In another example of the kind of “lone wolf” terrorism we’ve been hearing a lot about for the last year, an Ohio man named Christopher Lee Cornell was arrested Wednesday on charges of attempting to kill a U.S. government official. Cornell was allegedly influenced by ISIS to launch an attack on the U.S. Capitol. Unfortunately for the fledgling terrorist, he chose to confide his strategy in an informant for the FBI.
U.S. officials say Cornell’s plan involved setting off pipe bombs at the Capitol. He then planned to gun down lawmakers and officials as they fled the building. To that end, he purchased two semi-automatic rifles on the day of his arrest along with 600 rounds of ammunition. Authorities say he was also making his final preparations to travel to Washington to carry out the attack. Thankfully, law enforcement had been tracking Cornell for a long time.
“We should just wage jihad under our own orders”
Cornell’s first mistake was posting pro-ISIS propaganda on the Internet. Using the name “Raheel Mahrus Ubaydah,” Cornell used Twitter to voice support for the terrorist group, drawing the attention of an FBI informant. In a message to the informant, Cornell said, “I believe that we should just wage jihad under our own orders and plan attacks and everything. I believe we should meet up and make our own group in alliance with the Islamic State here and plan operations ourselves.”
Cornell’s communications with the informant went beyond online messaging. According to the FBI, Cornell met with the informant in October and November to hammer out plans for a terrorist attack on Washington.
John Dean, the manager of the gun store where Cornell made his purchases, said, “You wouldn’t think Cincinnati, Ohio and jihadist in the same sentence. I’m just as surprised as everybody else.”
But the surprise over homegrown jihadists may soon fade, if recent history proves to be any example. According to the State Department, lone wolf terrorists – disaffected youths inspired by propaganda from groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda – could be the most dangerous form of Islamic extremism to date. The bombing of the Boston Marathon, the shooting at Fort Hood, the hatchet attack in New York City, and the shootings at the Canadian Parliament building are all examples of lone jihadists with no direct ties to terror cells.
Predictably in denial, Cornell’s father described him as a “momma’s boy” who “found peace in the religion” of Islam. John Cornell told a local news station that his son “is one of the most peace-loving people I know.”
And therein lies the trouble haunting American authorities as they try to stop attacks like this in the future. No top-level officials will come out and say that a conversion to Islam is a warning sign in and of itself. While I don’t condone a crackdown on America’s right to free religious expression, perhaps it’s time we started regarding such conversions with the suspicion they deserve. If there are good forms if Islam along with the bad ones, parents, friends, teachers, and employers might want to make sure sudden converts aren’t following the radical version.
The next big dreamer may not be as easily thwarted as Cornell.