Posted by: Harold Knight | 11/10/2009

Charlie Starkweather, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, Bruce Hoffman, and YOU



Bruce Hoffman is a professor at Georgetown University and author of Inside Terrorism. At age twenty-one, Charlie Starkweather went on a killing spree in 1957-1958 in Nebraska and Wyoming. He killed eleven people before he was captured in the town where I was born, Douglas, Wyoming. He was transported to Lincoln, Nebraska, for trial after spending a night in the county jail in Scottsbluff County, Nebraska. The picture of him coming out of “our” jail was the single topic of conversation among the school kids of Scottsbluff for days. No one doubted that Charlie Starkweather had killed eleven people; the only question was whether not his fifteen-year-old girlfriend, Caril Ann Fugate was an accomplice or a kidnap victim. Charlie died in the electric chair in at the Nebraska Penitentiary on June 25, 1959. Caril Ann was sentenced to life in prison, but was released on parole in 1978. Her whereabouts is unknown.

Bruce Hoffman is a tenured Full Professor at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University. He previously held the Corporate Chair in Counterterrorism and Counterinsurgency at the RAND Corporation and was also Director of RAND’s Washington, D.C. Office. From 2001 to 2004, he served as RAND’s Vice President for External Affairs and in 2004 he also was Acting Director of RAND’s Center for Middle East Public Policy. Charlie Starkweather dropped out of Lincoln [Nebraska] High School and had a birth defect that misshaped his legs.

. . . .In May 1948, the RAND Corporation was established to protect and promote  American security interests during the nuclear age. RAND shepherded in a new generation of think tanks: policy research institutions mostly financed by government whose research was aimed at addressing specific concerns of policy makers. . . At the time, military leadership felt that the military was overburdened with immediate issues and could not devote sufficient time to analysing the massive amounts of data received on a daily basis. In addition, they sought to have a group of experts assembled to advise them that would not be likely to be influenced by partisan interests. While RAND’s funding stream is largely limited to government agencies, they still pride themselves in doing objective research. . . .RAND is largely dependent on one source for its funding [$240,000,000 in government funds in 2006] and thus not truly independent financially. As a result, there are constraints on its research agenda. However, to the military, they are seen as an independent organisation . . . .At RAND, these teams were given access to large amounts of government information and provided with a secure environment. They were asked to come up with solutions and predictions about future war scenarios . . . .” ** Charles_Starkweather_(preso)_(014)

Bruce Hoffman’s world

. . . . .Without meaningful historical, socioeconomic, or even geographical context for Islam—apart from a fetishistic focus on Islamic precepts, whether jihad or caliphate or hiraba—analysts were poorly equipped to discern any story other than the one they had already been handed, which cast terrorism as an outgrowth of extremist theology . . . Perhaps the most potent symbol was the new language of “homeland security” itself, which perpetuated the motif of an “us-against-them” battle through its subtly nativist connotations and its constant reminder that nefarious plans are afoot. . . Although the federal-level department [of Homeland Security] coordinates preparedness for and responses to natural as well as political disasters, its primary mandate. . . . is to prevent terrorism, reduce the country’s vulnerability to terrorism, and to help in the recovery from terrorist attack. . . .There is now a Homeland Security Institute as well as related journals, degree programs, and conferences, all of which continue to develop approaches and procedures rooted in the idea of a United States in a perpetually defensive mode against a hostile world.
 . . . . If the exact scope or object of the war remained abstract, the fact of the war was rapidly concretized for audiences across the political, professional, and cultural spectrum. Distinguished academics from the country’s most prestigious universities provided intellectual grounding; Washington think tanks supplied the administration with a perpetual flow of policy assessments that . . . .played the overall role of confirming the larger effort; and the mainstream media either cheered the war or muted its criticism in the face of caustic charges from senior administration officials . . . .that the press was unpatriotic. Nevertheless, Americans are surrounded by a media that consistently narrates . . . .[events] as elements in the global war on terror story, as well as by symbols and practices that suggest a country at risk. The last eight years have provided ample evidence that a fearful citizenry will not only permit but also support violations of its own best ideals. . . .The global war on terror has been a boon for publishing. Of the scores of books written from the sidelines by proselytizers, pundits, and professors, and from the front by reporters and the military, a few stand out as lending intellectual gravitas and moral weight to the dominant narrative. Princeton University’s Bernard Lewis put an Ivy League stamp of approval on the war as a literal unfolding of the “clash of civilizations. ***

inside-terrorism-bruce-hoffman-paperback-cover-artHow I long for the good old days when law enforcement and government officials and Think Tanks understood that mass murderers simply exist in the world. In those days, not everything was connected to terrorism (even though we had nuclear missiles in our back yard–literally; see my post of 10/13/2009). Pictures of Charlie Starkweather emerging from our town’s jail were scary just because they were scary. Someone like Bruce Hoffman, speaking from his “independent organisation. . . . [that has] access to large amounts of government information and provided with a secure environment” might have given the press a statement about –about what? Who knows? But it would not have ended with, “I don’t see a nervous breakdown as being mutually exclusive of terrorism.” Because back in 1958, there were no Think-Tankers and no pliant news media begging to be told what to tell the rest of us what to think and feel.

. . . .In determining the true nature of the crime, the US must consider Al Qaeda’s “organized endeavor to radicalize individuals” and the extent to which Hasan had a political motive, says Bruce Hoffman, a professor at Georgetown University and author of “Inside Terrorism.” . . . .Terrorism is “violence designed to register some protest and/or to change the outcome of some political issue,” says Professor Hoffman. “Certainly this type of leaderless terrorism is not an organic phenomenon. Terrorist organizations are actively encouraging people – through the Internet and other means – to engage in violence of their own.”. . . .Extremism expert Brian Levin at California State University. . . . points to “the tangled interplay that personal disappointments, traumatic events, and ideology can have” on an individual. . . .Hoffman, however, notes that a person’s psychological state does not necessarily dismiss terrorism as a motive in the attack. “There is very much this gray area, but at the same time, the decision will be determined with psychological evaluations and then with how Major Husan is charged,” he says. “I don’t see a nervous breakdown as being mutually exclusive of terrorism.”****

Of course not! Nothing, in Bruce Hoffman’s world, is exclusive of terrorism.

** Ahmad, Mahmood. “US Think Tanks and the Politics of Expertise: Role, Value and Impact.” Political Quarterly 79.4 (Oct2008): 529-555.
*** Zalman, Amy and Jonathan Clarke. “The Global War on Terror: A Narrative in Need of a Rewrite.” (Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs.) Ethics & International Affairs 23.2 (2009):101-113.
**** Jonsson, Patrik, Staff writer and Tracey D. Samuelson, Contributor. Christian Science Monitor from the November 9, 2009 online edition.


  1. I found it interesting that no one quoted or made the connection the to representative who told her constituents to go to Washington “armed and dangerous” to see the whites of the eyes of the nation’s house of representatives.
    and then the guy in Florida wanting some of the attention…
    We were as afraid of Starkweather (had to lock our doors that night) as we were the “Russians.” I would still be afraid of Starkweather, but I am proud to have friends from Russia today.


  2. A few corrections about Starkweather, he was 19 when he went on his killing spree. He was 20 when he was executed, so he never even lived to be 21. Caril Ann Fugate was 14 at the time and was paroled in June 1976. You did get the date of Charlie’s execution right, June 25th happens to be my birthday! Thank you State of Nebraska. 😦


  3. […] times. The most often read post is November 10, 2009. The web doesn’t have much information about Charlie Starkweather, so my post about him has perhaps climbed up in the list of hits for a Google […]


  4. […] and liquid prescriptions and a computer nearly impossible. They created a publically-funded private industry that makes Fannie Mae and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting look like mom-and-pop industries […]


  5. […] Starkweather, the first real-life mass murderer we had ever heard of was IN OUR […]



%d bloggers like this: