Sunday, March 14, 2004

The trail grows cold

It's always tempting to bury our heads in the sand about domestic terrorism because it's such a potentially divisive and disruptive phenomenon.

International terrorism inspires our outrage, and has kind of a unifying effect upon a victim community; but domestic terrorism -- especially when committed by right-wing extremists seeking to spark a "race war" -- reveals our fault lines, particularly the racial ones. As with hate crimes, law enforcement has a decided incentive to play down the potential appearance of domestive terrorism within their communities, since such incidents often can give whole regions or even states, as well as cities and towns, a serious black eye (see, e.g., Idaho or Laramie, Wyoming).

The problem with being in denial about the motivations for such acts -- as the FBI discovered to its everlasting chagrin in dealing with the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing -- is that it usually means the perpetrators not only remain at large, but becomes emboldened to ratchet up the violence. Most of these terrorists see themselves as infinitely smarter than the "dumb cops," and infinitely capable of going uncaught. (Many believe that they are protected by God.) So when they do get away with it at the early stages, it's taken as a clear sign to rise to the next level.

This appears to be happening in the East Valley of the Phoenix area, where a mail bomber who tried to kill the head of Scottsdale's diversity office has so far eluded authorities. Investigators, it seems, are focusing on anyone who might have a personal or business-related grudge against Don Logan, the target of the attacks.

A recent Arizona Republic piece tried to tackle the question, Why was Logan a target? It noted the direction of the investigation so far, which is increasingly looking like yet another Richard Jewell-esque wild goose chase:
Investigators have not said whether they have a suspect in mind, but they are looking into Logan's personal and professional background for someone who might have a grudge. Logan handles training, community outreach, terminations and complaints from employees and citizens.

The possibility he was attacked because he represented a government office dedicated to racial equality -- and thereby a prime target for white supremacists -- seems not to loom very large on their radar. This despite the fact that the nearby town of Gilbert was recently plastered with National Alliance flyers.

Indeed, the fact that one of the people who commented in the Republic story -- Sandra Rembrandt of the non-profit organization Community Celebrating Diversity -- was subsequently the recipient of a phone threat does not seem to have registered with authorities as further indication of domestic terrorism.

Rembrandt evidently made the mistake of being quoted in the story saying what needed to be said: "Obviously someone is trying to make a point and is upset about something." The next day, she received a phone call indicating she might be next:
"A lot of people feel like (Oklahoma City bomber Timothy) McVeigh," a caller told Scottsdale resident Sandra Rembrandt. "You better be careful."

Rembrandt, who is African-American, Cherokee and Choctaw, runs a non-profit organization that promotes diversity.

"I just want to know what an anti-White (expletive) sounds like," the caller told Rembrandt shortly after noon.

It's clear that Scottsdale officials are not eager to address the implications of all this, adhering rigorously to the suggestion that this was the work of someone with a personal grudge. Just an "isolated incident."

Meanwhile, if a domestic terrorist in fact was at work here, then the perpetrator of the bombing becomes further emboldened to continue spiraling ever more violent because it's clear to him the cops are barking up the wrong tree. Which significantly increases the likelihood of his acting again, perhaps even more lethally.

And in the meantime, any minority communities, as well as civil-rights activists, in Scottsdale and the East Valley generally are likely to feel increasingly vulnerable, because it's clear their concerns that racism was at work in the bombing are being ignored -- and that they bomber is still free to strike again.

Not that this seems to be a major concern for Scottsdale police anyway. After all, they've been lately preoccupied with arresting black teenagers who wear their ballcaps sideways.

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