John Patrick Bedell, Pentagon Shooter: Terrorist or Nut?

An FBI mobile command center vehicle is parked outside the Pentagon after a man with a gun opened fire at the Pentagon metro stop in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2010. A gunman coolly drew a weapon from his pocket and opened fire at the teeming subway entrance to the Pentagon complex, wounding two police officers before being shot and critically wounded, officials said. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

An FBI mobile command center vehicle is parked outside the Pentagon after a man with a gun opened fire at the Pentagon metro stop in Washington, Thursday, March 4, 2010. A gunman coolly drew a weapon from his pocket and opened fire at the teeming subway entrance to the Pentagon complex, wounding two police officers before being shot and critically wounded, officials said. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

It seems that John Patrick Bedell, who died from wounds received while shooting two policemen at the Pentagon Metro stop last evening, is, in the words of Patrick Frey,  “a 9/11 Truther and an anti-Bush nut case.”

Matt Apuzzo and Devlin Barrett for AP:

A California man killed in a shootout with Pentagon police drove cross-country and arrived at the military headquarters’ subway entrance armed with two semiautomatic weapons, authorities said Friday. The shooter apparently left behind Internet postings resentful of the government and airing suspicions about the 9/11 attacks.

John Patrick Bedell, 36, of Hollister, Calif., was named as the gunman in the Thursday evening attack. Authorities said he’d had previous run-ins with the law.

Investigators have found no immediate connection to terrorism, and the attack that superficially wounded two police officers at the massive Defense Department headquarters appears to be a case of “a single individual who had issues,” Richard Keevill, chief of Pentagon police, said in an early morning press conference Friday.

Keevill described Bedell as “very well-educated” and well-dressed, saying Bedell was wearing a suit when he showed up at the secure Pentagon entrance about 6:40 p.m. and blended in with workers. He was concealing two 9 millimeter semiautomatic weapons and “many magazines” of ammunition.

[…]

In an Internet posting, a user by the name JPatrickBedell wrote that he was “determined to see that justice is served” in the death of Marine Col. James Sabow, who was found dead in the backyard of his California home in 1991. The death was ruled a suicide but the case has long been the source of theories of a cover up. Sabow’s family has maintained that he was murdered because he was about to expose covert military operations in Central America involving drug smuggling.

Keevill said Friday that authorities had not made “a final determination” that the shooter was the same Bedell.

The user named JPatrickBedell wrote the Sabow case was “a step toward establishing the truth of events such as the September 11 demolitions.”

That same posting railed against the government’s enforcement of marijuana laws and included links to the author’s 2006 court case in Orange County, Calif., involving allegations of cultivating marijuana and resisting a police officer. Court records available online show the date of birth on the case mentioned by the user JPatrickBedell matches that of the John Patrick Bedell suspected in the shooting.

Presuming that they’re the same guy, this raises a question that we seem to be asking repeatedly these days:  Does a politically motivated nutjob acting alone qualify as a terrorist?  Or is it just a one-off tragedy?   As Apuzzo and Barrett note, we’re asking that too much of late:

The assault at the very threshold of the Pentagon — the U.S. capital’s ground zero on Sept. 11, 2001 — came four months after a deadly attack on the Army’s Fort Hood, Texas, post allegedly by a U.S. Army psychiatrist with radical Islamic leanings.

Hatred of the government motivated a man in Texas last month to fly a small plane into a building housing Internal Revenue Service offices, killing an IRS employee and himself.

The shooting resembled one in January in which a gunman walked up to the security entrance of a Las Vegas courthouse and opened fire with a shotgun, killing one officer and wounding another before being gunned down in a barrage of return fire.

We’ve got wannabe Islamists, rightwing nuts, and leftwing nuts in the mix.  I’ve generally dismissed all of them as sad cases that don’t deserve to be considered “terrorism” in the same way as organized plots by standing groups.  I’ve changed by assessment as to the Hasan attack at Fort Hood given that he does seem to have been at least trying to work with al Qaeda or associated groups.

(As an aside: Can journalists please stop adding the descriptor “semi-automatic” when referring to 9mm handguns?  It’s all but redundant and gives the wrong impression as to what we’re dealing with, since the media have convinced Americans that “semi-automatic” is synonymous with “machine gun.”)

FILED UNDER: Military Affairs, Terrorism, , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. KipEsquire says:

    “don’t deserve to be considered ‘terrorism’ in the same way as organized plots by standing groups”

    So when I single-handedly mug a 90-year old grandmother in the parking lot, I’m not committing a crime, since I’m not part of the mafia (i.e., organized crime)?

    If you want to refine the journalistic and political style guides (as with your “semi-automatic” dictum) to refer to “organized terrorism,” then go right ahead. But don’t say this guy wasn’t a terrorist.

  2. kth says:

    Not that redundant; “semi-auto” is how we distinguish the ones with a clip in the handle from revolvers. AFAIK (not a gun user myself), one can fire a revolver almost as rapidly as a Glock or whatever, but still, the greater ammo capacity of an automatic pistol is at least tangentially relevant.

    General point about city folks’ ignorance concerning guns stands, though. The fundamental frame actually is a pander (though a laughably ineffective one) to outdoors enthusiasts: distinguishing between guns meant to kill animals and those meant to kill people. And of course that pander was tinged with racism: we aren’t trying to keep guns away from *you*, just those hot-blooded you-know-whats. But of course Charles Whitman killed all those people from the UT Tower using a rifle designed for deer hunting, and anyone who knows anything about guns at all (even me) knows that a deer rifle is about the deadliest thing you can buy at a gun shop.

  3. john personna says:

    Terrorists and nuts are strongly overlapping sets. Osama bin Laden is an obvious, but tragically effective, nut.

    This bites more at the “war on terrorism” thing than “terrorist or nut.” War is the wrong tool, as it validates the nutter’s identity. Treating these guys as lunatic and criminal conspiracies would be hitting them on two levels: 1) we’d still be hunting them down, and 2) we’d be undermining their “moral authority.”

    I don’t think they have real moral authority, but generations in the developing world do, and that is a real problem.

  4. john personna says:

    BTW, on the 9mm, a literate journalist would have made hay with “parabellum

    “The word Parabellum is a noun coined by German arms maker Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken and is derived from the Latin saying si vis pacem, para bellum, meaning If you wish for peace, prepare for war.”

    The 9mm Parabellum is a round designed by Germans(!) for war.

  5. James Joyner says:

    So when I single-handedly mug a 90-year old grandmother in the parking lot, I’m not committing a crime, since I’m not part of the mafia (i.e., organized crime)?

    Crime is much more cleanly defined than terrorism. To me, violent crime that’s motivated by anger over politics falls short of the terrorism threshhold unless there’s a serious plot to incite terror in the general public to put political pressure on the government to change course.

    Hell, many gang bangers and drug criminals hate cops and harbor resentments against the political system. But that doesn’t make them terrorists.

    Not that redundant; “semi-auto” is how we distinguish the ones with a clip in the handle from revolvers. AFAIK (not a gun user myself), one can fire a revolver almost as rapidly as a Glock or whatever, but still, the greater ammo capacity of an automatic pistol is at least tangentially relevant.

    Almost no one uses a revolver anymore. They exist almost solely as historical relics.

    Terrorists and nuts are strongly overlapping sets.

    No doubt about it.

  6. john personna says:

    What I’m sayin’ is:

    Crime is much more cleanly defined than terrorism. To me, violent crime that’s motivated by anger over politics falls short of the terrorism threshhold unless there’s a serious plot to incite terror in the general public to put political pressure on the government to change course.

    You have acknowledged terrorism as a political act.

    A smart regime would not do this, but instead would say “there are reasonable political paths for these people, they are not acting politically, these are deranged criminals.”

    When you get into the logic behind their craziness, the “political why” of their bomb or plane, you yield them too much.

  7. Wayne says:

    Re” So when I single-handedly mug a 90-year old grandmother in the parking lot, I’m not committing a crime, since I’m not part of the mafia”

    You are committing a crime but that doesn’t make you part of organized crime, a gang member or the mafia. You could possibly be but simply committing a crime doesn’t make you so.

    To be a terrorist, you need to be part of a organize groups. The group doesn’t need to be well organize or effective but does need to be somewhat organize. An individual on his own can be consider a terrorist but not for a single nutcase postal action. That person needs to at least “plan” to commit systematic multiple crimes in order to terrorize. A career mugger doesn’t fall under this definition but the Unabomber would. Those who say “but the mugger terrorize to” simply don’t get the difference between a mugger and the Unabomber or are more likely being jerks.

  8. Novanglus says:

    He was a terrorist if he wanted his violent actions to create fear in society and effect political change. You don’t need to be part of an organized terror group to be a terrorist. (Like KipEsquire said, you don’t need to be part of organized crime to be a criminal.)

    We’ll never really know what he was trying to do — shoot his way into the Pentagon to assassinate the SecDef? Create an incident to get Sabow’s case in the news in hopes they’ll acknowledge the cover-up? Make society think that there’s a movement out there that will keep perpetrating these acts until we make our leaders respond to their demands?

    If it’s the latter, he’s a “terrorist” — but it’s clear he’s not an “organized terrorist” or even a “successful terrorist”.

  9. mpw280 says:

    I would disagree on the semi-auto designator on the 9mm, most of the fools in the press believe that any semi auto is a full auto because they don’t know or want to spin it as a full auto. The same as with assault weapon, it should be termed a semi-auto rifle, but assault weapon sounds much better as it makes people think of the full auto weapon that their kids have in their full on violence video games. It is all spin, as we all well know by now. mpw

  10. JKB says:

    They use “semi-automatic” to raise the hype. Why else use the adjective to describe the common element of the group. Had the reporter used “pistol” would anyone had thought, I wonder if that was a flint lock, single shot or semi-automatic pistol. In general usage, there are revolvers, pistols and rifles. Semi-automatic being the most numerous and common types of pistols and rifles. So the modifier is only needed when an uncommon type is used. And yes, revolvers can be included in all pistols but then a revolver is a semi-automatic in that one trigger pull, discharges the round and then cycles another into firing position ready to fire at the next trigger pull.

  11. Wayne says:

    A single act with no possibility of it being repeated may cause shock and momentary fear but not fear of a future act. Also there is very little chance of creating political change since the person cannot repeat the action. To do that they would have to be part of a movement that uses such tactics. It is much more of them expressing their frustration than trying for political change.

  12. JKB says:

    (5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—
    (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;
    (B) appear to be intended—
    (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
    (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and
    (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. (18 USC 113B)

    Does he really appear to have intent if the conceivable result of his actions would be no greater than a common street criminal. What reasonable person would believe that a lone gunman shooting up a security point from the public side would intimidate the population or influence government policy?

    Hasan on the other hand, worked with enemies of the nation and was able to kill service members well inside security thus affecting the population, government policy, and government conduct due to the uncertainty created about other infiltrations by terrorist agents.

  13. Dave Schuler says:

    Isn’t insanity sui generis rather than being aligned with ideologies which, while we may disagree with them, are rational by most definitions? Why can’t the ravings of madmen be just that?

    A second question: is Islamist terrorism “left wing” or “right wing”? I’d say it’s both, a combination of Pan-Arabism, Salafism, and millenialism.

    I think we need to be more cautious in trying to dragoon a nomenclature intended to describe French politics in the 18th century to describe 21st century phenomena even plain old nutjobs.

  14. Novanglus says:

    Thanks for citing the USC. I’m not a lawyer, but is there “a reasonable person” test for intent in this case? He can intend to coerce the population, influence policy, or assassinate someone, even if he is completely deluded about the likelihood of success.

  15. Dantheman says:

    I am not sure why he is not both a floor wax and a dessert topping terrorist and a nut. They don’t seem mutually exclusive to me, unless your definition of a terrorist requires him to be a non-nut.

  16. Grewgills says:

    So when I single-handedly mug a 90-year old grandmother in the parking lot, I’m not committing a crime, since I’m not part of the mafia (i.e., organized crime)?

    You would be a criminal, but you would not be a mobster. There is the distinction. Not every criminal is part of organized crime and not every nut job that kills for political reasons is a terrorist.

    Almost no one uses a revolver anymore. They exist almost solely as historical relics.

    Last time I went out to the range I saw plenty of revolvers, none of them 9mm though. I think revolvers are still the dominant type for magnum loads as well.

  17. Wayne says:

    There are plenty of revolvers around. Tend to be more reliable and requires less maintenance than an auto. Also depending on the pistol are much better for longer ranges and better penetration. Also people tend to want to spray and pray with an auto.

  18. DC Loser says:

    Add me to the revolver crowd. I sold all my guns except for my trusty Ruger .357. I love the simplicity and reliability of the revolver and the low maintenance compared to the pistol. I don’t need to strip the gun to clean it, and cleaning is a snap. And the autoloader .357s I’ve seen like the Desert Eagle are oversized monstrosities for my small hand.

  19. sam says:

    I don’t own a handgun, but if I wanted one, I’d look for a M1911A1 .45 — nothing says Stop, and stops, quite so forcefully.

  20. Wayne says:

    M1911is fine pistol and .45 is a good round. .357 packs a good deal more punch and penetration power. A .45 will knock a bowling pin off a table but a .357 will send it flying. A good shooter can knock 5 bowling pins off a table with a revolver about as fast as a using an auto. A properly trick out revolver and train shooter can actually shoot faster with a revolver but that is not the norm. Depends on situation but both are fine rounds.

  21. grampagravy says:

    It’s clearly time for a preemptive invasion and occupation of California just in case they are harboring more “terrorists” of Bedell’s stripe.

  22. Novanglus says:

    It’s clearly time for a preemptive invasion and occupation of California just in case they are harboring more “terrorists” of Bedell’s stripe.

    If not all of California, at least the UC Santa Cruz physics department where he got his degree.

    UCSC’s mascot is the banana slug…his slugs were 9mm.

  23. john personna says:

    Wouldn’t the ethical home defense gun be one of those 12 gauges with bean-bags? Unlikely to kill anyone, and pretty much guaranteed to knock anyone down.

    (Civilians might also suffer a fatal hesitation when shooting lethal rounds, which they might not feel shooting bean-bags.)

  24. steve says:

    “Almost no one uses a revolver anymore. They exist almost solely as historical relics.”

    I am with DC, I am keeping my Ruger .357. I grew up with revolvers, so I guess I will always feel better shooting one. At my pistol range, lots of folks still shoot revolvers. My first choice for our home defense is to pick up the .357. It never misfires and has lots of stopping power. For outdoor intruders, the 12 gauge is the way to go.

    Steve

  25. Grewgills says:

    Mom was a prosecutor in AL and so I spent a lot of time around police growing up. The most common advice we were given for home protection firearms was a shotgun with toothpicks loaded in the shells. It will make life hell for someone in the same room, but won’t cause much damage to your home.

  26. sam says:

    The most common advice we were given for home protection firearms was a shotgun with toothpicks loaded in the shells. It will make life hell for someone in the same room, but won’t cause much damage to your home.

    Toothpicks! Never would have occurred to me. When my mom was growing up in Arkansas, the shotgun load preferred by farmers to discourage raiding the melon patch was rock salt. Nothing like a load of rock salt in the ass to discourage further depredations. (Although I can’t imagine the salt was all that great on the barrels of the shotguns.)

  27. JKB says:

    A firearm is a deadly force weapon. Any use will be considered a threat of death or serious bodily injury. Even toothpicks, rock salt and bean bags can result in death or serious bodily injury. Regardless of how the firearm is loaded or even if it is not, any aggressive use against someone and they will be considered to have a reasonable belief to claim the use of deadly force in self defense.

    So if you use, what you consider less than lethal ammunition, how will you justify to a jury using a weapon likely to cause death or serious bodily injury for self defense when, obvious by your use of non-lethal ammunition, you didn’t think you were in imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury?

  28. john personna says:

    JKB, your argument is “since there is gray and black, gray is the same as black.”

    A bean-bag to the throat would likely kill you, yes. But that doesn’t mean you’d equally take a bean-bag or a hollow-point to the chest.