By Brigitte L. Nacos
It was eerily similar to the hours after the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995, when the media reported about “Middle Eastern looking” suspects. Yesterday, there were reports of a dark-skinned, perhaps Black man possibly with a foreign accent trying to enter the restricted area around the marathon’s finish line and an injured Saudi male with an expired student visa.
In the Oklahoma City case, it turned out that the terrorist was Timothy McVeigh, a homegrown Caucasian, who moved in anti-government, militia circles and was a regular at gun shows. McVeigh struck on April 19th, the second anniversary of the deadly encounter between federal agents and the Branch Davidian cult. But April 19th is also the anniversary of the battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, the first in the Revolutionary War and a sacred date for right-extremists in the Patriot and Militia movement.
To commemorate the historic battles, Massachusetts celebrates every third Monday in April -Patriots Day, a holiday that coincides with the Boston Marathon. This year’s Patriots Day was celebrated on April 15th—Tax Day--, a date known for anti-tax protests. And then there is the outrage of the gun rights crowd over even the slightest efforts to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally challenged people.
In short, this is a climate similar to the post-Waco years in the early 1990s.
No, I am not suggesting that the perpetrator or perpetrators come from this milieu—but I think this is just as likely as a Jihadist link or as a deranged individual like the Newtown shooter who last December killed 20 children and 6 adults in a senseless shooting spree without any imaginable political agenda.
In its editorial today, the Wall Street Journal notes that “President Obama didn't use the word "terror" in his brief afternoon remarks, though U.S. officials were at pains later to say that they were treating the bombing as a terrorist attack.” Why pointing this out? It seems that the Journal wants to make the same useless point as in the hyped up Benghazi case in which the President was blamed by the right for not characterizing the deadly attack on the U.S. Mission there immediately as “terrorism.” In both cases, Obama spoke in his initial statements of “terror.”
Whether the bombings in Boston add up to terrorism depends on the motives behind the terrible deed. By definition, terrorism means deliberate violence against civilians for political ends. The emphasis here is on “political.” The mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009 by a Muslim American was politically motivated and thus an act of terrorism as was the 1996 bombing of Atlanta’s Olympic Park by an anti-abortion extremist. The Newtown and Virginia Tech Mass Shootings were not acts of terrorism but horrific crimes.
Does the Boston bombing suggest that a dozen years after 9/11counterterrorism efforts in the homeland have become more relaxed as some observers wondered in front of microphones and cameras? I do not think so. Even in societies without the freedoms we enjoy not all terror or terrorist attacks can be prevented.
Unfortunately, even after the Boston Marathon strikes, the question is not whether but when the next attack of this kind will happen—and where.