The Uses of Charlie Hebdo

Six months ago, 20-year-old Christopher Lee Cornell, an American convert to Islam living with his parents in Green Township, Ohio, attracted the attention of the FBI. We don’t know the reason for their initial interest, although it’s likely Cornell’s vocal adherence to Muslim religious beliefs had much to do with it. In any case, he was put under surveillance and, at some point, an FBI informant seeking leniency for crimes he had committed got in touch with Cornell at the Bureau’s request. This was the genesis of the "terrorist plot" to bomb the Capitol in Washington the feds are trumpeting as a triumph that demonstrates both their competence and the alleged danger the "Islamic State" poses to Americans on American soil.

It was, in short, another set up – a case of pure entrapment, as are the overwhelming majority of "anti-terrorist" busts claimed by the FBI and allied agencies. The public, we are assured, was never in any real danger – this is what the authorities tell us, and in that they are perfectly correct. What they don’t say is that such people are mostly a danger to themselves, and that law enforcement is engaging in "security theater."

Cornell’s case is typical: his father describes him as an unemployed "Momma’s boy" who rarely left the house. The high school he once attended described him as quiet but not a solitary figure, someone who participated in the life of the school although his father says he took lots of flack for his outspoken Muslim beliefs. School authorities say they are "shocked" and had no indication their former student had any violent tendencies whatsoever.

The informant contacted Cornell over Twitter, apparently, where he was tweeting under the sobriquet "Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah," and after the preliminary informant-victim courtship the two met. Cornell claimed to have been in contact with "brothers overseas," but seems not to have gotten the green light to start launching attacks. And it also seems that the resource-less, jobless Cornell hadn’t the means to purchase the guns he and the informant were planning to use in their attack on the US Capitol: Cornell had saved money for his moment in the spotlight, but not enough, according to his father – who implies the informant supplied the requisite cash.

For the past six months the informant and his handlers had been leading Cornell into a carefully prepared trap – which they coincidentally chose to spring days after the Paris attacks. And if you think that’s a coincidence I have a bridge you might like to purchase – cheap.

Another "coincidence": the latest Pew poll – the favorite of the Washington elites – lists "terrorism" as Americans’ top concern "for the first time in five years," just as the new Congress goes into session – and the presidential election pre-season begins.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see the confluence of factors at work here, and in France – where the "Je suis Charlie" "free speech" march has given way to over fifty arrests for "subversive" speech, while the French government prints 1.5 million copies of Charlie Hebdo at taxpayers’ expense. In the meantime, Socialist President Francois Hollande addressed his troops aboard the carrier Charles de Gaulle, declaring "the situation justifies the presence of our aircraft carrier" in the Middle East.

Yes, Charlie Hebdo certainly has its uses, these days – as opposed to the bad old days when the French Foreign Minister rebuked the editors for "pour[ing] oil on the fire." We can argue all we want about the racism, real and merely alleged, of the magazine, and wonder if perhaps a bit more civility – not exactly a French national trait – might have averted 12 deaths and probably many more to come. Yet here we are in the midst of another bout of white-hot war hysteria, a heat our rulers and their allies abroad are stoking to the boiling point.

The French have been among the most insistent in urging the Western allies on to ever riskier adventures in the strife-torn Middle East. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, who seeks to topple the enormously unpopular Socialist government in the next elections, pushed hard for the Libyan regime-change operation, which ensconced al-Qaeda/ISIS types in the saddle and literally destroyed that country. The jihadists who murdered our Ambassador now romp in the pool of the former US embassy, and the terrorist threat emanating from there has never been greater.

Yet that is just the beginning as far as our would-be Napoleons are concerned: Syria, a former French colony/protectorate, is firmly in their sights, as well as Hillary Clinton‘s, and it’s highly likely that the arms the Syrian rebels have been demanding will now be more readily forthcoming – and, who knows, maybe US troops on the ground, as John McCain and Lindsey Graham have been agitating for all along.

This isn’t about free speech, at least not anymore: it’s about how to respond to an enemy that we created. No, we can’t go back in time and un-create ISIS, we can’t repeal the Iraq war or erase its tragic memory – and we can’t get rid of our own warmongers by simply deporting them to a desert isle where they could only bring harm to themselves. Although it’s not a bad idea, come to think of it.

We are going to have to live with the consequences of our government’s actions for many years to come, as the tides of religious and ethnic hatred batter the walls of our republic and transform it into something the Founders would neither recognize nor dream of. The great American ship of state cannot be turned around in a day, or even within the four-year term given to a President. The demons unleashed in the days and years after 9/11 – who were conjured well before then – will not be easily banished.

Yet it can be done. Those are war clouds on the horizon, but I also see rays of hope. Many are beginning to question our long march to permanent war, and many more will enter the ranks of the Peace Party in the years to come, if only we can learn to fight effectively. Yes, the polls tell us terrorism is on the minds of the American people, but they don’t say how we ought to meet this threat – and the idea that we should keep repeating the same failed policies fits the clinical definition of insanity to a tee.

As the great libertarian writer and editor Garet Garrett put it some sixty years ago:

"No doubt the people know they can have their Republic back if they want it enough to fight for it and pay the price. The only point is that no leader has yet appeared with the courage to make them choose."

The American conundrum, and that of the movement for peace and the restoration of the Constitution, is a crisis of leadership. The country yearns for it, cries out for it – and may yet be rewarded for its patience.


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.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].