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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Friday 4th November 2011

Sometimes, Google Alerts are as useful for what they don’t tell you as what they do. My alerts are all daily and that means that Google sends me an email listing all the web pages added to its index in the previous 24 hours containing the keyword(s) concerned.

No email means no new pages indexed and that can be very helpful in determining what topics aren’t ‘hot’ at the moment. Usually, alerts have just one or two links though up to ten is not completely unusual. Yesterday, one of my alerts contained 45 links to new pages mentioning the keyword. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear that the keyword is ‘ricin’.

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

Ricin appears so often in news stories that I could simply list the previous blog entries about it and fill this page. Rather than do that, however, I’ll just suggest you visit the Ricinus communis, castor oil plant, page of this site where the blog entries are listed with a brief description of each.

And what sparked this flurry of interest in ricin? Another nonsense ‘ricin plot’, of course. According to the Washington Post ‘Federal agents arrested four suspected members of a Georgia militia on charges of plotting attacks with toxins and explosives in Atlanta and against unnamed government officials’. Incidentally, that’s not all the Washington Post had to say on the subject. Like much of the media, Post journalists have cranked out thousands of words of what these arrests mean but that quote, the explanatory text for a video report on the arrests, says enough.

I could provide links to all the stories written about these arrests so you could entertain yourselves for hours reading fiction but I’ll just turn to the ever excellent George Smith, aka Dick Destiny, whose term ‘Old Weird America’ is the perfect summary of what this is all about.  

And, just so there’s no misunderstanding, what follows is not in any way a factual summary of what’s been reported. I’ve cherry-picked a number of elements but I really cannot be bothered to try and track back to whether what is being reported about these men and the FBI’s investigation has any basis in fact.

As always with ‘ricin plots’ parts of the story make you laugh out loud and other parts provoke extreme anger at the media for continuing to be the agents of terrorism by spreading lies about ricin.

It is a long-running joke, bordering on cliché, that local papers like to localise events. Take some disaster on the other side of the world and you’ll be able to find a headline in the Hickton News saying ‘Hickton man was in disaster zone last year’. And so, amongst those 45 links that hit my inbox today is at least one making play of the local connection between the arrested men and the area covered by the particular publication. The message is ‘Don’t just be frightened because this is happening in America – be very frightened because it could be happening here’.

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

Ricinus communis, castor oil plant

But rather than focus on the parts that made me angry, I’ll give a couple of the things in the story that are completely risible. The men are said to have planned to throw ricin out of the window of a moving car.

One report suggests that they planned to fly a plane over Washington DC and drop ricin from there. I haven’t seen any indication that any of them could fly a plane but the image of four old men in a 1930s crop duster taking on the might of the American air force in order to drop a harmless white powder over the White House has been cheering me up for the past 24 hours.

Then there are the actions and pronouncements of the US authorities. It’s been said that one reason for concern was that one of the men was growing Ricinus communis in his front garden. Now I know ‘Hide in plain sight’ is a key maxim for spooks all round the world but, if you were hoping to produce pure ricin to attack people, would you really grow it on your own property, apparently in full view of anyone driving passed?

I’ve said before that I’m very glad that I don’t pay US taxes (though I’m not naïve enough to think that the UK government doesn’t misspend my money) because of the sums of money spent chasing imaginary threats. This incident is another example.

It appears these men were arrested following an FBI sting operation. Clearly, these frustrated, demented old men had come to the attention of the authorities by being too stupid to keep their extremist opinions to themselves and the FBI decided it was worth the time and money to accumulate evidence that might stand up in court.

But, my amusement at the inanities of the story is tempered by the realisation that the USA’s treatment of those with extreme political opinions has much in common with what we’ve all been brought up to believe about the worst days of the USSR. Simply expressing a dissenting view is enough to see the full strength of the state brought to bear against you.

Evidence that you are truly an enemy of the nation is, effectively, fabricated. (What elderly man looking back on a life of disappointment and failure would not readily fall into the arms of someone who seemed to value his opinions?) And, the facts about the intended weapons are distorted to suit the case.

Ricin is portrayed as easy to produce in order to demonstrate that these men were capable of carrying out the alleged attacks but it is also said to require great determination to obtain it in order to counter the perception that what we have are four aging men seeking like some re-invention of Monty Python’s four Yorkshiremen to outdo each other with plans for re-arranging the world order to suit their thoroughly unpleasant racist views.


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