Asha Rangappa's "Anatomy of a Mass Murder"
A summary of a vital Substack read.
A summary of a vital Substack read. Originally published on Ghost
Have you heard of Asha Rangappa?
Rangappa is an American lawyer, academic, former FBI agent, and news commentator. She was formerly an Associate Dean at Yale Law School, is currently assistant dean and a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson School of Global Affairs.
Notably, Rangappa has taught a class titled, "Russian Intelligence, Information Warfare, and Social Media", and previously focused on counterintelligence during her time with the Bureau.
As a former law enforcement pro and an academic, Rangappa brings a wealth of practical and theoretical expertise to her analyses, and I often find her insights into extremism and national security valuable. In fact, Rangappa's focus on the intricate dynamics of domestic terrorism and extremism seems particularly relevant given the current national security landscape.
Her recent article examining the interplay between lax gun laws, stolen firearms, and extremist ideologies in the United States provides a compelling argument that the lack of stringent gun laws and lack of policy-based action targeting extremism contribute to the proliferation of domestic terrorism, and argues for immediate policy changes to mitigate this threat.
In her thorough analysis, Rangappa uses the Oklahoma City bombing as a case study to show how lax gun laws and a gun-show culture enabled Timothy McVeigh's acts of terror. She highlights the intersection of white nationalism and gun culture at these shows, arguing that McVeigh's actions weren't isolated, but part of a broader extremist ideology that still fuels domestic terrorism today.
The author highlights the alarming surge of gun trafficking in the United States, demonstrating a trend where crime guns move from states with weak gun laws to those with stronger regulations. She underlines the severity of the situation with data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), showing that a significant majority of guns involved in crimes in New York, a state with robust gun laws, originally came from out-of-state. The urgency of this situation is exacerbated by a phenomenon known as the "Iron Pipeline" where a notable percentage of firearms used in crimes stem from states with lax gun laws.
Rangappa also notes that stolen firearms can be used to finance terrorist activities. McVeigh utilized the "gun show loophole," where federal law doesn't require background checks for private firearms transfers, to sell his stolen weapons. Rangappa points out that such loopholes in the law could enable potential terrorists, adding that a considerable proportion of current gun owners obtained their firearms without undergoing background checks. Exploring the cultural impact of these loopholes, Rangappa draws attention to the intersection of "gun culture" and white nationalism. She posits that gun shows, once a hotbed for firearms trading, have become hubs for political solidarity amongst far-right groups. This confluence of ideologies serves as a recruiting ground for extremists who exploit the lax regulations surrounding firearms. Rangappa points out the role of right-wing media in the radicalization process, citing McVeigh's consumption of inflammatory and alarmist content. These media sources, she suggests, perpetuated a narrative of imminent government seizure of firearms, reinforcing and intensifying McVeigh's extremist tendencies.
The article also criticizes the political landscape for its reluctance or failure to acknowledge and confront the domestic extremist threat. Rangappa argues that the prevailing political narrative often downplays the threat posed by domestic terrorism, allowing extremists to operate with impunity.
What can be done?
Rangappa points out several areas where actions have been taken–or not taken– that have directly or indirectly contributed to the threat of domestic terrorism:
Lax Gun Laws and Loopholes: Rangappa cites the "gun show loophole" as a critical issue. The federal law does not require background checks for private firearms transfers, which allows potential criminals or terrorists to acquire weapons with relative ease. She suggests that this loophole has not been adequately addressed at a national level, as only 17 states require some form of background check prior to a firearm sale.
Allowance of Permitless Carry: Rangappa notes that as of November 1, 2019, Oklahoma allows permitless carry. This means if McVeigh were stopped for driving without a license plate today under the same circumstances, there would be no basis for law enforcement to detain him. This is an instance where laws have changed to potentially make it easier for someone with violent intentions to avoid detection.
Lack of Acknowledgement of the Domestic Extremist Threat: Rangappa criticizes the prevailing political narrative for often downplaying the threat posed by domestic terrorism, a situation she sees as enabling extremists to operate with relative impunity. In particular, she highlights Merrick Garland's decision not to stress the broader extremist backdrop in the Oklahoma City bombing case, which she suggests helped solidify the misleading "lone wolf" narrative surrounding domestic terrorism.
Failure to Recognize Right-Wing Media's Influence: Rangappa underlines the significant role right-wing media plays in the radicalization process. She believes that the alarmist and extremist content often broadcast by these outlets isn't sufficiently recognized or confronted by authorities for its role in fueling fear, resentment, and potential violence.
Resistance to Homeland Security Report: Rangappa points to the backlash to a Department of Homeland Security report on growing recruitment among domestic extremist groups. The report was eventually withdrawn due to this resistance, an action she sees as a failure to acknowledge and address a clear threat.
Refusal to Draw Connections between Past and Present Events: Rangappa notes that Garland, despite overseeing McVeigh's prosecution, never mentioned any thematic connections between the Oklahoma City bombing and the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol in his interviews. This refusal to connect past and present incidents of domestic terrorism is a significant failure, in her view.
The author cautions against the dangers of denial and deflection, warning that failing to address the root causes of this issue could enable further acts of domestic terrorism, thereby imperiling the security and stability of the nation.
Rangappa's insights serve as a potent call to action, urging the political establishment to acknowledge the pressing nature of this issue and enact comprehensive reform of gun laws to address it.
Thanks for reading!