June 09, 2003

When Men Go Wrong

Normally, Mondays are rather uneventul days for me, littered with mundane errands and idle conversation. I head to work so that I may earn my daily bread; I go to the grocery or get a haircut; I do some laundry at home. In short, they are the ordinary days of an ordinary man.

When I arrived home this evening, I went to check my e-mail, as I ordinarily do. And among the messages was something so unordinary, so chilling, and so disturbing that it sent a shiver down my spine. For at the bottom of this note from a dear friend was a message that, in part, read: "If memory serves, you know this guy. He brought you a twoonie, right?"

"This guy" whom my friend was referring to was a fellow by the name of John Noster Jr., 38, of West Hills, Calif.

As I learned today, the Federal Government suspects Noster was allegedly plotting to carry out terror attacks on as-yet unknown targets, as the Daily News of Los Angeles reported last week.

The Daily News writes:

(Noster), who was sentenced to 16 months in prison in January for vehicle theft, now is under investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which described him as "an anti-government extremist."

Authorities said they seized weapons from a stolen pickup truck and storage units in Lancaster and Culver City that included two incendiary devices, three pipe bombs, six 55-gallon drums of highly explosive jet fuel, five assault rifles, thousands of rounds of military ammunition, smokeless powder, cannon fuse and electric matches, and $188,000 in cash.

"He had put together everything that was needed to cause severe destruction to some type of building or location," sheriff's Sgt. John DeMooy said during a news conference at Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department headquarters in Monterey Park. "I think he was very close."

Now, I did not know Noster very well at all, but I did know him vaguely. Chris Weinkopf, my best friend in California who sent me the note -- and who also happens to write for the Daily News -- knew him better than I did. You should know that Chris has written a sad article on the matter for that newspaper in which he describes how he knew Noster, his one-time buddy and, at times, friend. As we bloggers say, you really ought to read the whole thing.

And I can confirm Chris' belief that Noster did in fact bring me a $2 Canadian coin once -- it was back during one of my occasional Canada kicks, remember?

But after doing a lot of thinking, that is all I really remember of him. The recollection I have of Noster is largely that which Chris had. He was a nice, quiet guy, and perfectly mild-mannered. I wish I could remember what Noster and I spoke about on those few occasions when I ran into him, but I have to think it was just small talk and sports. Certainly it was nothing that would give me any hint that he would plan something like this -- if he did in fact do so.

But if he did ... dear God! What if the authorities hadn't caught on?

Chris expresses it best when he writes, "If John planned such horrific attacks, then the victims he could have harmed, the lives he could have claimed, the families he could have devastated are all real."

It is a chilling thought, and one which may sum up an awful reality.

Long-time readers of The Rant know -- incredible as it may seem -- that this isn't the first time I've run into someone accused of plotting a terror attack. I once wrote of my chance encounter with the late Irv Rubin, the then-chairman of the Jewish Defense League, at the Long Beach Convention Center:

If I remember rightly, he asked who I worked for, and I told him. He was of short-to-average height, and a bit heavy set--not as much so as the photo Yahoo is showing right now--and he was with one of his sons. He came off as strident, not militantly strident, but quietly so. After I told him who I was, and who I worked for, he seemed pleased at that, and handed me one of his cards.

I so wish I could find that card now, it would validate this story. Alas, I was never good at organizing. But what I can't get over is that I have such a clear memory of that card, a cream-coloured base with blue lettering and the Star of David, with Rubin's name on it, and the legend, "Never again. Never forget."

About a year or so later, I found Rubin's card along with some things which I had brought with me from California. As it turned out, my memory was mostly accurate, but not perfect. I had the legend wrong -- it merely said, "Never Again" -- but it did have the cream-colored background and the Star of David. The star was filled in, and extending into its centre was an upraised, clenched fist.

Rubin is dead now, so I will never learn why he was allegedly plotting to do the things the Government accused him of planning, or the defense which he would have offered at trial. That said, I do not expect the fate which befell Rubin to befall Noster, and if he is tried on terror charges, then perhaps in his case I will learn such things.

But if they did plot to do what the authorities accuse them of planning ... then let me just say I will never be able to understand what goes through the minds of some men. Nor will I ever understand how their morality becomes so corrupted they can justify barbaric acts against their nation and its people.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 9, 2003 09:08 PM | TrackBack