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The Bomb That Didn't Go Off
July 24, 2011 5:53 AM   Subscribe

The Bomb That Didn't Go Off. Since September 11, 2001, we have finely honed our fear of the other. But the truth is, the overwhelming majority of our terrorism has always been homegrown. And it is times like these — times of anger and disaffection — when we turn on ourselves, and kill.

In that sense, what happened in Spokane is the perfect window into our strange and angry time specifically because the bomb didn't explode. Because they found the bomb in time, the event is not laden with horror and sorrow. It denies us the spectacle of Kabuki mourning and vicarious grief. There will not be a president, head bowed at the memorial service, reassuring us that we are a great people and a great nation. There will be no statue at which people can stare and wonder how it could have possibly come to this. In Spokane, there is just the stark reality of the bomb on the bench. There are no soft emotions and convenient befuddlement. There is just the bomb and the bench, and what might have happened.
posted by WalterMitty (38 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Domestic terrorism doesn't make the news, because domestic terrorism doesn't sell drones.
posted by absalom at 6:03 AM on July 24, 2011 [12 favorites]


When Michele Bachmann, a member of Congress, states publicly that she is running for president "to take our country back," she is not talking about clawing back the money and jobs and basic security that were sluiced away into the investment banks. She's focusing those fears and that insecurity on one person and on what she believes he represents. Politicians used to say that they would bring America back, or that they would restore America to its former greatness, or wrap their policies in some such fluffy rhetorical excelsior. Today, though, it is perfectly acceptable to intimate, as Bachmann does, and as those hundreds of people at the congressional town meetings said outright, that America is not here anymore. That someone has stolen it away. America is no longer a political commonwealth of shared ideas that its citizens can restore. It is objectified, something tangible, something that a stranger has broken in and stolen. And if that's the case, why be surprised when someone tries to take "our country back" the way you might confront a midnight prowler in the living room?
posted by Avenger at 6:18 AM on July 24, 2011 [8 favorites]


...because domestic terrorism doesn't sell drones.

Well, not yet, anyway. Police departments across the country are looking at drones for various applications. Primarily surveillance, but I can't imagine they wouldn't look at them for offensive missions, too. US police departments long-ago became heavily militarized.

Domestic terrorism doesn't make the news because it's kneejerk reaction by corporate news to not label local white people as terrorists. Doubly-so, if there is any level of christian or mainstream political party affiliation.

Now, if the "terrorists" are identified in any way with any of the movements that the corporate media have deemed ok to ridicule or denigrate (i.e. environmental groups, labor groups, etc.) then you very well might see them labeled as "domestic terrorists". Certainly the police will.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:24 AM on July 24, 2011 [5 favorites]


Unfortunately, Thorzdadyou are correct? Ever hear of an event called 'The Battle of Blair Mountain'
First time bombs were dropped from airplanes on Americans. They have quite a bit about it on YouTube.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:30 AM on July 24, 2011 [4 favorites]


Pierce: "At the beginning of this year, not long after they'd found the bomb on the bench in Spokane, a journalist named David Neiwert put together a list of nearly thirty acts of right-wing political violence that had taken place, or had been foiled, in the United States since the summer of 2008 — or roughly since Barack Obama's presidency began to be seen as a genuine possibility."

David Niewart's list of "incidents involving terroristic violence directed at "liberals" and the "government"" is here.

And as the NYT noted this morning: "Mr. Romarheim, of the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies, said in some ways the homegrown nature of the attack made it harder for Norwegians to accept. “With 9/11 in America, people could ask, ‘Who are they?’ and could pour their rage out on someone else,” he said. “But we can’t disavow this person, he’s one of us.” "
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:32 AM on July 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


The author cleverly used "fragments" as a metaphor 0_o
posted by sswiller at 6:51 AM on July 24, 2011


How odd to read an article like this about something that happened in my backyard.

The likely race hate motivation for planting the bomb is pretty disgusting overall, but it's merely a symptom of an undercurrent within our society nationwide which has been rearing its ugly head more and more over the past few decades. The creepy race-based new detail about the event which came out this past week was that Harpham photographed black children and Jews during the parade, like some kind of strange documentation of his intended victims.

It's not like Spokane is some kind of real hotbed of racial tension. There aren't even enough blacks or Jews here to really made a dent in the local demographics. I guess it's because of the area's "purity" that the white supremacists came around here a few decades back. And even once the actual organizations were disbanded, a lot of the people involved never went away. Their influence certainly hasn't left.

Overall, I think the article sort of downplays the race hate motivation for the bombing, and even downplays the continual race hate rhetoric, overt and covert, within our culture. It's that kind of Othering and hate which allows anyone to perform acts of terrorism, whether it's exploding bombs next to a parade or flying a plane into a building. Once you've built up the idea that They are completely different and separate from Us, and that They are a threat to Us, that is when you have finally reached the mindset where you can perform horrible acts in the name of Us against Them.

Interesting article. Thanks for posting. It's a new lens through which to view this event which I've been following through local media for months now.
posted by hippybear at 7:10 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Too many people in this world selling hate, and not enough selling love.
posted by caddis at 7:13 AM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


If you haven't seen it, the documentary, "Soldiers in the Army of God," is a chilling and disturbing look at the anti-abortion movement. Truly scary stuff.
posted by ssmug at 7:17 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


When Michele Bachmann, a member of Congress, states publicly that she is running for president "to take our country back," she is not talking about clawing back the money and jobs and basic security that were sluiced away into the investment banks. She's focusing those fears and that insecurity on one person and on what she believes he represents. Politicians used to say that they would bring America back, or that they would restore America to its former greatness, or wrap their policies in some such fluffy rhetorical excelsior.

This sentiment sounds appealing, but Bill Clinton and Ross Perot were talking about "taking our country back" as far back as 1988 and 1992, and neither of them was wrapping his sentiments in "fluffy rhetorical excelsior." And "We're going to take our country back!" was practically the first thing out of Howard Dean's mouth at every campaign rally in 2003. Point is, the mere fact of Michele Bachmann saying that she's going to "take our country back" is not some new rhetorical excess. What's new is that she's talking about taking the country back from the man who occupies the White House, a man whom everyone on her wavelength identifies as the stranger and the other whose presence is a constant outrage. What's new is the other incendiary, triumphalist, often theocratic rhetoric that she includes in her speeches and remarks. What's new is her blithe recitation of fiction as though it were fact. Bachmann's talk about a "three-legged stool" scares me more than her talk about "taking our country back." ("Because a wise man named Solomon once said that a cord of three strands is not easily broken. And any carpenter will tell you that a three-legged stool is strong and stable and it won’t tip over very easily.")
posted by blucevalo at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


We commit them, or we cheer them, or, through our fears and anger, or even through simple civic lassitude, we allow them to happen. We are connected in this whether we want to be or not.

That's the salient point to me. We ARE all connected, it's those that wish to make someone else the Other rather than recognizing that you are like me, that concern me. When did we stop caring about each other?
posted by arcticseal at 7:34 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Southern Poverty Law Center: hate incidents, hate map, hate taxonomy.

Interesting profile of the anti-government sovereign movements, apparently they're all based on a conspiracy theory, "the American government set up by the founding fathers was secretly replaced by a new government system based on admiralty law.."
posted by stbalbach at 7:48 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Just read through a lot of that Southern Poverty Law Center article. Chilling stuff. Many of the people profiled there are so out of touch with reality.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:15 AM on July 24, 2011


When did we stop caring about each other?

At what point in our history can you say most people ever did?
posted by AdamCSnider at 9:19 AM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


The three cleanup workers who found the bomb in the first place were all fired by the company they worked for, ostensibly for touching the bomb when they first found the backpack.

Wait, what? That is eleventy kinds of fucked up.
posted by dersins at 9:31 AM on July 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


These terrorist crimes are a serious matter, thank god we don't have many of them here.
posted by clavdivs at 9:38 AM on July 24, 2011


David Niewart's list of "incidents involving terroristic violence directed at "liberals" and the "government"" is here.

I'd forgotten about Niewert when he started sharing his blog-writing duties with an extremely irritating, sub-par author.

But he's been following this stuff for years. We in the North West corner of North America (where he originates) have been dealing with the threat (or occurrence) of right-wing terrorism against environmentalist targets for decades.
posted by klanawa at 9:44 AM on July 24, 2011


It's not like Spokane is some kind of real hotbed of racial tension.

Spokane itself might not be, but the areas around it, including northern idaho (sandpoint, coeur d'alene) as well as the inland northwest is a big militia, white power, aryan nation stronghold in the US.
posted by TheBones at 9:49 AM on July 24, 2011


Spokane itself might not be, but the areas around it, including northern idaho (sandpoint, coeur d'alene) as well as the inland northwest is a big militia, white power, aryan nation stronghold in the US.

Well, that's how it was 15 years ago. That's really not how it is now. A lot of those people were driven out of the area, especially the CdA area, quite a while back. And it's really not any more active than most other states, nor is it any more active than the west side of the Cascades in the Seattle/Tacoma area.

Remember -- I live here. I'm not commenting on this area from afar. I won't claim universal knowledge, but I at least have contact with "the average joe" around here enough to feel a bit of the pulse of prevailing attitudes around here.
posted by hippybear at 10:08 AM on July 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Right-wing rhetoric builds an image of a social enemy as a scapegoat and a container for social, political and economic problems. The reactionary right is also opposed to the principles of social and legal equality based on universal human rights. They want a caste or class society with legally enforced classes of rights and privileges.

Shaping an objectified other as the enemy enables eliminationist rhetoric. Disturbed individuals will seize on this as permission by society to act out violently. This sort of personal, idiosyncratic political violence is likely at the heart of the recent tragedy in Norway. In the parlance of our times, these are "isolated loners."

Extremist violence, where the violent actor is socialized by a group into carrying out violent crimes, is a different kettle of fish. The use of disturbed individuals as "windup killers" is common. Many of the jihadist suicide bombers fall into this category, as does Benjamin Smith.

The Smith spree killings bear comparison to Anders Breivik, the suspect in the Norwegian bombings and shootings, because the similarity of the crimes and claimed motives of racial purification. The critical distinction is that Smith was indoctrinated in racial hatred and violence in a group setting, the Church of the The Creator, while Breivik compiled and fabricated his self-justification in secrecy and isolation.

The Spokane bombing attempt looks like a case of social indoctrination rather than social isolation.

The policy issue that needs to be addressed is how the difference in the two situations (social vs isolated political violence) can be resolved. The US is currently trying to address this only by the exercise of police power domestically and military power internationally. It is an acute means of meeting the problem only in the terminal stage. An analogy would be to deal with all health issues with only hospitals, clinics, doctors and paramedics.

There are health issues that do not respond to acute treatment: public health issues like sanitation, vaccination, health education, etc. At least in the American experience, the analogous means of dealing with political violence are almost totally neglected by government. Instead, they become the responsibility of voluntary associations like human rights and issue advocacy groups.

Such groups are treated as polar equivalents of violent extremists. Indeed, as we recently saw in the rise of militant anti-immigrant groups like the Minutemen, law enforcement and political figures are often supportive of the violent extremists and treat human rights groups and other civil society groups as deviant or subversive. This disconnect exposed the problems associated with relying on law enforcement or the military (which in the US are politically reactionary institutions) to address political violence.

I expect the Norwegian political and social response to this tragedy will reflect a more enlightened and humane approach than the American model, one that incorporates the principles behind public health, as opposed to militarized law enforcement. Time will tell.
posted by warbaby at 10:08 AM on July 24, 2011 [9 favorites]


Too many people in this world selling hate, and not enough selling love
The invisible hand is a bitch.
posted by fullerine at 10:16 AM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ever hear of an event called 'The Battle of Blair Mountain'
First time bombs were dropped from airplanes on Americans.


Actually, the Greenwood Race Riot beat Blair Mountain by three months, though those were not US Army planes.
posted by dw at 10:41 AM on July 24, 2011


The invisible hand is a bitch.
but at least you know what pocket she is going for.
posted by clavdivs at 10:59 AM on July 24, 2011


All of them?


... and the shirt, and the trousers.
posted by titus-g at 11:13 AM on July 24, 2011


From the same author: For Rise in Domestic Terror, Supremacists Reigned Supreme
posted by homunculus at 11:55 AM on July 24, 2011


And "We're going to take our country back!" was practically the first thing out of Howard Dean's mouth at every campaign rally in 2003.

I think what he said is worth quoting in full:
I want my country back! [cheers]. We want our country back! [cheers]. I'm tired of being divided! [cheers]. I don't want to listen to the fundamentalist preachers anymore. [cheers]. I want America to look like America, where we are all included, hand in hand, walking down. We have dream. We can only reach the dream if we are all together -- black and white, gay and straight, man and woman. America!
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on July 24, 2011 [6 favorites]


Can we get a montage of terror drones, and bad people shaking hands, and Presidents pushing red buttons, and overweight police chiefs ordering beatings and assassinations, and people in grey suits walking out of airport terminals with purpose, all with a solitary 11 year old singing the Star Spangled Banner very slightly off key but still charmingly?
posted by doublehappy at 2:06 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nope, it's not Terrorism by the currently accepted definition (that allows Al-Queda-esque Islamic Radicals pretty much a monopoly on it). But don't worry, we have another term: Hate Crime. And the people who share the same hateful views as the bombers and shooters but who are not willing to bomb and shoot are extra pissed at being lumped in with them. But, hey (you know this is coming) Haters Gonna Hate.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:23 PM on July 24, 2011


A consistent approach to a genuine War on Terror would have every member of Operation Rescue put on the no-fly list. I'm not holding my breath for this, though.
posted by gimonca at 5:12 PM on July 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great article; I have been disappointed but not surprised to see that all of these acts of right wing terrorism have merited little to no mention in my local (very conservative) newspaper. Even the events in Norway, horrific as they were, have not merited mention beyond page 3 of the paper. Meanwhile the editorial page is a constant stream of right wing talking points about how Christians and conservatives are persecuted and liberals are the real terrorists; here is one of today's editorials as a typical example. Until we address right wing violence in this country it will only get worse.
posted by TedW at 7:03 PM on July 24, 2011


TedW, I wonder if they realise that the title of the browser window for that editorial reads: "Plunging to a new low | The Augusta Chronicle"?
posted by doublehappy at 8:31 PM on July 24, 2011


I wonder about the connection between religious lunacy with its evolution denial and a desire for racial purity. Breeding for racial purity may often end with genetic defects. Though there is a hoarde of contoversy on the subject, and I am no geneticist, neither are the "blow up the others to keep the country pure" crowd. Sometimes I think fear is the primary motivation in every large scale human endevour of late. Less so on the individual scale, but still....
Maybe our place in planetary history was to pump out all the oil from the planet's crust to make the planet fit for the next lifeform to rule the planet. And set a good bad example for how to not live
posted by Redhush at 9:17 PM on July 24, 2011


After Terrorist Attack By Alleged Anti-Muslim Fanatic, Peter King Will Still Target Only Muslims In Terror Hearings
posted by homunculus at 12:59 PM on July 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The conservative response to the new knowledge that the Norway terrorist Anders Breivik was a hardcore conservative anti-muslim fanatic - Glenn Beck compares the camp that had 68 people murdered (adults and children) to the Hitler Youth... implicitly stating that it was okay to kill them.

There's a reason that the teabaggers are often painted as racist psychotics... it's because they are racist psychotics.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:22 PM on July 25, 2011


After Right-Wing Pressure, DHS Now Has ‘Just One Person’ Dealing With Domestic Terrorism
posted by homunculus at 7:55 PM on July 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


Jon Stewart Exposes the Absurdity of the Conservative Victim Complex
posted by homunculus at 11:10 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


FBI: AWOL soldier had bomb materials near Ft. Hood
posted by homunculus at 11:54 AM on July 28, 2011


Planned Parenthood firebombed, right wing silent: A potential incident of domestic terrorism this week got a yawn from most of the press -- and the political right
posted by homunculus at 9:33 AM on July 30, 2011


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