Thursday, April 2, 2015

An Anti-Muslim Death Ray?

No, this post is not an April Fools joke, unlike yesterday's post that a number of clueless people apparently failed to get. New York Ku Klux Klan member Glendon Crawford is actually facing trial for designing and attempting to secure funds for an "anti-muslim death ray." If nothing else, the man's stock of super-villain points must be at an all-time high, because his plot sounds like something out of a bad action movie. For that matter, so does his device.

Federal authorities say Crawford, of Hudson, New York, designed a device capable of targeting people with lethal doses of X-ray radiation, but Luibrand argued that government agents instigated, funded, and planned the plot.

The motion claims Crawford approached U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, a New York Republican, along with a Schenectady synagogue and the Israeli Embassy with his idea to use radiation strong enough to cause illness, which the attorney said his clients learned from high-school level materials found online.

“Crawford planned to create a mobile, remotely operated, radiation-emitting device capable of killing people silently from a distance with lethal doses of ionizing radiation,” the indictment alleges. “Crawford’s intended targets were Muslims, Muslim-related organizations and persons Crawford believed were contributing to the demise of the United States.”

I have to admit, given the complexity of the weapon described in that last paragraph, I find it hard to believe that anything short of a well-funded research team could ever make it work. Yeah, in theory it's simple when you describe it at a high enough level, but so's a full-scale nuclear reactor - you stick uranium rods in a tank of water, the water gets so hot it boils, and you run a turbine with the resulting steam. The complexity is in all the little details and controls and systems that you have to get right in order to avoid a serious accident.

Crawford's defense team claims that he and co-conspirator Eric Feight were was lured into a sting by government agents, who pretended to be interested in funding development of his device and then turned around and arrested them. Feight pleaded guilty to avoid a trial, but Crawford asserts his innocence on the basis that the government sting violated his civil rights. He also argues that he never would have had the resources to even attempt to construct the device without the financial support that the agents offered as part of the sting.

While Crawford's intent was certainly that of a terrorist, I also have been of the opinion for a long time that these sorts of sting operations need to stop, or at least be scaled back. I can think of several cases over the last decade or so in which incompetent people arrested on terrorism charges never could have done anything without help from government agents, but then wound up in prison for agreeing to work with them. Does the government really come across so few credible terrorist threats that it has to manufacture its own?

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