Back in 2019, I wrote about a comedy film that had just been released that I wanted to see. Unfortunately, because of the Balkanization of offerings that streaming has created, a problem that I wrote about recently, I could not because it was being streamed on Hulu for which I had no subscription. But my daughter visited me recently (we are both vaccinated) and she subscribes to that service so we watched it.
It is a funny comedy but its underlying premise is anything but funny. The film begins by saying it is based on a hundred true stories and by now we are familiar with many of them. It involves the FBI finding some hapless group of poor people and using informants to lure them to undertake some crackpot scheme that has no chance of success, with informants providing the ‘terrorists’ with money and weapons and even planning things out for them and helping them execute the plan, because these people are simply incapable of carrying out anything complex on their own. Then just at the last moment, the authorities swoop in and arrest them in a blaze of self-serving publicity. As a result, the FBI and other agencies get showered with money that they use to build their own empires. But the victims are sent to prison for long sentences.
In a review of the film in The Intercept, Trevor Aronson discusses similar real-life cases.
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the FBI has used aggressive sting operations to catch would-be terrorists, providing all the weapons needed for supposed attacks and often a good amount of “dial the number, brother” prodding. To date, more than 300 defendants have been prosecuted following FBI terrorism stings.
These stings are often preposterous when examined closely. Derrick Shareef was arrested after buying grenades from an undercover agent; since Shareef didn’t have any money and was living with the government’s informant, the FBI set it up so that the undercover agent, posing as an arms dealer, would accept ratty old stereo speakers as payment. Emanuel L. Lutchman, a mentally ill and broke homeless man, planned to attack a New Year’s Eve celebration with a machete — a weapon he was able to buy only because the FBI gave him $40. The absurdities go on and on and on. Human Rights Watch criticized these types of FBI stings in a 2014 report for having “created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by conducting sting operations that facilitated or invented the target’s willingness to act.”
This film starts with a botched entrapment by the Miami FBI when the target Malik balks at the last minute, because unknown to them, he has a phobia about the number 5 and thinks of it as evil because they look like snakes. He even has misgivings about the number 2 because he sees that as a 5 in disguise. He thus refuses to punch in those numbers in the code on the cell phone that the informant has given him that will supposedly trigger the (fake) bomb because it contains several such digits. Since the code has a majority of those digits, the informant has to press a majority of the digits, which would make the informant the main perpetrator of the ‘bombing’.
Looking around for a new target, the FBI zeroes in on Moses Shabbazz, who has a Messianic complex and wants to overthrow white oppression even though his ‘army’ consists of just him, his wife and small daughter, and three other men. And a horse that he thinks maybe is the vehicle by which his god communicates to him. He also drives an old school bus. Moses is so clueless, he confuses the IS with the IRS. But the FBI does not care. In fact, his very cluelessness makes him an attractive target for entrapment since it makes him so gullible.
As Aronson says:
Islamist terrorism isn’t a new target of satire for [Director Chris] Morris. His first movie, “Four Lions,” followed a group of inept British jihadis. His other credits include creating and producing British television shows and directing episodes of the HBO series “Veep.” For “The Day Shall Come,” Morris spent years researching FBI stings and talking to terrorism defendants, federal prosecutors, and FBI agents.
After setting up the five-fearing Malik, [FBI informant] Nura pretends to be an operative for both the Islamic State group and Al Qaeda. He tells Moses [the targeted victim of the FBI plan in this film] that the two terrorist groups are the same, and Moses doesn’t know any better. Moses is desperate for money because he’s facing eviction from his house, which doubles as a church in which he and his followers end prayers by praising “Allah, Melchizedek, Jesus, black Santa, Mohammed, and General Toussaint.”
That’s the joke underpinning “The Day Shall Come”: Far from being enemies, the FBI has benefited from its biggest bogeymen, developing a symbiotic relationship with Islamist extremists while pursuing hundreds of targets who never posed much of a threat at all.
As I said, this film is funny but at the same time is disturbing because what it depicts happens in real life stripped of the comedy.
Here’s the trailer.