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Grumpy Old Terrorists

Monday, June 04, 2012 - 07:00 PM

While working on The Bad Show, producer Pat Walters ran across some recordings that spooked him--partly because they seemed like they had to be a big joke ... and partly because, at the same time, they sounded so deadly serious. In this short, Jad & Robert try to decide how to feel.

Things can get really murky when you try to fix a clear line between empty threats and concrete criminal plans. And that uncertainty is precisely what makes this story feel so unnerving on the one hand, and weirdly ridiculous on the other.

We begin with Tom Junod, a writer for Esquire, who tells us about a headline story that caught his eye back in November, 2011. As Tom explains, four men had been caught on tape trying to buy explosives to blow up federal office buildings in Atlanta, Georgia. But what struck Tom most wasn't what the men were plotting--it was something unusual about the men themselves: they were senior citizens, all over 60, and they'd been caught after meeting (among other places) at neighborhood chains like Waffle House and Shoney's.

We're left wondering how seriously to take these guys--are they really would-be terrorists, or just trash-talking senior citizens? US Attorney Sally Yates weighs in, and Dina Temple-Raston, counterterrorism correspondent for NPR, tries to help us get our bearings, but in the end, we're left with an unsettling question: does catching men like this really make us feel any safer?

Read more:

Tom Junod's Esquire article "Counter-Terrorism Is Getting Complicated"


Tom Junod and Dina Temple-Raston


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Comments [55]

if they were African Americans or Muslim guys - we won't even be talking about it because it doesn't "fit" the profile.. so how fair is it really?

Jan. 25 2016 08:25 PM

I think they DO fit the profile

Jul. 16 2015 05:02 PM

No one would be saying that they have trouble taking these guys seriously if they weren't white.

Mar. 20 2015 01:03 PM

In response to Noah from Austin,

I think you bring up a very valid and interesting point about the importance of figuring out exactly what these men were angry about and why homegrown terrorism was on the rise. However, that wasn't what this short was about. It would be impossible to try to unravel all that complexity on a 20 minute short on a podcast that, as they admit, does not usually handle these kind of issues.

This story was about the method of capture--whether it is fair to give someone resources that they otherwise wouldn't have access to, and then arrest them for what they do with those resources. It's a fascinating topic in itself, and entirely a separate issue from the motives of just one group that the government has caught this way. Again, not that their individual story isn't worth covering on its own merit, just not what this piece was focused on.

Personally, I say no, a person shouldn't be prosecuted under these circumstances. This American Life did a similar story about a would-be terrorist, who would never have gotten close to actual terrorism if it wasn't for the government's help. If we have good enough surveillance on them to pretend to join their group and influence them, then we should be able to watch them without influencing them, and see how far they get on their own.

Jun. 17 2014 01:22 PM

It's mildly terrifying to hear how calm and "normal" these guys sound when they are talking. Something about their minds have to be severely messed up to be so detached from the idea of murdering hundreds of people. What can possibly make something like that casual?

Apr. 03 2014 09:30 PM
Gil from Brooklyn, NY

What bothers me most about this is that the FBI agent suggests and facilitates buying the silencer and explosives. I think the FBI agents typically act as agents provocateurs, ratcheting up the action. Let them be barred from taking the lead in this way, just observe the actions of these "terrorists" and then shut it down if they go beyond talk.

Mar. 10 2014 09:21 AM
Mary from Atlanta,

"Grumpy Old Terrorists - Risin" (2014) Follow the Grumpy Old Terrorists in this new tale on anger, legacy, and castor beans.

Jan. 07 2014 05:43 PM
Aušra from Vilnius, Lithuania

This show makes me realize how distance plays a huge role on one's perception of things. Were I an American, I might find the risk of terrorism to be real and scary. Yet from my perspective, the story is about a group of old men trying to make "their mark on the history" in a way that is now widely talked about in the USA. And about a CI whose actions could definitely be called "leading". And about group dynamics - how a person showing initiative and willing to chip-in might easily overtake the leadership of the group.

But, I guess, so many things are exactly about that: take a bunch of people who are dissatisfied by one thing or another, bring them a leader and an idea they find big and appealing enough, and there goes trouble.

Yet, the age does play an important role in this whole thing - one cannot dismiss experience and knowing you have a lot of things to lose. That is the reason why teenagers are much easier to persuade: they have no perspective of time, they still haven't created anything of their own, including their own identity, not to mention the fact that their brain might be physically immature to make sound moral decisions. That is why they do fit the profile, and not the people of age who have a family, a home and a life story.

Oct. 14 2012 05:32 AM
Steven C from California

I keep reading and hearing people complain about white people getting off easy, and I thought I would bring up a point to ponder. We need to consider the WHY (as so many others have said). Most middle-eastern terrorists are terrorizing for their religion or just as racist hate crimes. These old white men didn't like the way things were turning out in their country. I believe it said in the pod cast that the ring leader of this little group:
-had served in the military and fought for his country.
-raised a family in the place he loved, the place he called home.
-probably lived his whole life in America.

While the activities these men were engaging in were certainly terrorist activities, the reason to me seems a bit different than standard terrorism.

Certainly fighting to preserve a way of life that you and your family love, is a far better reason for terrorism than going to a different country and performing acts of terrorism because people have different religious beliefs.

HOWEVER, this does not make it right. What these old men were planning was still terrorism and they are in jail for their crimes(According to the pod cast). I stated above "a better reason" and I want to make clear there are NO good reasons for terrorism, some are bad and some are worse.

On a final note, I feel the age should weigh more heavily than the race. You listeners of RadioLab, should know better than most, how powerful the human mind is. When people age, their thoughts; emotions, beliefs, and many other things about their minds begin to change. I'm guessing what we had here were 4 old men stuck in their ways, wanting America to go back to the way it used to be in the early-mid 1900s. This country seems to be morphing from a conservative Christian nation, to a more liberal less religious nation before our very eyes.

The reasons I gave I feel merit a more "wiggle room" than your standard terrorist. However, a slap on the wrist for these guys..? Absolutely not! Just remember there have been quite a few white terrorists who got off no easier than any other race.

Sep. 24 2012 03:20 PM

I feel like the issue here is not the age, but rather the race. I feel it is important to keep in mind that had these not been white men but rather Middle Eastern, Asian, African, Latino, etc. Americans, it would not have mattered it they were 19 or 90; there is a much, much higher chance that they would not have been given so much wiggle room around whether or not they actually planned to take action or if the were just 'flapping their gums'. Interesting story, but I just have to wonder if it would have even been a story had they not been white.

Aug. 28 2012 04:39 PM
Adam T.

Noah, I have to highly disagree with your comments - I think Sarah Hall below hit the nail on the head.
There are many reasons as we've seen for terrorism over the years, however there's little doubt in this case the cause.

Aug. 20 2012 12:26 PM
Noah from Austin, TX

I listened to this Radiolab short last night and I’ve read through all of the comments left by fellow listeners. I’m completely disturbed by your handling of the subject matter in this piece. As a program that approaches complex issues and themes from the perspective of science, it seems you forgot yourselves by failing to answer the fundamental questions: Why are these men doing this? Why is (largely white) homegrown terrorism on the rise in this country? Merely reporting that this is happening and excluding the why because the original reporter of the piece did not even have access to the perpetrators in jail (another BIG why) is a sibling to adrenaline junkie SWAT team members throwing flash grenades to subdue two old men in a pick-up. That is to say, there’s a lot of commotion but nothing is really accomplished because nothing is learned.

Terrorism, at home and abroad, will continue to be a problem until the American people are willing to address this problem at its source. This means taking a long, hard look at our government and its foreign policies, and it’s execution of those foreign policies. Just as important, if not more so, would be a thorough, holistic examination of our culture, which is becoming increasingly ideologically intransigent, disrespectful of its elders, and scornful of anyone seeking to thoughtfully and rationally address this worsening condition in a direct manner.

If Radiola is going to step out from behind the lens of science—a vista you have thoughtfully and beautifully rendered time and time again—please do so with the same level of sincerity and dedication that you these science pieces. Not a one-off 20 minute podcast based on third-party accounts in a journalism piece, peppered with obviously biased guests like Sally Yates and NPR counterterrorism correspondent, Dina Temple-Raston, who not only raises the same old questions about government agitation of anti-government groups—the same question that have been raised since the Nixon Administration—but also supports current Presidential authority to execute American citizens without due process, as in the case of American born Islam Cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.

Your effort here is weirdly skewed in its approach to the questions it does attempt to address, while somehow managing to avoid the big question of why and how Terrorism exists. The result is a lot of emotional and intellectual tumult that has little chance of a dialogue that might produce constructive solutions to the problem because, again, you are not actually addressing the problem itself.

Jul. 29 2012 12:55 PM
Almantas from Klaipėda, Lithuania

In many European countries such law enforcement encouragement (incitement and provocation) does not hold up at court. Some commentators pointed out a couple of reasons for that.

I am amazed at the many negative comments about this show, and a lot of strangely aggressive views on this case and issue.
The show only raised questions, specific questions about intent, and not all perspectives can be covered in such a short amount of time.

Thanks to the wonderful team at Radiolab for making such interesting shows! :)

Jul. 11 2012 08:06 AM
Scott from Toronto

Could NOT agree with Christy from New York more. Men are discussing shooting - KILLING! - people and you wonder whether you should laugh just because of their age? Are you kidding me? I had to turn this podcast off it irritated me so much. Otherwise, love the show!

Jul. 06 2012 12:14 PM
Christy from New York, NY

I love Radiolab, but I feel this episode missed the mark. The impulse not to be threatened by someone's words and actions just because they are old underlines our collective tendency to see the elderly as cute and cuddly, or worse, invisible. We would all be better served by listening to our elders, and that includes taking terrorist threats made by them seriously.

Jul. 02 2012 12:35 PM
Brer Robert from Pennsylvania

I like Jeff's comment. Surely it would be a more legitimate test of intent if the informant would try to caution the potential terrorists, rather than encourage and enflame their passions. And, as far as I am concerned, the line between enabling and encouraging should not be crossed.

Jun. 30 2012 02:56 PM
Chamblee54 from atlanta, GA

Thank you. This inspired a blog post...

Jun. 24 2012 03:41 PM
apollyg from rain drenched Todmorden

In the Uk there have been some cases of entrapment.

e.g. Murder suspect convicted based on under cover work by policewomen who gained an admission of guilt under duress-(i.e. feigned intimacy) conviction unsafe- Later the true culprit was caught.

Also a number of under cover policemen worked in militant ecology movement- they fathered children, they facilitated actions by providing information and equipment. Again there was no case to answer.
Ultimately it is a morally suspect way of working which makes victims of the potential criminals. It should only be used under highly controlled circumstances-- chase the real criminals for goodness sake.
Never make assumptions about a person based on superficial characteristics such as age, ethnic origins, religious beliefs,race,gender,sexual orientation. Remember you are good at this radiolab- anything else is bull

Jun. 24 2012 05:29 AM
Mudhooks from Canada

What I find particularly disturbing is not that a couple of geriatrics were caught ostensibly plotting terrorism is that not only did the mainstream media pick up on this story but that people are so dismissive.

The fact that men of middle-Eastern descent have been arrested and convicted for less and the media and Americans idea that terrorism is only a threat when it comes from those quarters. Meanwhile, the vast majority of actual threats and incidents have been from home-grown terroists... just like these guys.

Americans continue to believe that the threats against them come from swarthy men of Middle Eastern descent, when it comes for men who look exactly like them.

Jun. 23 2012 12:27 PM
Jack from Ann Arbor

What bothers me about the impulse to go easy on the three old men who were arrested (who then wet their pants) is that, in real life, we see all the time people who believe their own diatribes all too thoroughly. I guess we have to have an old guy who's the victim of senility actually try to run us over with a snow blower before we can understand the reality which is: thoughts become things and words have real meaning.

It's fairly common knowledge that, when someone starts talking violence, they are really trying to create the courage and will to carry out the violence they're talking about. Many Christians believe that sinning "in your heart" makes you as guilty of sin as when you carry out a sinful act. So, yeah, in a large part of the public mind: there is such a thing as a "thought crime." And that's not without basis in reality.

Jun. 22 2012 07:34 PM
M. Lee from Chapel Hill, NC

This left me more than a little disconcerted by the glib dismissal of men plotting to murder and maim as many men, women and children they could. The only mitigating factor presented to arouse some sympathy for these potential murders was their age. Would their age have mattered if it were your child, brother, sister, or mother that they murdered?

Jun. 22 2012 07:24 PM
lucas from St. John's, Newfoundland

The empathy for these men comes not from the fact that they are white but from the fact that they are old and mostly impotent.

Jun. 20 2012 04:36 PM

Is what the FBI did entrapment? Possibly. There wasn't enough evidence here to really know and ultimately that's now for a jury to decide.

I sat through the whole episode wondering why an old white man is considered less threatening than anyone else. You never really touched on this issue but just made a lot of assumptions about how an audience listener would feel. If you pushed me to answer personally, I would say I think old powerful angry white men are the among the most dangerous people in our society. To assume everyone feels otherwise just pointed out to me how homogeneous and biased the people doing this story are but didn't leave me otherwise enlightened.

Jun. 17 2012 02:26 PM

This podcast made me pretty uneasy. I have to say I think the fact that no one mentioned that no leniency would have been given to a person of middle eastern descent was wrong and pointed to racism. It seems to me this the empathy that people are feeling for these terrorists are because they aren't middle eastern--which feels wrong. Just because they are old and white does not mean that they are deserving of our sympathy or allowed a slap on the hand by the local sheriff. Ask yourself, would the same leniency be given to someone of Arab descent? These men were seriously considering to kill innocent people and as a result deserve the same treatment as anyone else with the same nefarious plans. Radio lab--I really thought you were better than this...

Jun. 17 2012 01:21 PM
Jeff from Small Town, TX

Maybe if the sheriff had gone by and told them to cut it out, they would have. Or, maybe they would have laid low, learned from their mistakes and tried again.I suspect someone who knew took them seriously enough to report them to the FBI. As far as the FBI inciting the young man in Dallas, if they could do it, so could someone from a terror cell find him, train him, arm him and set him off on a mission. After the twin towers, Oklahoma City and the various court cases and convictions, people should be well aware of how seriously this is taken. If you're getting into a van, it is either with a terrorist or an FBI agent. Either way you should know it is the wrong place to be.

Jun. 16 2012 09:19 PM
David McKay

I have had personal experience with this exact situation and it comes down to this, the government is always going to assume with their "gut" that anybody of the anti-government nature is going to be a threat and the cops will massage any situation until they get the wanted result .In the oh so epic story about the guy in Dallas who dialed the number to the van , well let me tell you, if he wouldn't have dialed the number , his ass was still going to do life in prison , and the only reason they played that game was to insure his conviction to the fullest extent.The real question should be why antagonize individuals to make irrational decision , why not use the exact structure they have in place to keep individuals from reaching such states . Its because if you humanize the villain you lose the bad guy and when you lose the bad guy, theres no need for the hero,

Jun. 15 2012 03:35 PM

The part of the story which is completely missing is the fact that this is not some fringe point of view where two nutty old guys go off the deep end when Obama was elected, these are just the standard talking points which Fox News promotes daily.

I have people in my own family who claim that during the next election they'll vote for any Republican because they want to "do whatever they can to keep Obama from ruining this country." Every time I challenge them on what exactly is it that Obama is doing which is so terrible their logic and reasoning fall apart. It always devolves into quoting something they heard on Fox news or via Glenn Beck which ALWAYS turns out to be factually incorrect.

In Fox News we have a single news organization who's entire purpose is to spread disinformation and fear about Obama and the democratic party. Contrary to claims by Fox news about the so-called "liberal Media" NPR didn't discuss this at all. But this is the real story behind the story.

Jun. 15 2012 01:22 PM
Michael Kilfoy from St. Louis

The thing I found strange was that the man was convicted for his 'actions.'

Two things leave me a little unsettled about this. First was that the FBI helped him buy it, so in essence, they are a party to it. It is their 'action', too.

The second is that it is most likely a fake bomb (I'm assuming they are not 'selling' him a real one), so he is not really buying an illegal armament. He is buying a prop. He is really being convicted for his intent, which is certainly heinous, and not his actions.

It's as if they are convicting him of a fake crime so he can't commit a real one.

Do I think they need to intervene? Certainly. But it comes at the risk of some strange moral circumstances, especially in the manner it was done. It's as if they need to play a criminal to catch a criminal. In another situation, this might be seen as entrapment. They are promoting his actions, perhaps even egging him on to perform the crime.

Perhaps it is necessary given the stakes. But the whole story makes me a little uneasy.

Jun. 15 2012 01:23 AM
Phillip M.

It's so frustrating to hear the the hosts talk about how scared they were about some crazy stuff some old guy was saying. Everyone in the media seems to be constantly telling us how scared we should be of everything. Why are people so easily frightened?

Jun. 14 2012 09:13 PM
Anthony from Denver

I found it odd that the headline was, "They don't fit the profile," yet the show didn't really explore how society's emotional reaction changes depending on the profile of the perpetrator.

I was able to identify racism in myself just by feeling how my emotional reaction changed when I flipped around different variables:

1) Old White Men - uneasy
2) Old White Women - less uneasy
3) Old Middle Eastern Men - more uneasy
4) Young White Men - more uneasy
5) Young Middle Eastern Men - very uneasy

The rational and conscientious person would note those emotional reactions; and then not allow them to cloud their judgement.

I'd like my government to stop old white men attempting to slaughter scores of people just as much as I'd like my government to stop anybody else attempting to do the same.

Jun. 14 2012 08:54 PM
Ben from Chicago

I typically lean toward left when it comes to protecting individual liberties and freedoms but I don't think there was anything wrong with the actions of the FBI in this instance. The flash grenades and the SWAT team might have been a bit dramatic for the arrest but it was certainly not inhumane/unjustified- so they soiled themselves- big deal? At the end of the day, we're talking about people who had just paid for illegal explosives and weaponry, not peaceful protesters or innocent suspects. The whole commentary about their age seems absurdly irrelevant to me. I was hoping there would be a voice who commented on the age/race/sex bias in "gut" profiling- but this example moves even beyond profiling as there's hard evidence on tape demonstrating the will to and plan to commit terrorism and ultimately the act of purchasing the weapons to make it happen. Yes, there's a strange amount of enabling but no entrapment- no apparent force or coercion from the informant. Only his ability to supply funding, and to that I say the world is full of opportunities to make money; was the FBI supposed to wait and monitor these guys for years and years until one funding opportunity naturally comes along? (Say one of them dies and leaves a life insurance payment to another under the condition of committing terrorist acts?) The FBI did well here this is what counter-terrorism should look like. (Not just simply rounding suspects up and throwing them in GTMO)

Jun. 13 2012 03:20 PM
Renée from Munich

The last bit of this story really gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. I can't imagine that this act by the FBI was warrented. If the undercover agent had not actively participated in the actions of the organization, I would feel quite differently about their involvement. People say a lot of things and within the average human mind there are sure to be darker things than the intent of this terrorist cell.

I cannot understand this act of the FBI was right, both legally and morally.

Jun. 13 2012 06:11 AM
Aaron Swain

Wow! How did this get cut out of The Bad Show? This segment is golden and leads so well into the discussion of the Milgram Experiment. Glad you decided to release it as a short!

Jun. 12 2012 02:00 PM
Josh from Massachusetts

I am ok with the FBI undercover agent's interactions with the old men. They already declared their intent, he was merely siding with them. If it wasn't a FBI agent but was someone else with evil intent and the funds to carry out the attacks they would have done it.
As far as them soiling themselves, that is a natural response to fear and also they are of the age where control of those functions is already weak. I think that Mr. Krulwich, like many others, let his empathy get the best of his reason.
These men deserved to be prosecuted, and I feel safer knowing that the FBI pursues these type of cases.

Jun. 11 2012 01:12 PM
Bob Minder

Would imagine you know of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the organization founded by Attorney Morris Dees, that has faced the radical right in court and brought as much as they can to light through their publications. The most recent edition of their "Intelligence Report" included informative sketches of thirty leaders of hate groups working today.

But mainly, I wanted to wonder "aloud" what kind of reform program might we offer folks like these. Surely, it could not be of one stripe, as these characters occupy all levels of intensity and angles of weird beliefs. But I do wish we could "imagine" this therapeutic vein further. Thoughts came to mind as you were discussing the notion that a policeman might have gone to the most vocal guy's home and told him to Cut It Out, and he could well have responded by cutting it out. But if we really cared, wouldn't we want to be able to offer more? the possibility of reorientation? Must we only care about nabbing the bad guys and "putting them away?" Surely we can do better than that.

Jun. 10 2012 05:00 PM

I don't really know what to think about what the FBI did. It feels wrong, but at the same time they may have prevented an act of terrorism.

Jun. 10 2012 03:50 PM
Darwin from Madrid, España

Great Piece Guys. Mildy terrifying & emotionally stirring. Two thoughts: These grumpy grandpas talk like every old guy I know who let their hair down in front of their peers. The only time I felt sick to my stomach was when I heard the FBI agent bargaining in character. I feel less safe, and will make an effort to feel safer.

Jun. 09 2012 05:51 AM
Faith from Los Angeles, CA

I do feel safer. But I also think the questions asked are legitimate re: whether the informant provoked them.

Jun. 09 2012 02:58 AM

For Chris and Jeff:

It is not the job of the FBI to "parent" people into making better choices. That being said, I agree that a more neutral voice from the informant would have been better. If it then became clear that the group indeed was ready, willing and able to carry out their plan, prevention and prosecution would have gone much more smoothly.

On another note, I am disappointed in RadioLab's decision to air this. It is not what I have come to expect from this excellent, thought-provoking podcast. It certainly is a larger subject than a "short" and left me hanging. I wanted to hear more; and from other points of view.

To answer the last question: Yes, I feel safer.

Jun. 08 2012 10:48 AM
Alexa K. from Chicago

Although this was a little different from the typical radiolab show content-wise I thought it was great! The show left me considering the ethical implications of prosecuting someone for their intentions. It reminded me a lot of the film Minority Report where people are arrested for crimes they supposedly will commit in the future. In the movie criminals' fates are not always set, sometimes there are alternative future paths. Certainly a lot to think about!

Jun. 08 2012 09:03 AM

What would social psychologists say about this? The whole episode, I was waiting for someone to mention the Milgram Experiment. First, in front of their peers, you ask whether someone is willing to move things up a notch. Then you keep pressing on those social pressures.

No institutional review board would approve it at this point, but I'm betting you could demonstrate that a shockingly high percentage of adults could be led into just such a situation. It's not brainwashing, it's playing on pride and shame and fear and all the rest.

Jun. 08 2012 01:47 AM
Nate from Montana

Hey, great music at the end!

Jun. 07 2012 11:43 PM
Richard from houston

If you can seek out an angry disillusioned person and you mold him, craft a plan for him - do it all but press the button and hand him the button and they press it - what have you proven? Nothing other than the ability to convince a weak minded person to do something horrible. That's how Al Qaeda works, that's how the Nazi's worked, that's how human psychology can work in seemingly desperate circumstances. People who see the world in a very jaded or skewed way could be egged on if they feel there is an authoritative figure and possibly an entire army of rebels or (freedom fighters?) in their mind backing them and supporting them. It proves that we are capable of molding a weak minded person's anger into a very specific target. But the people who are a real threat as far as terrorism goes - the timothy mcveighs etc. do not need coaching and prepping and planning - they are crazy enough and forward enough to plan and carry out these plans in secret or just grab a gun and open fire. The stories i hear like this are often applauded like it's a victory for us, but to me, it is shameful. In every town, in every nation, all over the world there are people willing to die for something - molding their anger or passion into a specific target and feeding their ego by telling them it's the right thing to do for "democracy" and to "build a new nation". We all think there are just "leaders" and "followers" but in reality these people are just followers who are convinced that they are important leaders doing important work. We should be always looking deeper at these things and asking ourselves - if there is no general "leading the charge", why would these people that consider themselves "soldiers" and take initiative on their own. They just wouldn't. - the people that they are catching need validation from someone perceived to be higher in authority and need that button handed to them in order to press it. Any single person in this country at any given time could do real damage to another human life or multiple lives with little to no planning at all - but realistically they just won't, and that's good. The scariest truth however, is that by way of our own human nature people can be lead and coerced into committing horrible crimes if they feel they are "justified" and "doing a greater good". I'd rather not have our own government whispering into peoples ears that they should "push the button" for a better democracy.

Jun. 07 2012 06:16 PM
Nome De Plume from Baton Rouge, Louisiana

I'm a long time enthusiastic listener, but I was disappointed that the segment did not make it clear that it was an *unregistered* silencer/suppressor that these men were purchasing. The FBI press release makes that very clear. In most states, like Georgia where this took place, gun suppressors are legal, as long as the $200 Federal transfer tax has been paid. So not emphasizing this point makes it unclear if a crime actually was committed.

As an aside, there is a movement to make suppressors more widely available to partially protect against hearing loss from firearms, especially for children who are entering the sporting world, and for range workers.

But, other than that issue, I found the segment to be thought provoking. I think that their actions had moved beyond discussion and speech to action, which is firmly a threat to the well being of the Republic. I think that the FBI probably did the right thing here, although the FBI organization has a history of ignoring the law from its inception.

FBI press release on the topic:

NPR segment "The History Of The FBI's Secret 'Enemies' List":

Jun. 07 2012 05:51 PM
Morgan Andrews from Philadelphia

This has been happening a lot lately and I'm glad that Radiolab is highlighting it. Peter Collopy of goes into further detail as to what the FBI is doing here may be considered a form of brainwashing. He uses a recent Cleveland case as an example:

Jun. 07 2012 05:13 PM
Joe Peanut from Brooklyn

Why is it surprising that men who would follow-up on such plans are cowards? Yes, they wet their pants once they got caught, and that is the exact kind of reaction I would expect from someone who would follow-up with blowing-up a building, and plan on poisoning large numbers of people.

Jun. 07 2012 01:00 PM

Seems the producers forgot America's oldest, continual terrorist organization (the Klu Klux Klan), was started by people who wouldn't by today's standards "fit the profile".

Jun. 07 2012 03:01 AM
Nancy from LA from Los

As an old sixties radical who has had some interaction with FBI informants via some COINTELPRO agent provocateurs (when a new lefter started talking like a 30's era commie, you could usually tell...just say, J. Edgar) I was kind of amused at the response by Tom Junod's response to the fact that these old geezers didn't meet the profile. Expect they did make the profile, of the 90's era abortion terrorists and militia men and right wing Christian Identity fellas who make up a very large portion of the TeaBagger direct action folks. For Junod, they were people who should have been warned off that by the local sheriff was because of their skin tone.

Junod's response betrays an ignorance of right wing terrorism which has been active since the Klan and before. To assume these guys were being entrapped shows how little guys like Junod understand about how people behave in groups. At least when I was dealing with idiotic FBI provocateurs back in the sixties, we would just roll our eyes when they would try to get us to do stupid things.

Junod seems unaware that the FBI has been infiltrating groups of morons and attempting to get them to do stupid things, but as long as those people aren't old white guys, that appears to be aces with him.

Tell that to the families of murdered abortion doctors.....and fill him in the the recent abortion terrorism which is being under reported, as he worries about them rights of teabagging old farts.

Jun. 06 2012 02:59 PM
Austin from Earth

I'm baffled not only at the response here and that people are surprised this happens. Manufacturing results, playing dirty, and manipulating people is something the FBI has been doing since its inception. The organization doesn't care about the TRUTH, they care about quieting society's concerns and keeping the public calm. They like the way things are now. They can spy on us without reason and do. You are only free to buy things, as soon as you question the system, the system will squash you. Try to videotape a cop beating a protester and they will arrest you. Societal control is the bottom line. We're not the good guys. No one is.

Jun. 06 2012 01:49 PM
americawhereareyou from USA

Bin Laden didnt blow up the projects.

Jun. 06 2012 12:49 PM
Barry from Switzerland

I'm also a little torn on the topic for this episode and also wanted to question if it falls under the RadioLab umbrella? Firstly, I'm a huge fan of the show (and should be a lab partner soon) due to the excellent production, analysis, storytelling and content but also in a large part due to the consistency in subject matter. Mainly scientific enquiry and explanation. Despite this being a short episode, I feel like it drifted out of the usual RadioLab sphere with the lack of an over-riding scientific theme and the involvement of more political current affairs such as counter-terrorism.

Having said that, it's an interesting topic and highlights the limitations of profiling often used to filter out potential terrorists. I also struggle with the level of involvement of the American security services in stringing along the terrorist hopefuls right up to the point of pushing the trigger? I guess it shows that anyone with a grudge, regardless of age, race, background, gender, religion etc., are capable of anything.

Jun. 06 2012 10:20 AM
Jeremy from Sydney

I'm a bit torn about the direction of this episode. Is this hand wringing of whether justice was served misplaced? Do we really need to cover whether we're really safe from terror by this arrest simply because these guys remind us of Walther Matthau, Jack Lemon et al. and they have lawn ornaments? Does that make them better people - should we dig deeper into the reasons of their intent because they have a Sinatra Shrine Room? If these guys were the exactly the same age, brown skinned, would we have recived the same level of hand wringing about whether justice was correctly served?

I would have definitely like to see more examples of people who DO fit the so-called profile of a terrorist be put into the editorial spotlight of scrutiny. A counterpoint is needed in this episode. Otherwise it's a just another Man bites dog story - or in this case Fred buys Bomb. Not about the real issue of justice and freedom in America.

Fitting the profile is immaterial at the point where acting on motive becomes intent which in turn becomes decisive action - for which that any individual "don't tread on me" or otherwise is personally responsible and accountable for. Motive and catalysing the intent to kill people through the purchase of high explosives and controlled gun parts is a very black and white act of terror - much like dialing the phone. People have been assasinated in drone strikes over Yemen for espousing terrorist rhetoric on youtube(Anwar al-Awlaki). Questioning the aspect of prosecuting so called "thought crimes" (about a minute dedicated to this) and then questioning whether we feel safer from arrest while keeping in mind that Fred is old and frail and liked Frank Sinatra? I feel this is a bad way of framing the topic. Lionel Hutz bad.

I love Radiolab and I wish they had covered episode either more in the context of the finer points of where unjust entrapment and law enforcement blur - for *anyone*, not just for seemingly harmless white old grandpas... OR This story could go another way which is "does racial profiling work?".

The final direction of this ep was "Do we feel safer, now that Fred the guy who listens to Frank Sinatra and is old and white like my grandpa - is in jail?" which for me personally... made me feel a bit queasy. I can't put my finger on why this rubbed me the wrong way - but it was a bad note to end the episode on.

*shrugs* My two cents.

Full disclosure: I feel safer.

Jun. 06 2012 01:01 AM

I'm with Jeff on this.

This sort of thing makes me angry. What if parents encouraged their children to make bad choices, pretended to support those bad choices,, and put them in situations to follow through... what would people think about that? I bet parents like that might even be arrested, and they would most defiantly be condemned in the media, but somehow its ok for our government to be doing this.

Why does this guy start meeting with militia... because people need other people to validate their ideas or they go nowhere.... These undercover agents are validating and encouraging these men to commit crimes. They helped pay for half of the explosives??? Jesus, these agents should be arrested as well as far as Im concerned. Governements and law enforcements agents that are compeletly un trustworthy... I would even call it corruption. Isnt this what sparked it in the first place... what made them angry....

Jun. 05 2012 11:12 PM
Sara hall from Nyc

I find it strange that there is any doubt as to the motives of grandpa Rambo and friends: racism. These white males, like many others across this country, have been seething with venomous rage since election day 2008. Calls such as "I want my country back" are thinly veiled codes of white supremacists and their fans, who still foam at the mouth at every encounter with Obama's name or likeness. There is no mystery here, folks.

Jun. 05 2012 08:07 PM
Jeff from Canada

Man this story is interesting. So many facets to think about. It is hard to judge what a person is capable of, but one thing that I couldn't help but think as I listened was; If that was my grandfather or father, I would be upset about the who aspect of the FBI egging him on. Why doesn't the FBI informant play a different part? It seems it would be more responsible of them to play the cooler head. For instance, instead of saying
"Hey lets get explosives and kill a bunch of people, guess what I know a guy that will sell them to us, I'm in, I'll even chip in a good chunk of the money required",
why not
"Are you guys thinking of blowing people up? Well I know a guy that could get us explosives, but are you sure that's something really you want to do? I mean we could end up killing a lot innocent people. It cost a lot, you may have to sell your big screen tv to get the stuff"

People like this need a voice of reason, not another voice echoing their own frustrations.

Jun. 05 2012 02:02 PM

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