Editorial by Edward L. Stanton III on Sept. 11, 2011
The Commercial Appeal
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working as an assistant city attorney in Memphis. I watched the terrible events of that day from my office in City Hall. Ten years later, I work in the federal building next door, where I serve as the chief federal law enforcement officer for the Western District of Tennessee. As we remember what happened in New York City, Pennsylvania and the Pentagon a decade ago, I would like to describe what the Justice Department is doing to protect our citizens from international and domestic terrorism.
After 9/11, the priorities of our office and law enforcement partners like the FBI shifted dramatically. We have realigned our resources, and there are now many more agents, prosecutors and analysts assigned to counterterrorism matters. We have made great strides in strengthening our ability to combat terrorism with the tools of the criminal justice system.
For example, each U.S. attorney across the country has established an Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council. The councils serve as pivot points for information sharing and support of all levels of law enforcement in their efforts to protect the homeland.
As part of this initiative, a Joint Terrorism Task Force in Memphis manages communication and cooperation among federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The task force, established in 2002, remains a crucial piece of our efforts to protect the innocent and keep citizens safe. The agents on the task force follow up on all terrorism leads, develop and investigate cases, address reports of suspicious activity and proactively identify threats that may impact the Western District of Tennessee and the nation.
As U.S. attorney, my office is responsible for prosecuting cases that stem from such investigations and leads. We take that responsibility very seriously. Since 9/11, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the Department of Justice has used the federal court system to convict and incarcerate hundreds of terrorists for offenses that occurred both in the United States and overseas, including plots targeting both civilian and military targets. When our office can use the justice system to go after those who violate our counterterrorism laws, we will do so.
The citizens of West Tennessee may sometimes feel removed from the dangers of terrorism, but unfortunately, vigilance is warranted here just as much as anywhere else in the country.
We have seen that the threat of terrorism can take on many forms -- and can originate from within our borders. In 2006, our office prosecuted white supremacist Demetrius Crocker of McKenzie, Tenn. A former member of the National Socialist Movement, Crocker made no secret that he hated the government. He devised a plan to build a "dirty bomb" to blow up a state or federal courthouse. An alert and concerned citizen took him seriously enough to contact state authorities, who called the FBI. Crocker was later convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
The Crocker prosecution stands as an example of how tips from the public and interagency cooperation can help protect the United States from terrorism. And it also shows the threat posed by domestic terrorism.
Another tragic example occurred last year, when domestic terrorists -- an Ohio father who was a member of the sovereign citizen movement and his 16-year-old son -- senselessly shot to death two West Memphis police officers and wounded the Crittenden County, Ark., sheriff and one of his deputies. One of the slain officers was the son of Bob Paudert, who at the time was police chief in West Memphis. Paudert recently retired and is dedicating his time to traveling the country to educate others about the real and imminent threat posed by such individuals.
I stand with Paudert in reminding our citizens to stay vigilant. The emerging threat of radicalized U.S. citizens and residents highlights how important this can be. In conducting national security cases, the Justice Department relies on the support, cooperation and trust of the communities we serve and protect.
Members of the community are valuable partners in a shared effort to combat terrorist threats. This office has engaged in outreach efforts with many different communities, including the Muslim and Arab American communities, to improve our ability to perform our duties in a manner consistent with civil liberties, diversity and commitment to religious freedom.
At the end of the day, it is a joint effort, and one that will continue. The Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's Office in this district have no higher priority than fighting terrorism and keeping the people of this area safe. We are fortunate, both in the Western District of Tennessee and as a nation, not to have experienced any further large-scale terrorist attacks like the ones that shook our country 10 years ago.
Be assured that our office and our law enforcement partners will remain vigilant and continue to use every tool and resource we can to prevent such an unspeakable event from happening again.
Edward L. Stanton III is U.S. attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.