When Americans think of terrorists, they typically get a mental image of men from the Middle East and Southwest Asia in ethic dress, often carrying AK-pattern rifles or suicide vests in front of the black flag of Islam.
If you asked Americans to think of domestic terrorists, they generally think of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
But the most successful terrorists in history were neither Arab nor white, and they operated with impunity around our nation’s capitol, terrorizing millions, over a period of three weeks in October, 2002.
They became known as the Beltway Snipers.
Their weapons and tactics were very basic, used in Northern Ireland beforehand and in Iraq and Chechnya and countless other places afterward. The fired from the trunk of a car that had been made over into a sniper’s hide, firing from a hole cut out near the license plate. The weapon they used was a simple Bushmaster carbine stolen from a gun shop, with a close-range EOTech holographic sight. The shots themselves were relatively close, fired from between 50 and 100 yards.
Other terrorist have killed more people. Other terrorists have committed more individually memorable crimes. None terrorized an entire region for as long as John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo did, altering the daily activities of millions for 23 days with the expenditure of less than a magazine’s worth of ammunition.
It remains among the most disturbing of all terror attacks committed against the United States for it’s simplicity, and the seeming inability of authorities to correctly identify, isolate or capture those involved.
It was a low mark of journalistic sensationalism, with saturation coverage of the attacks driving public panic ever higher.
It was a bad time to drive a white panel work van, as hundreds of blue-collar guys found out as they were dragged out of their vehicles at gunpoint by police chasing false leads.
It was a bad time for FBI profilers, who completely missed the mark with their profile of a white male with military training.
It all came to an end ten years ago today with the arrest of the pair as they slept in a car at a rest station of I-70 near Myersville, Maryland. Muhammad was eventually executed. Malvo, a minor at the time, was sentenced to six life terms.