Benjamin B. Wagner, an Obama appointee, is the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California, a vast region from Oregon to Los Angeles County. Wagner claims that “preventing acts of terrorism is my top priority” but his recent commentary for the Sacramento Bee leaves room for reasonable doubt.
Wagner refers to “the massacre” at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino but does not call it an act of terrorism. Rather, it is “tragic reminder” of the danger that foreign terrorist organizations, seek to “radicalize” Americans and inspire “violent acts.” Wagner does not name Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani national, and American-born Syeed Farook, the Muslim perpetrators of the December 2 terrorist attack. Neither does Wagner name a single one of their 14 victims, who included African Americans, Hispanics and immigrants.
Wagner does refer to Nicholas Teausant, who “pleaded guilty to attempting to travel overseas to join the Islamic State.” The U.S. Attorney also mentions “a young man who lived in Sacramento” who lied about his activities abroad. This “young man” is Aws Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, 23, an Iraqi Muslim who came to the United States as a refugee in 2012 but rejoined the struggle in Syria in company with terrorists.
Wagner notes that neither Teausant nor Al-Jayab “was charged with planning violent acts within the United States” but explains that “the threat from overseas terrorist organizations is not my only concern.” The Obama appointee is also concerned about “hostility and violence against our own Muslim American neighbors.” Further, “recent anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail and in the media is fraying Muslim Americans’ sense of security.” Wagner does not explain how the San Bernardino attack, along with the Boston Marathon bombing, 9/11 and other terrorist actions might have frayed everyone’s sense of security.
Foreign terrorist organizations, the U.S. Attorney explains, “seek to cleave Muslim Americans from their country by convincing them that America is at war with Islam.” Wagner should know that terrorists seek to kill and maim as many innocent people as possible. Syeed Farook, for example, had planned attacks on local schools and freeway drivers. In San Bernardino, he and Tashfeen Malik had rigged a bomb to take out the first responders.
This escapes the notice of Wagner, who complains “many Americans continue to harbor prejudices against Muslim Americans.” He cites vandalism and “death threats” but the U.S. attorney has no casualty list. Bullying is also a problem and “women wearing a hijab – the Muslim head scarf – are particular targets.” In many cases, Wagner explains, “this conduct may be illegal. Federal hate crime laws, which my office enforces, protect persons from violence or threats of violence based on religion.”
This kind of “vindictive conduct directed against Muslim Americans,” the Obama appointee explains, “undermines national security.” According to Wagner, “the Muslim community is a critical partner in combating radicalization to violence.” Wagner has “spent a lot of time with members of the Muslim community” and “encountered warmth and hospitality everywhere.” The Muslims, he writes, “tell me constantly how horrified and repelled they are by terrorists who claim the mantle of Islam,” but the U.S. Attorney provides not a single example of Muslim cooperation against terrorism.
In the case of Mohammed Younis Al-Jayab, local CAIR director Basim Elkarra told reporters that nobody in local mosques even recognized the Iraqi refugee. Imam Mohamed Abdul-Azeez, who in 2009 received a community service award from the FBI, did not go on record in the Al-Jayab case. The high-profile Abdul-Azeez had previously referred to the Tsarnaev brothers as “these two kids” and lamented that people had died in “the explosions.” in Boston.
U.S. Attorney Wagner writes that “harassment and hostility is likely to weaken the bond between Muslim Americans and law enforcement.” What cooperation the FBI has received from Muslim Americans in the wake of San Bernardino remains unclear. Federal agents have been unable to locate the hard drive from the Muslim couple’s home and an 18-minute gap remains in the timeline. As the FBI’s David Bowdich told reporters, “you just don’t know if they met with someone, and that is disconcerting.”
Also disconcerting are the priorities of U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner, and those of the man who appointed him. In the Eastern District of California, across the nation and abroad, 2016 will be the year of living dangerously.