There’s a group of GOP presidential aspirants who have a next-to-zero chance of clinching the nomination who’ve decided that their main issue, the central organizing principle of their campaigns, is going to be needling Rand Paul. While Lindsey Graham is competing for the prize in this contest, the latest entrant in this subset of losers is New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who has attacked libertarianism as “a dangerous thought,” and whose habit of arranging epic traffic jams in retaliation against his political opponents torpedoed his presidential ambitions. But megalomaniacs aren’t deterred by low single-digit poll numbers, and Christie is charging ahead – straight at Sen. Paul. In an appearance on MSNBC the other day, he vomited up his bile:
“People are really worried about ISIS, they’re worried about the threat of terrorism, and that’s why what Rand Paul has done to make this country weaker and more vulnerable is a terrible thing. And for him to raise money off of it? It’s disgraceful. As a former prosecutor in this race who’s used the Patriot Act, we’re gonna look back on this – listen this morning – we’re gonna look back on this. He should be in hearings in front of Congress if there’s another attack, not the director of the FBI or the director of the CIA.”
What’s interesting about this is a) Christie’s prescription for fighting ISIS, and b) his mention of his own role as a prosecutor in using the Patriot Act to get convictions. On the former: he says the US shouldn’t send any of its own troops, and that we should let our regional allies do the fighting – which is, not coincidentally, the same line taken by Sen. Paul. On the second point, Christie unintentionally undermines his own narrative, as this Intercept story on his legal shenanigans in the Fort Dix “bomb plot” case makes all too clear. In that case, as The Intercept puts it,
“Beyond the sensational headlines is the story of paid FBI informants with long criminal histories who spent a year working to befriend the brothers and enlist them as terrorists. This effort, both expensive and time-consuming, nevertheless failed to convince the Duka brothers to take part in a violent attack. Indeed, over the course of hundreds of hours of surveillance, the plot against Fort Dix was never even raised with them."
If you read The Intercept‘s account of this case, it’s clear that this was just another “security theater” ploy by the FBI to reassure Americans that they’re on the job, guarding the country against “terrorists.” The Fort Dix Five, as they’re known, never agreed to join in any “plot” to attack Fort Dix, and yet the veritable army of informants that tried to dupe them into it had set up an elaborate legal web in which acts, as such, were not necessary to prove prosecutor Christie’s case: all that was required in order to “prove” the conspiracy charges was a “state of mind” in the defendants which could have led to such an attack.
Al Qaeda propaganda videos downloaded from the Internet by the informants, and which were watched by the defendants, were played for the court to demonstrate that this “state of mind” existed in the accused. During the trial, Christie called discredited “terrorism expert” Evan Kohlman, who’s been called “the Doogie Howser of terrorism,” and, according to Human Rights Watch, is no real “expert” in any sense:
“One such expert witness who testified in nearly all the cases discussed in this report that went to trial is Evan Kohlmann. Kohlmann has testified as an expert in at least 24 federal cases and 2 military commissions. While he wrote a thesis on Arab Afghans, Kohlmann does not speak fluent Arabic or any other language relevant to his research, meaning that his online research focuses on English-language material. Nor does Kohlmann have an extensive history of travel to or field work in regions where Islamist armed groups operate.”
As one lawyer familiar with Kohlmann’s “work” put it:
“Kohlmann is an expert in how to use the Internet, like my 12-year-old. He has found all the bad [stuff] about Islam, and testifies as if what he is reading on the Internet is fact. He was paid around $30,000 to look at websites, documents, and testify.”
During the Fort Dix trial, Kohlmann maintained that the defendants’ opposition to US foreign policy in the Middle East was evidence of “jihadist activity.” And the utter lack of direct evidence that the defendants’ intended to attack Fort Dix didn’t bother him in the least: “It doesn’t take a lot of sophistication to kill people” he testified. “Ultimately, it comes down to intent.”
Yet the intent to commit violence, at Fort Dix or anywhere else, was never proved: instead, the public hysteria over the threat of “jihadism” was ginned up by the prosecutor in coordination with Kohlmann’s bogus “expertise.” The jury handed down a guilty verdict, and – brushing aside the lack of direct evidence – Judge Robert Kugler gave the defendants life sentences – with 30 years of “terrorism enhancements” added on for two of them.
At a press conference announcing the arrests, Christie did what he does best: grandstanding for the cameras, he portrayed this exercise in security theater – a “plot” hatched entirely by FBI informants – as an example of how “the philosophy of jihad, which targets Americans around the world, came to live here in New Jersey.” The successful prosecution of the case propelled his rise to the governorship, and landed him on the dais with other Republican presidential hopefuls.
Like most of Christie’s public pronouncements, his attack on Sen. Paul made a lot of noise – but little sense. A study of 225 terrorism cases in the US conducted by the New America Foundation concluded that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection program had “no discernible impact on preventing acts of terrorism.” Even the Obama administration, which supports bulk collection, had to backtrack when the President’s own appointees to a White House task force issued a report saying that the NSA’s snooping on Americans was “not essential to preventing attacks” and that whatever intelligence was gathered “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner using conventional [court] orders.”
In Chris Christie’s world, none of this matters: as he said in this interview, “I’m good at getting attention” – and that’s all he’s really after. His bloated persona – a caricature of the cocksure New Jersey borderline thug – thrives on drama for its own sake. In short, it’s all about him – and you can just forget about the facts. And no wonder: the governor of a state where violent crime is skyrocketing, home foreclosures are up, and corruption is a way of life is no friend of the factual.
Overbearing, over-covered by the media, and for all intents and purposes over as a viable presidential candidate, a desperate Christie cuts a truly pathetic figure as he blusters and brags his way along the campaign trail. But there may be a pot of gold at the end of that fading rainbow: his canoodling with casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson has paid off handsomely for him in the past, and his presidential campaign may be just another way to squeeze money out of the Nevada mogul. As the headline of this New York Times story on Christie’s ethically-challenged escapades put it: “Chris Christie Shows Fondness for Luxury Benefits When Others Pay the Bill.”
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.