of FBI entrapment. According to Federal guidelines (Section 645 of the US Attorney’s Manual), entrapment takes place when one is A) induced to commit a crime by state officials, and B) one has no prior disposition to commit such a crime. No doubt Jameson’s prosecutors will cite his hastily crafted suicide note as evidence of his predisposition, however observers must ask what would possibly have motivated him to any kind of fantasies of violence if not the interference of undercover agents. Moreover, and not to sound too conspiratorial or alarmist, speculating about one’s internal attitudes with respect to violence, and punishing those with certain attitudes basically amounts to a case of thought policing.
The FBI’s job, then, is not only to enforce the laws of white-supremacy and State hegemony at the federal level, and not only to maintain an increasingly robust surveillance state. It is also to construct and fabricate occasions to assert those laws, and beyond that to produce ideological ripples that are favorable to the consolidation of State power. In this case, it is the narrative of law and order that is central to both Trump’s foreign and domestic policies.
Trump needs a dangerous phenomena of radical Islam, in order not only to justify his xenophobic rhetoric, but also his draconian border and immigration policies. Jameson, a white Muslim from middle America, is especially useful, because he can paint a picture of domestic recruitment and radicalization, despite the bald fact that the FBI was the only organization trying to recruit and “radicalize.” More abstractly, and it’s even borderline cliché to say at this point, but it is a tool of fascism to unify through fear. The common enemy phenomenon is incredibly powerful and useful, and for at least 16 years no term has conjured as much moral simplicity and aversion to nuance as “terrorism.”
This is why state and local officials bandy about the idea of labeling ‘Antifa’ a terrorist organization. This is why the FBI uses new labels like “Black Identity Extremist” to push political antagonists toward this easily malleable category. This is why ELF and ALF defendants face years of enhancements under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act. This is why the FBI will spend untold time and resources manipulating and using a young confused and depressed Muslim from rural California with neither the capacity nor the will to make trouble for anyone. By whatever name, “terrorism” will always make headlines, always push consciousness in a predictable direction, always weaponize national trauma in an attempt to maintain docility, fear, and division.
This is a phenomena familiar to radical politics. COINTELPRO was not only a campaign to sew infighting within the Black Power Movement it was also a campaign to frame the public narrative around Black resistance, a harbinger of the state’s recent moves to target and label “Black Identity Extremist” groups. Finally, as a further example of the phenomena, the FBI made a similar attempt to reframe the rhetoric around Occupy by coercing four young men (aka, the Cleveland 4) into an alleged plot to blow up a bridge. Not only did this result in decade long prison sentences for all four, but also a concerted effort to create public alarm about the popular mobilization and legitimize the sweeping repression to follow.
Nicholas Young, a DC police officer with neo-Nazi views was recently found guilty of aiding ISIS. According to the FBI, Young wanted to build a connection between anti-Semites within the Alt-Right and the Islamic State.
It is also ironic to point out, that at the same time that Jameson’s story was breaking in the news, a DC police officer was in court after the FBI alleged that he had been helping supply ISIS with resources. Ironically enough, the officer in question, Nicholas Young, was also a neo-Nazi, and had “SS” bolts tattooed on his arm. According to the FBI, Young was planning on bringing together the Alt-Right in the US with ISIS operatives, based around their shared hatred of Jews. Despite a clear connection to actually aiding ISIS and a desire to link them with the most violent threat to the American public: the far-Right, news of the trial, in which Young was found guilty, hardly made the same waves as Jameson’s entrapment case. This in itself is incredible, as the Washington Post reported, Young is officially the “only U.S. police officer to ever face terrorism charges.”
Is Everett Jameson a comrade? No, but he is far from a terrorist. He is the target of a state strategy that we are all too familiar with. As such, it is our responsibility to call bull shit, and as always do what we can to expose state power’s despicable and violent ideological strategy.