There may be a terrorist on the loose. No, I’m not talking about what happened in Paris.
On Tuesday an improvised explosive device detonated outside a building in Colorado Springs, Colo., that houses the offices of the local chapter of the NAACP. Yet, this story, which could be an act of domestic terrorism, has been overshadowed almost completely by the tragedy in Paris.
This is not to minimize the horror of what occurred Wednesday at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, in which 12 people were killed in a terrorist attack. Still, it’s a bit hard to understand how an act that appears to be domestic terrorism and was perpetrated against a civil rights groups — in the wake of growing racial tensions over Ferguson, Staten Island, and Cleveland — is not a bigger news story.
It only took hours after the shooting in Paris — when the killers had still not been identified — for cable news shows and web media to jump to conclusions about the motive for the attack and the larger strategic implications. Was it ISIS or Al Qaeda? Had the killers come from Syria? Were the principles of free press and free speech under assault?
Indeed, even with zero evidence of a threat to the United States, the NYPD increased counter-terrorism patrols at major New York landmarks and the French Consulate. These are moves that appear to be taken out of an appearance of caution, but by the standard shouldn’t there be a similar ratcheting up of security at NAACP offices around the country?
Of course, no one was killed in the Colorado bombing (thankfully) and we don’t know who is responsible, what the motivation was to commit this act or even if the NAACP was targeted for political reasons.
Nonetheless, the very divergent reactions are emblematic of the contradictory ways in which Americans tend to think about terrorism.
Generally speaking, when Americans hear the word terrorism, they think of something that comes from overseas and is perpetrated by Muslims. But many terrorist acts are homegrown. Consider the Oklahoma City bombing, or more recently the deaths of police officers in Nevada and Pennsylvania. They were murdered by American citizens who were clearly intending to send a political message with their actions. In the Pennsylvania incident, the suspect called the shooting an assassination and described it as an attempt to “wake people up” to the need for political change. In the Nevada case, the young couple who shot two Las Vegas police officers had spent time at the ranch of Cliven Bundy, who became a right-wing darling after his refusal to pay grazing fees to the federal government for his use of public land. The killers draped the body of one of the officers with a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and a swastika. They pinned a note to the other that declared, “This is the beginning of the revolution.”
In short, this was an act of terrorism, even if the killers didn’t yell Allah Akbar. While we still don’t know the motive for the Colorado bombing, if it was purposely directed at the NAACP, that’s an act of terrorism as well — and needs to be treated seriously.