What Was The FBI To Do About Florida?

What Was The FBI Supposed To Do?

One thing you can say about the Trumpian Rightists—no matter how horrible a situation is, they can figure out a way to distort it for propaganda. Take for example the recent mass killing in Florida that left seventeen young people dead. In a matter of hours, Trump and his enablers had recast the story into a tale of the FBI’s incompetence. If only, they said, the bureau had acted on the information it had about the shooter, and not been so busy investigating Trump, then all those kids would be alive today.

Which is, of course, purest garbage.

Admittedly, maybe the FBI should have acted more forcefully and sooner when it received information that Nikolas Cruz might be dangerously insane. And, indeed, it did get info to that effect. Someone “close to Cruz” apparently called the FBI’s tip line and reported him as a possible danger. That the FBI never followed up on that tip is a serious indictment of the local, Florida-based office of the Bureau.

That said, there is an interesting question, here; to wit, what exactly was the FBI supposed to do about Cruz? The Right seems to be saying that the bureau should have arrested him before he went to school that day.

Ah, but there’s the rub. Before that terrible morning, he had not committed any crime. And the hard fact is, in this country you have to be guilty of something…or, at least, suspected of it…before you can be put in jail.

Now, understand, this is in no way to excuse the FBI in this case. It should have had a much closer eye on Cruz and perhaps figured out some way of bringing him to the attention of mental health specialists. But, even so, the FBI could not have taken the kind of stern measures that the Right has demanded of it in retrospect. That is, it could not have arrested Cruz for crimes that he had not yet committed.

Indeed, for sake of supposition, suppose that the FBI had, by some magic, known what Cruz was going to do. And suppose it then arrested him. Can you imagine the protests that the same Right (which now rebukes the FBI) would have made? Arrest a good, law-abiding, God-fearing boy just on suspicion? Just because he owned a few guns? Just because he was exercising his Constitutional right to have an AR-15? Clearly it was not to be borne! First step toward tyranny…etc., etc., etc.

There is an issue here, but it is in the fact that we don’t have a functioning mental health public service that might have detected Cruz before hand and might have intervened in some fashion. We may also legitimately blame the Florida office of the FBI for not following up on what was a vital tip.

And, maybe most of all, we may blame that local office of the Bureau (and maybe society as a whole) for not taking teenagers seriously. You have the feeling that the officers on duty didn’t follow up on the tip because they felt it wasn’t serious…after all, you know kids, just a prank call, not really important. Except, tragically, it was important, and we need to change the way we deal with such situations. Just as we should “believe the women,” in sexual harassment cases, we need to believe young people when they say they have evidence of imminent violence.

But those are social problems that go far beyond the FBI’s official writ. By itself, the Bureau cannot make the changes in the larger culture which are so clearly required.

And as for arresting Cruz…

Under current law, impossible.

And for the Right to suggest otherwise is, in the end, either incredibly naïve or unforgivably hypocritical.

Which is it? Well, let’s just say it is hard to envision today’s Trumpian conservatives being naïve, or innocent, about anything.

The Little Professor