At the end of the Marathon on Monday, it was not just Boston that came under attack. It was an attack on all of us. American the vulnerable. That, unfortunately, is part of the price we pay to live in an open, democratic country where political extremists can will their warped and sick agenda that, as we saw in Boston, shatters the normalcy of our daily lives.
Twelve years have past since the attacks of 9/11. At a time when America dominated the military might throughout the world, a handful of Saudi Arabians with box cutters seemed to bring us to our knees. America still feels vulnerable, and for good reason. The Boston terrorist attack feels too depressingly familiar. Since 9/11, 380 individuals have been charged with acts of political violence in the U.S.
We have seen an upswing of massacres like Aurora and Sandy Hook, where there seems to be no political agenda, but rather a lashing out by deranged individuals who take out their internal frustrations by killing at schools and movie theaters. Violence has become a tool -- way for warped segments of society to express their overwhelming rage.
America is perceived throughout the rest of the world as a violent place to live, but surprisingly, crime is down across the country. Statistics show a significant downward trend of general violence over the past 10 years. Yet we are witnessing a rise in political violence where the criminal acts are not random, but orchestrated, and often done to send out a political message.
I was a student in the 1960s, during the Vietnam era. The Klu Klux Klan was active in my part of the country, and racial harmony was at a low ebb nationwide. Violent confrontations were a regular occurrence. Vietnam protests produced brutal acts of fury, and a wave of politically charged assassinations -- the Kennedys’, Martin Luther King and others shook us to the core.
For whatever reason, violent protests seemed to wane in the 70s and 80s. Political confrontations were few, and law enforcement agencies undertook major crackdowns on domestic terrorism. There were cold war tensions, but no major conflicts that involved U.S. troop commitments, and there were few protests in the streets.
But then the 90s arrived. Michael Barkun, a Syracuse University political scientist who is the author of several books on the extreme right, points out that the early 1990s saw a significant increase in domestic terrorism. "There seemed to be a rise in paramilitary activity in the early '90s. Then Oklahoma City comes along, and again, there's a very aggressive push by particularly federal but also state law-enforcement agencies to get both intelligence and control over this kind of activity - but the activity doesn't seem to stop."
Then came the federal government’s horrendous fiascoes at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and Waco in 1993. Scores of innocent Americans were killed, and these law enforcement blunders were used as fodder for many of the terrorists' ideological fires. Right wing militant groups lapped up “conspiracy” rhetoric that provided a rallying cry for violence to protect liberty. It was a warped and cynical message but the federal law enforcement stumbles gave these radical groups momentum.
Internationally, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 thawed the cold war, but opened up the door for terrorism to flourish across the Middle East. And when you want to make converts, you need to have a bad guy. The U.S. had propped up unpopular dictators for years and was the natural enemy for the likes of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.
We don’t know yet who caused the Boston Bombings. Initial evidence points to domestic terrorism. But in the meantime, Americans, again, are assessing how we will continue to carry on our way of life. Do we just accept a new American culture were violence has become a legitimate way to protest and voice a misguided anger? I hope not.
The Los Angeles Times editorialized that how we live our daily lives “won't change after Monday's attacks. Initially, citizens will be more circumspect, just as law-enforcement will ramp up surveillance. In time, however, behavior will revert to normal – or at least the new normal of metal detectors, airport searches, the deployment of explosive – sniffing dogs at large gatherings and the placement of ugly of obstructions in front of picturesque public buildings.”
To put these recent tragic events in perspective we note that, statistically, the risk of a terrorist attack is quite small, and casualties are few. And did you notice in the Boston videos that after the bombs exploded, people were running towards the devastation to help out? There is no inherent evil in the vast majority of us.
So to those who hate, who detest and abhor freedom, who let their prejudices overcome reason, and who use fear and violence as a tool for a warped or selfish agenda, just remember -- the good guys way outnumber you. And we always will.