A Mutiny or a Terrorist Attack?

September 19, 2013
Dmitry Drobnitsky. Photo from personal archive

On Monday, September 16th, there was a shooting at the Naval Yard in Washington, D.C., which left 13 people dead. While initial reporting of the incident was notoriously, or perhaps even hilariously, full of false information, by the following day, many of the misinformation had been cleared up.

This, among other things, makes the following translation noteworthy. This article appeared on the 17th in Izvestia, a pro-Kremlin outlet, but also one of the largest newspapers in Russia. It suggests that what happened on Monday may have been a military coup. It also makes some laughably-fictitious statements about gun laws in America (like how guards, armed with tasers, collect firearms from patrons who enter movie theaters). It also continues to state that there were three shooters when it was clear there was only one. It makes some strange statements about how well guarded the facility was by marines, when it was a D.C. police officer, not a soldier, who first exchanged gunfire with Alexis. These are just a few of the inaccuracies.

As is often the case in Russian media outlets with the closest ties to the government, it is clear that accuracy was not the focus of the piece. Instead, the entire article seems to move towards the conclusion – the fallout from the shooting at the Naval Yard couple threaten to topple President Obama. In other words, the inaccuracies appear to have been designed to further discredit the American President – Ed.

Dmitry Drobnitsky, an author, about whether or not you can call the Washington shooting a classic shooting incident.


Although the U.S. President Barack Obama, and together with him some media, rushed to declare the Washington massacre another incident on par with shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and elsewhere, in reality the picture is not so clear.

First, the location: The capital of the United States, the District of Columbia. Here, civilians are not issued any licenses to carry a weapon and licenses issued in any of the 50 states are not valid. You can only register a weapon to keep it in your house. This is a federal territory, literally packed with law enforcement officers.

Second: the target of the attack. In other cities the shooters targeted movie theaters, shopping centers and schools, those are places where there are only defenseless people. In those places carrying a weapon is prohibited, and even an off duty police officer has to hand over weapons, and guards are armed with tasers at best. Children in school, families in a movie theater – all these are easy targets and victims by definition.

In Washington, the target of the attack was a Navy facility, the Navy Yard (literally, a naval dock). This is one of the strategic facilities of the Navy located less than a mile (!) from the Capitol. Of course, in this Navy Yard there is also a museum (in Washington, DC, museums are all over the place), and the place is used for ceremonial events, but the vast majority of buildings in the complex are secured facilities. The complex houses the military legal service, the Marine Corps Academy, and one of the Naval command centers.

According to the U.S. media, the shooting started in the building № 197, where they mostly perform military research and technical tasks. Of course, the facility is top secret with a high level of security. As confirmed by the city authorities, the building is secured by “a law enforcement outfit of the Navy.” It should be easy to guess that these are not some doormen, hired from among the civilians. These are the U.S. Marines.

In the building there are both military and civilian personnel, but to get inside and start shooting at people, you had to go through seasoned and tough security guards. Actually, what happened at 8:30 am, Eastern time, and started a day of nightmare in the U.S. capital was a shootout at the building entrance. But the security guards were overcome by the assailant (or assailants ). After 5-7 minutes more shots were fired on the third, and then on the fourth floor.

According to an unofficial story, based on “anonymous sources” and on eyewitnesses reports, there were three suspects. All of them well-built, quite strong and experienced, aged 35 to 50. All of them, based on the law enforcement operational briefings, were dressed in military uniforms. One of them was shot dead when the building was stormed by a SWAT team and immediately identified by fingerprints. As was reported, he was identified as Aaron Alexis, “a reservist, recently discharged.”

One of the men described by law enforcement agencies was soon taken off the list of the suspects. SWAT teams continue to sweep the entire complex, many Washington streets are closed, classes in schools canceled, the Ronald Reagan airport operations suspended, and the number of confirmed dead has reached 12.

Finally, a few words about the weapon that was allegedly used in the shooting. According to the initial eyewitnesses’ reports – and some of those were professionals – the FBI concluded that the suspect used a Colt AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine (Obama tried to ban selling those to civilians). However, the brand of the weapon, legal and available for purchase by civilians in many states, should not be misleading. The problem is that even at an average distance it’s almost impossible to tell the most common version of the AR-15 from its military “sister”, M-16, which is the weapon of choice of the U.S. armed forces. Moreover, a sound-imitating description of one of the eyewitnesses of the crime clearly speaks in favor of an automatic firing with a three-shot cut-off, which indicates that it was a combat weapon, not easily accessible by civilians.

In short, we are clearly not dealing with a “usual” shooting by a sick young man somewhere in the godforsaken wilderness. It was a very calculated attack carried out by trained individuals (perhaps later it will turn out that the “Rambo” was acting alone).

The President’s desire to once again write everything off as irresponsible attitude of civilians towards weapons is well understood. Hence the words about “another shooting”. But here the situation is quite different. You can certainly assume that a certain Marine was unfairly (or, conversely, deservedly) discharged, and he came to one of the headquarters of his former employer to settle scores. But one thing is to come up with a rifle in a vulnerable office, but a secured military facility is something totally different. The element of surprise? Sort of. But this does not negate the fact of a U.S. serviceman’s (albeit former) attack on his command, an attack that would be called brave and professional, if it was launched on an enemy facility. A military mutiny in Washington –that’s all Obama needs now!

An alternative theory is even worse. A terrorist attack. The Mayor of Washington said that for now there are no reasons to believe that what happened was an act of terrorism. Meanwhile, technically this is exactly what it is – terrorism. What else can you call an attack on a strategically important facility resulting in multiple casualties? And an act of terrorism does not necessarily have to have any external and/or religious background (the FBI has a separate unit to combat the so-called domestic terrorism). After the tragedy at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and explosions in Boston, against the NSA surveillance scandal, today’s shooting at the Navy headquarters may completely undermine confidence in the present administration in the White House.

In this regard Obama’s comment on this is quite curious. He called the shooting at the Navy Yard “a cowardly act.” Just like George W. Bush once called the September 11 terrorist attack…