The Shoe-Bomber Email Mystery

AS MOST OF YOU ALREADY know, I post propaganda emails here from time to time, and often take them apart, line by line, to expose just what they are trying to do, and how they do it.

I have to admit, though, that this latest one had me stumped at first.

It was quite obviously intended to forward some agenda, but I couldn't see whose.

There were two quite different messages mixed in it, messages that normally come from different ends of the political spectrum.

First, the contents of the email:


Remember the guy who got on a plane with a bomb built into his shoe and tried to light it?

Did you know his trial is over?
Did you know he was sentenced?
Did you see/hear any of the judge's comments on TV or Radio?

Didn't think so.!!!

Everyone should hear what the judge had to say.


Ruling by Judge William Young, US District Court.

Prior to sentencing, the Judge asked the defendant if he had anything to say. His response: After admitting his guilt to the court for the record, Reid also admitted his 'allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam, and to the religion of Allah,' defiantly stating, 'I think I will not apologize for my actions,' and told the court 'I am at war with your country.'

Judge Young then delivered the statement quoted below:

January 30, 2003, United States vs. Reid.

Judge Young: 'Mr. Richard C. Reid, hearken now to the sentence the Court imposes upon you.

On counts 1, 5 and 6 the Court sentences you to life in prison in the custody of the United States Attorney General. On counts 2, 3, 4 and 7, the Court sentences you to 20 years in prison on each count, the sentence on each count to run consecutively. (That's 80 years.)

On count 8 the Court sentences you to the mandatory 30 years again, to be served consecutively to the 80 years just imposed. The Court imposes upon you for each of the eight counts a fine of $250,000 that's an aggregate fine of $2 million. The Court accepts the government's recommendation with respect to restitution and orders restitution in the amount of $298.17 to Andre Bousquet and $5,784 to American Airlines.

The Court imposes upon you an $800 special assessment. The Court imposes upon you five years supervised release simply because the law requires it. But the life sentences are real life sentences so I need go no further..

This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and just sentence. It is a righteous sentence.

Now, let me explain this to you. We are not afraid of you or any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is too much war talk here and I say that to everyone with the utmost respect. Here in this court, we deal with individuals as individuals and care for individuals as individuals. As human beings, we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier, gives you far too much stature. Whether the officers of government do it or your attorney does it, or if you think you are a soldier, you are not----- you are a terrorist. And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not meet with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists. We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You are a big fellow. But you are not that big. You're no warrior. I've known warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal that is guilty of multiple attempted murders. In a very real sense, State Trooper Santiago had it right when you first were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and the TV crews were, and he said: 'You're no big deal.'

You are no big deal.

What your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today?

I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing? And, I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you, but as I search this entire record, it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose. Here, in this society, the very wind carries freedom. It carries it everywhere from sea to shining sea. It is because we prize individual freedom so much that you are here in this beautiful courtroom, so that everyone can see, truly see, that justice is administered fairly, individually, and discretely. It is for freedom's sake that your lawyers are striving so vigorously on your behalf, have filed appeals, will go on in their representation of you before other judges.

We Americans are all about freedom. Because we all know that the way we treat you, Mr. Reid, is the measure of our own liberties. Make no mistake though. It is yet true that we will bear any burden; pay any price, to preserve our freedoms. Look around this courtroom. Mark it well. The world is not going to long remember what you or I say here. The day after tomorrow, it will be forgotten, but this, however, will long endure.

Here in this courtroom and courtrooms all across America , the American people will gather to see that justice, individual justice, justice, not war, individual justice is in fact being done. The very President of the United States through his officers will have to come into courtrooms and lay out evidence on which specific matters can be judged and juries of citizens will gather to sit and judge that evidence democratically, to mold and shape and refine our sense of justice.

See that flag, Mr. Reid? That's the flag of the United States of America . That flag will fly there long after this is all forgotten. That flag stands for freedom. And it always will.

Mr. Custody Officer. Stand him down.

So, how much of this Judge's comments did we hear on our TV sets? We need more judges like Judge Young. Pass this around. Everyone should and needs to hear what this fine judge had to say. Powerful words that strike home.

Please SEND this----so that everyone has a chance to read it.

Can you see why this first struck me as a very odd example of propaganda?

The email was forwarded to me by a conservative, and bears clear markings of conservative propaganda.

But the bulk of the email—the judge's comments—is, in spite of the fact that William Young was a Reagan appointment, an extremely clear and compelling statement of the liberal position on the issues involved.

I'll explain that, in detail, next time...

What Was the Propagandist Up To?

LAST TIME I RECOUNTED MY INITIAL confusion over an email recounting the judge's sentencing in the shoe bomber case.

Of course it could be that conservatives forward more emails in general, and this time the email just happened to be liberal propaganda.

It was forwarded to me by a conservative friend, and certainly read like a standard piece of right-wing propaganda, but the judge's actual comments—in spite of the fact that he was a Reagan appointment—were a clear and compelling statement of the liberal position on the issues involved.

His points included the following:

  1. Our efforts against terrorism should not be considered a matter of war, but of criminal justice.
  2. Terrorism is a crime, committed by criminals, who should not be handed the dignity of being designated as "enemy combatants" or tried by the military as though they were soldiers on the other side of a war between two countries.
  3. They should be treated as individuals, and justice should be meted out to them as we would to any other murderers, in a court of law, with all of the rights to defense that we give anyone else.
  4. This is not because we want to protect murderers, but to protect the innocent from being punished, and to protect the freedom and fairness the United States stands for.
  5. All of the above is the best answer to terrorists, and the best argument to the rest of the world, that we mean what we say when we stand for justice and freedom, and that we will not be frightened into abandoning our values by a handful of hate-motivated criminals.

That, in a nutshell, is the progressive position.

The conservative position has been, on the other hand:

  1. that we should give the terrorists the dignity and status of soldiers,
  2. that we should allow them to manipulate us into abandoning the values built into our system by using the fiction of "enemy combatant" status to deprive them of their legal rights,
  3. and that we should display to the world that our commitment to our values only hold so long as we find it convenient.

The only conservative note in the judge's sentencing was the echo of the Bush jingle that "they hate us for our freedoms".

But, as I said, this was forwarded to me by a conservative, who has sent me many of the other pieces of conservative email propaganda I've commented on here.

Of course it could be that conservatives forward more emails in general, and this time the email just happened to be liberal propaganda.

But that didn't work, because the comments at the beginning and end are pure conservative propaganda—even though they seem incredibly weak, compared to what the judge said.

The gist of those is that the "liberal media" intentionally buried this story.

As we've come to expect from conservative propaganda, this charge...

  1. Is put between the lines.

    The author doesn't come out and say, plainly, that the media buried the story.

    Instead, we're treated to rhetorical questions meant to imply it.

    "So, how much of this Judge's comments did we hear on our TV sets?"

    You're supposed to answer, "none," and draw the further conclusion that this is because the message was intentionally buried by the "liberal" media.
  2. And is false.

    But why would the "liberal" media want to bury what was, after all, a liberal message?

    The answer is that they wouldn't—not if they were really liberal.

    Oddly enough, if you were actually the kind of person who would easily draw the implied conclusion, the chances are good that you don't even watch the "liberal" media (which is code for anything but Fox).

    So the interesting question is why didn't you hear about this?

    One reason is that cameras and recorders weren't allowed inside the courtroom, so there's no way you could have seen the judge make these comments, or hear them in his own voice.

    On the other hand, if you don't confine yourself to Fox, you might well have run into this story.

    It took me about thirty seconds on Google to find that it was covered by both the BBC and and by CNN—which has published the entire transcript online.

So, is the mystery solved?

I don't think so.

The whole message still boils down to "isn't the liberal stance of this judge wonderful, and isn't it awful that the liberals don't want you to hear it?"

This is incredibly weak, even for conservative propaganda.

So what's the answer?

Well, sometimes you can figure out a propagandist's agenda by what he or she changes.

Next time: the changes...

What the Propagandist Changed


  1. A forwarded email arrived, with all the markings of the usual right-wing propaganda, but...
  2. The main body of the email contained a liberal message, yet...
  3. The introduction and conclusion contained a standard conservative message, and...
  4. The whole thing made no sense to me.

I was ready to give up, and leave the mystery unexplained, until it occurred to me that one way to figure out what a propagandist is up to is to check on what is changed or left out.

So was anything changed?

I compared the email to the transcript at CNN.

There were no significant changes to the Judge's comments.

Then I came across the transcript of the shoe bomber's statement:

I further admit my allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam, and to the religion of Allah. With regards to what you said about killing innocent people, I will say one thing. Your government has killed 2 million children in Iraq. If you want to think about something, against 2 million, I don't see no comparison.

Your government has sponsored the rape and torture of Muslims in the prisons of Egypt and Turkey and Syria and Jordan with their money and with their weapons. I don't know, see what I done as being equal to rape and to torture, or to the deaths of the two million children in Iraq.

So, for this reason, I think I ought not apologize for my actions. I am at war with your country. I'm at war with them not for personal reasons but because they have murdered more than, so many children and they have oppressed my religion and they have oppressed people for no reason except that they say we believe in Allah.

This is the only reason that America sponsors Egypt. It's the only reason they sponsor Turkey. It's the only reason they back Israel.

As far as the sentence is concerned, it's in your hand. Only really it is not even in your hand. It's in Allah's hand. I put my trust in Allah totally and I know that he will give victory to his religion. And he will give victory to those who believe and he will destroy those who wish to oppress the people because they believe in Allah.

So you can judge and I leave you to judge. And I don't mind. This is all I have to say. And I bear witness to Mohammed this is Allah's message.

Before I go any further, let me make it explicitly clear that I am not about to argue that he was right about these accusations.

I'm only pointing out that they were an important part of this exchange, and that the author of the email decided to reduce them to this:

After admitting his guilt to the court for the record, Reid also admitted his 'allegiance to Osama bin Laden, to Islam, and to the religion of Allah,' defiantly stating, 'I think I will not apologize for my actions,' and told the court 'I am at war with your country.'

That is, the author of the email took a statement which said:

  1. That the bomber admitted his allegiance to Osama bin Laden,
  2. That he admitted his allegiance to Islam and Allah,
  3. That, in direct answer to the charge that he attempted to kill innocent people,"
    1. He claimed the U.S. has killed two million children in Iraq,
    2. He claimed the U.S. has encouraged the rape and torture of Muslims throughout the Mideast,
    3. He claimed he is at war with us because we have murdered children and oppressed his religion for no reason except that they worship Allah,
    4. He claimed that the reason for American support of Egypt, Turkey, and Israel is that we are anti-Muslim,
  4. And that, for those reasons, he would not apologize for his actions...

And the author of the email reduced that statement to a different statement which merely said:

  1. The shoe bomber admitted his allegiance to Osama bin Laden,
  2. He admitted his allegiance to Islam and Allah,
  3. He wouldn't apologize, and
  4. He was at war with our country.


Why would a conservative email propagandist want to leave out most of the points in the shoe bomber's statement, and emphasize those few points especially?

When I asked that question the whole thing became clear.

Next time: All is revealed...

The Mystery is Solved

THIS IS THE FINAL post about the strange propaganda email I received about the shoe bomber.

Spoiler alert: this post reveals all, so if you don't want to read the end first, you have some options:

  1. If you want to read the original email, go here.
  2. If you want to see the liberal message which formed the bulk of this right-wing propaganda piece, go here.
  3. If you want to see the subtle changes and omissions the author of the email made to the story, go here.
  4. But if you want to simply start at the end, or if you have already read those other posts, read on...

Last time, I ended by asking why a conservative email propagandist would want to hide the shoe bomber's own confessions about why he did it, and instead provide a quite different picture of his motives.

The answer to that question explains everything.

The purpose of this email was not to push the liberal agenda about our courts being capable of handling terrorists, and it wasn't at all about the media trying to bury a story.

Those were smoke screens.

The real purpose of this email was to drive home just two misleading ideas:

  1. The idea that Islam and Terrorism are synonymous—that loyalty to Islam = loyalty to bin Laden = hatred of America = terrorism.
  2. The idea that the only reasons for terrorist acts is that "they" are Islamic, and hate us for our freedom.

That last bit, the bit about hating us for our freedom, is the only part of the Judge's comments which wasn't essentially liberal, and it just happens to be the very point which the omitted part of the bomber's statement contradicts.

I'm not arguing, by the way, that the shoe bomber was correct in his observations—only that it seems pretty clear that he believed them.

I'm not even arguing that bin Laden believes them.

But if we are going to put an end to terrorism, wouldn't it be smart to try to understand the motivations of the people, like the shoe bomber, who actually carry it out?

Well, he has told us his reasons, and they weren't that he hates our freedom.

They had to do with the deaths of children, the rape and torture of Muslims, and with the belief that we, Americans, hate Muslims just because they're Muslims.

I can hear some of you saying, "But none of that is true."

It doesn't matter whether it's true. His attack was not based on whether it was true—it was based his beliefs.

It does matter that he believed it.

That doesn't, of course, excuse his act. I'm not saying we should set him free to try again.

But listen to his words.

He said he "admitted" his allegiance to Islam.

You don't "admit" to something unless you are talking to someone who thinks it's wrong.

He assumed that the American court viewed his religion as a crime.

There are two ways we can respond to this information:

  1. We can use it.

    We can understand that the "they" in the question "Why do they hate us?" is not the entire Islamic world.

    Rather, it's a relative handful of extremists.

    These extremists have been propagandized into believing
    1. that Americans hate Islam, and
    2. that, solely on the basis of that hatred toward their religion we are
      1. encouraging the rape and torture of Muslims,
      2. encouraging the deaths of Muslim children, and
      3. crafting an entire foreign policy to do Islam in.

        We can understand this, and then we can set about finding ways to undermine that propaganda, and stop the organizations that are taking advantage of it.

  2. We can bury the information, substitute the idea that Muslims in general hate Americans, and come to believe that they are all evil terrorists.

    If we take the second path, we will, of course, come to hate Islam, begin structuring our foreign policy to eliminate it, and prove that the shoe bomber is right.

    Which will encourage more shoe bombers.

That seems to be exactly what the author of this email is after.

Strange, since that is also what bin Laden seems to be after.

The entire purpose is to subtly forward the idea that Islam is evil and scary and to make the reader more prejudiced against Muslims.

It's a masterpiece of conflation and misdirection—getting the reader to confuse a small terrorist organization with a traditional world religion while appearing to be about how the news media tried to bury a liberal statement by a Reagan appointee.

It's the second example of the anti-Islamic theme—the attempt to foster religious hatred and conflict—that I have run across in the last month in these right-wing emails.

It's a new pattern in the propaganda.

It's not a pretty pattern.

At least, that's what I think today.