April 19th and Boston Bombing Remind Us We Can't Drop Our Guard

April 19, 2013, 8:45 AM by  Allan Lengel

It was noon on a Friday. I was reporter at The Detroit News.  It was two days after the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. 

Before long, another reporter and I were speeding north on I-75 to Decker, in the Michigan Thumb, to check out an FBI raid at a farmhouse where suspects Terry Nichols and Tim McVeigh had spent time.

When we arrived, it was a full-blown circus. Media satellite trucks were camped along the dirt road bordering the farm, and reporters were walking about, interviewing locals. Federal agents crawled all over the farm, looking for clues.

I even spotted undercover ATF agents walking along the perimeter of the farm, trying to befriend locals to find out information that might shed light on the attack that killed 168 people. One of them, who I knew, waived me away as I approached.

It was in the coming days that we would hear about the local militias and the harsh anti-government sentiments, some of them the result of government foreclosures on farms.

It was an eye-opener not only for the public, but for law enforcement, which realized it had to step up its game and monitor and crack down on the enemy within -- the domestic terrorist.

I’m reminded of the tragic bombing in Oklahoma 18 years ago to this day as we process the tragedy in Boston.

I thought there was a good possibility that it was a domestic attack, particularly since it happened around the anniversary of the Oklahoma bombing and the tragedy in Waco where more than 70 Branch Davidian people died and four ATF agents were killed. But as we now learn, the Boston bombings may have had foreign ties. The two suspects, who are brothers,  were orginially from the Russian region near Chechnya, a hotbed of radical Islamic activity.

Conversley, different media is reporting that they had been in the U.S. for at least five years, if not more, living the American life. The Boston Globe reported Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, who was killed in a shootout with police overnight, was a boxer who had hopes of being on the U.S. Olympic team. His brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, 19, who was on the run Friday morning,  was part of the 2011 class at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School, and won a Cambridge City Scholarship that year.  Their uncle in Maryland told the media that his nephews were losers who were never able to make it, and hated those who did.

So at this stage, we're left wondering what the true motive was.  

Whatever the reason, the lesson we learn in this era, whether we fear a domestic or foreign attack, is that hatred never goes out of style and that we can never drop our guard at big gatherings -- a marathon or a Tigers game or a concert.

We can’t eliminate hatred and ignorance. We can’t stop every attack, particularly if those involving “lone wolves,” people unaffiliated with any formal group. When fewer people know about a plot, the less likelihood there is that word will leak, that a snitch will tell local or federal authorities.

And we can’t always rely on the incompetence of terrorists like the Detroit “Underwear Bomber,” who failed to detonate his bomb on the Northwest airlines flight on Dec. 25,  2009, and the “Times Square Bomber,” whose car bomb in Times Square in New York never blew up in 2010.

The odds eventually work against us, no matter how lucky we are. Boston is an example.

In our society we try to be as loose as possible. Unlike Israel, we don’t have our bags checked by security before entering a mall or bus station. Unfortunately, we won’t do anything like that until tragedy strikes.

In the meantime, law enforcement needs to figure out what else, if anything, it might have done to avoid the Boston bombing.

Maybe with such a big event, there’s only so much you can do.

But dates like today, April 19, are reminders that we always need to do a little more.

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