The menace next door: a dumb America

Hey, Politico: Terrorists from Minneapolis aren’t a Canadian threat.

Todd Korol/Reuters

Todd Korol/Reuters


The “Friday cover” on Politico is a decent indicator of the extent to which the United States has become a sentimental and unserious country. Written by Garrett M. Graff, a Harvard Crimson alum who in 2008 became the first blogger accredited to the White House, illustrated with a photo of Mounties at the Vimy Memorial — are they going to burn it down? — the luxuriously padded story asks, essentially, which of America’s neighbours it would be a good idea to fear today.

Rejecting Mexico — “Drug organizations have been very operational [sic] wary about entering into relationships that would facilitate terrorism,” Graff quotes a Rutgers prof in a burst of hasty transcription — he urges Americans to imagine the specter of hordes of Islamic State terrorists streaming across the border from Canada.

Before we demolish that argument, let’s linger along the Rio Grande for a minute longer. “The frenzied debate” over Mexican border security “has unwittingly exposed one of the strangest disconnects in post-9/11 American politics: … comparatively few of the U.S. border security resources are directed toward stopping terrorists from entering the United States. Instead, the billions of dollars… has almost entirely been aimed at stopping illegal immigration along the southern border.”

This could perhaps best be translated as: Why are you guys fixated on a steady stream of illegal immigrants and a Mexican drug war that has killed 10,000 people? I’m writing about terrorism here. The sort of person who genuinely wonders why everyone is talking about a vague and so-far-hypothetical Islamic State threat to the U.S. homeland while actually dedicating resources to real things that are actually happening all the time is — what’s the term I’m thinking of here — a writer of Politico think pieces.

Onward. Continuing on his search for a country to fear, Graff considers Canada, and discovers damning info. To wit:


Well, it’s open and shut, isn’t it. Ahmed Ressam, who was (inconveniently for paranoiacs) caught while Bill Clinton was still the U.S. president, constitutes Graff’s best evidence of burgeoning mobs of beheading-positive commuters with Nexis cards.

Not that he doesn’t give it the college try. “There’s been plenty of terror-linked activity along the U.S. northern border already this year,” he writes. Cool! Where? “Two Minnesota men have been killed fighting for ISIL in Syria and Iraq, both of them part of the huge 30,000-strong Somali-American population that lives around the Twin Cities and is centered in Minneapolis’s Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.” Quick! To the Google Maps, where we discover that Cedar-Riverside is 542 miles from Sault St. Marie and 343 miles from Thunder Bay, where there are — I’m guessing here — fewer Somalis. And incidentally, being Somali doesn’t make you a murderer. And I can’t believe I’m even having to type this. God.

What else? “Also in September … federal prosecutors indicted a man in Rochester, N.Y.—across Lake Ontario from Toronto—for allegedly providing material support to ISIL.” Ah-ha! Who’s this guy? His name is Mufid Elfgeeh. He owns a food store in upstate New York. He’s lived there for years. On the American side. In the United States. Of America.

“U.S. officials aren’t taking the threat lightly,” Graff writes in the next sentence, and you know what? They shouldn’t. Because it’s an American threat. Anything else? John Candy made a movie about the border. You think I’m making this up. “It has been historically undefended and little policed—a fact so widely accepted that it served as the comedic device behind actor John Candy’s final movie, Canadian Bacon,” Graff writes. So you see the problem. If a bunch of jihadis from Minneapolis ever team up with a Rochester grocer to storm the border and then … you know … turn around and threaten America, there’ll be nothing but a dead Second City comic to stop them.

What else? Border security was super-lax before 2001, and since 9/11 it’s been increased only, um, tenfold.

The most wonderful part about this story, though, is that Graff saves his best stuff for last. These are literally the last three paragraphs of a 2,500-word story, and they compactly rebut the entire rest of Graff’s argument.

In the end, though, it seems unlikely ISIL or al-Qaeda members would really need to sneak across either border. Historically, potential terrorists have done fine arriving in the United States like most other travellers: by purchasing a ticket on a commercial airliner. That’s how all the 9/11 hijackers got here, and how the 2010 “underwear bomber” arrived in Detroit. The trick is to find willing operatives who won’t trigger suspicion. As Cohen explains, “They’re not looking at smuggling people through human trafficking networks. They’re recruiting people from the West who would have an easier ability to enter the country legally.”

FBI director Jim Comey told 60 Minutes this month that he estimates there are at least a dozen Americans fighting with ISIL in the Middle East—and they wouldn’t need to sneak back across any border to reenter the United States.

They’ve got valid U.S. passports.

Well … yeah. Look, one day maybe some terrorists will tire of travelling from Miami to Boston to Dearborn to the suburbs of Minneapolis as easily as anyone else travels in a free country, and they’ll decide to live dangerously by adding an international border to their itinerary. Flying from the Middle East to O’Hare is so boring. I think I’ll fly into Toronto, rent a car with traceable ID, sit on my ass in traffic at the Bluewater Bridge for an hour, then hand my passport to armed guys while my escape routes forward and back are blocked. Allahu akbar! And until that day happens, Homeland Security assets will be far more rationally allocated along the Mexican border than against returning weekenders from Minnesota, because in the real world there are a thousand ways and reasons to die, even if that harshes Garrett M. Graff’s weekend thinkpiece buzz.

Somebody clean up this mess. If you’re interested, here’s Luiza interviewing somebody with something intelligent to say about border security.


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The menace next door: a dumb America

  1. Based on one article by one man Paul Wells can make the sweeping assertion that America has become an un-serious country. I hope Americans don’t make such a sweeping judgement on Canada based
    on one silly over-reaching article by Paul Wells. A dumb America? More like a dumb Canadian

    • America never was a serious country….the phrase ‘dumb Americans’ has always been pretty standard here.

      Or ‘Muricans’ for short. Everyone knows what it means.

      • serious countries go to the moon, not to Timmy’s

        • Canada got you to the moon, hon.

          13,000 aerospace workers from the Avro Arrow.

          • I guess you are correct Dear. Only a “never serious” country would farm out
            its space program to Canada

        • Well, you did. The US didn’t have the trained educated people on their own. You needed ours.

          If it wasn’t for us, you wouldn’t have the giant robot Dexter on the space station either….in fact you wouldn’t be on the ISS at all if the Russians weren’t giving you a ride all the time.

    • The average Canadian knows far, far more about the US than the average American knows about Canada. And what little Americans think they know about Canada is often from crap like Graff’s article. (We see CNN and Fox News; serious news coverage seems increasingly hard to come by south of our border.)

      As for “serious countries go to the moon…” well,when was the last time you went? These days, putting a NASA astronaut into orbit requires hitching a ride on a rocket from Russia. Meantime, India just sent a probe to Mars at a tiny fraction of what NASA would spend to do the same. You’re about 40 years behind the times.

      • 40 years behind the times? Ever hear of the Hubble Telescope, or the Mars Explorer genius.
        By the way, speaking of hitching rides ,the first Canadian in space Marc Garneau,
        He hitched along on three NASA Shuttle flights. You’re Welcome. If bashing America makes
        you feel a bit better about your wallflower status as a nation, feel free to have at it, but
        your arguments need to be more intelligent .

        • Marc Garneau hitched a ride on the space craft we built.

          Much of Mars exploration is being done by robotics labelled Made in Canada.

          And now we have India and China and the EU all involved.

          You are 40 years behind the times…..and broke.

          I know that hurts, but it’s true.

          • What hurts Dear Emily is to see yet another Canadian clinging to silly myths to
            assuage its grinding inferiority complex..You built the Shuttle? Really?
            When the history of this era is written in a few hundred or thousand years,
            Canada will be a footnote, shivering in the shadow of the greatest nation to
            ever stride the earth, the same nation that protects you and allows you
            to exist. You should get down on your knees everyday and thank God you
            have the US as a neighbor. If you did not Canada would be just another
            silly little pissant country.I know that hurts, bit it is true.

        • LOL Canada has never had an inferiority complex…..we just don’t brag and boast all the time like Americans do.

          Like you’ve just done in fact.

          YOU came on HERE to attack a Canadian….and you got thumped.

          Think of it as a learning experience.

          • It’s not bragging if its true. THUMP! Canada doesn’t have an
            inferiority complex? GOOGLE it and learn. There are scores of books and
            articles about it . Oh by the way , Google is an American company.

        • LOL are you still whining?

          Lots of books written on American exceptionalism too, but there’s no evidence of it.

          Unless it’s in boasting

        • Mark, YOU used going to the moon as your example. The last man to walk on the moon did so almost 44 years ago (Eugene Cernan, Dec. 7, 1972). So yes, YOU were 40 years behind the times with your example.

          The space shuttle seemed like a huge leap forward when it launched in 1981, and at the time held the promise of still greater things to come. Well, after 30 years, they were retired with no replacement.

          The Hubble telescope launched in 1990 – 24 years ago. A brilliant piece of engineering, for sure – once they got it working.

          The bloom is off the NASA rose – and the US generally. There have been recent signs the plant may one day bloom again (see recent interest in Mars, including talk of manned missions)… but with other nations now in the race and poised to surpass the US, NASA may not be your best example of how serious a nation the US is these days.

          And I notice you ignored my first paragraph altogether…

          • Just noticed my typo – that was supposed to be 42, not 44 years…

  2. Ouch–that must hurt! That’s some serious minor-league writing–you get so “serious” that you look the fool. But, we know the real reason for publishing this sort of twaddle–to let the aggrieved commenters point our how awesome Canaduh is (we once helped Umerica get to the moon–we’re awesome!!!). Maybe the reason no one knows anything about Canada in America, is that it doesn’t really matter all that much–it’s the minor leagues. Well, this was at least the funniest thing I saw this morning on the internet.

    • No, the reason is that Americans are badly educated. We’ll fix that when we take over.

  3. So Macleans’ political editor is so tone deaf he can’t even recognize satire?

    Anyway, even before I clicked on the comments section, I knew half of them would be Emilyone’s obsessive, kneejerk dribblings .

    • But being a dumb American who can’t read urls…..you did it anyway.

  4. The delicious irony of this article is best seen when we compare with the internet-facebook trope of making fun of people who think The Onion’s news stories are real–although sometimes these are foreign news services most often they are “dumb umericans” typically from the no-nothing wing of the republican party. Of course, what justifies ridicule rather than pity is that these people are typically so hystrionic or self-important in their response to the satire.

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