Yet again, putative acts of terror — bombs detonated and discovered in New York and New Jersey, and a mass stabbing in Minnesota — conveniently paved the way for an expansion of police and surveillance state powers in the U.S., while providing an instant distraction from multiple ongoing and breaking crucial news topics.
This is not to downplay the severity of injuries to the public or the panic and fresh insecurity witnesses undoubtedly felt, but to avoid governmental manipulation of fear — incidentally a classic tool of fascist regimes seeking greater control of their citizenry — perspective is imperative.
An examination of events and reactions from politicians and the authorities over the last few days already evidences the knee-jerk response to crack down on farcically-nebulous terrorism, as has been typical in the years following the attacks of 9/11.
This weekends ‘attacks,’ however, brought a telling portent about the government’s intent to twist the public’s anxiety — but those plans should stoke alarm far beyond the altogether remote possibility of more attacks.
At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, as runners prepared to participate in the annual Marine Semper Five charity race in Seaside Park, New Jersey, a pipe bomb suddenly exploded in a trash can along the route — thankfully injuring no one, but forcing cancellation of the event. Two additional pipe bombs in the same vessel fortunately failed to detonate. Federal authorities swiftly arrived on scene to seek out any additional devices and investigate the matter.
“It makes me very angry that this could happen in a sleepy little town like Seaside Park after Labor Day,” nearby Toms River resident Adam Carswell told a local NBC affiliate, according to the New York Daily News.
Then, around 8:15 p.m. in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a man described by corporate media as both “wearing a security guard uniform” and “a security guard” began indiscriminately stabbing people inside a shopping mall, after reportedly asking his first victim if he were Muslim.
Ten people were wounded by the man — later identified by authorities as 22-year-old Dahir Adan — though none of the injuries would prove fatal. An off-duty cop did, however, fatally shoot the attacker.
Friends of Adan expressed shock and confusion he could be responsible for what the FBI is investigating as a possible act of terror. As the New York Times described, he was the “son of Somali refugees, he lived in the United States most of his life, did well in school, played sports, worked as a security guard and took classes at a local college.”
Those in regular contact with Adan insisted he showed no signs of having become radicalized, despite reports from the terrorist group of the same name claiming he was “a soldier of the Islamic State.” In fact, local leaders in the Somali community flatly doubt the young man could even have perpetrated such a heinous crime, as executive director of the Saint Cloud Area Somali Salvation Organization, Mohamoud Ismail Mohamed, explained, until police release video footage of the attack, “we cannot believe the speculation we hear.”
According to unnamed sources cited by the Times, who ostensibly know Adan’s family, on Saturday he “seemed to be in good spirits and said he was going to the mall to buy a new iPhone.” On social media, friends tried to understand what had happened, echoing, as one person tweeted, “He was a sweet humble guy, and that’s still how I see him.”
Just over 24 hours after unexplained events in Minnesota, an explosion in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City shattered windows and sent shrapnel flying, injuring at least 29 people, though, again, none fatally. Investigators later described a pressure-cooker and cellphone improvised device — similar to that used at the Boston Marathon in 2013 — as responsible for the blast.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio promptly announced there was “every reason to believe this was an act of terror” — despite the nascent investigation.
A similar explosive device was discovered three hours later just four blocks from the first, though it inexplicably failed to detonate.
Not long after that explosion, authorities in Elizabeth, New Jersey, were alerted to a backpack with suspicious contents by two homeless men who discovered the bag sitting on a garbage can and worried it could be a bomb.
Law enforcement used a robot to investigate, and around 12:40 a.m., the device unintentionally exploded.
Authorities worked astonishingly quickly to identify a person of interest in the New York and New Jersey incidents — but how they spread the information is indicative of a Kafkaesque dark turn in the United States’ dubious war on purposely-nebulous terror.
“For what is believed to be the first time,” the Times wrote, “the nation’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system was deployed as an electronic wanted poster, identifying a 28-year-old man sought in connection with the bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey over the weekend.”
“WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen,” stated the alert.
Instantaneously, millions became Big Government’s unwitting spies — enlisted without warning in a manhunt for a suspect now inextricably linked to the explosions, regardless of actual guilt — before completion of a thorough investigation, much less an actual jury trial.
Officials decided on the language of the alert and approved its dissemination in just 15 minutes, and issued the dubious message at 7:57 a.m.
Considering the success of years instilling xenophobic fear in the citizenry, the electronic widespread plastering of Rahami’s name and face as Suspect Number One could as facilely painted a target on his forehead.
Or perhaps that was the idea.
Either way, authorities apprehended Rahami following a shootout in which several officers were wounded, after a worker discovered him sleeping in the doorway of a bar in Linden, New Jersey. Ironically, the worker didn’t recognize the man as the “armed and dangerous” subject of the massive manhunt, rather alerted authorities to a possible vagrant.
Responding officers roused the sleeping man, quickly recognizing he looked similar to the suspect in pervasive alerts. Ordered to show his hands, Rahami instead brandished a gun and shot the officer in the abdomen, hitting his bulletproof vest, Linden Police Capt. James Sarnicki told reporters.
Rahami continued firing as he fled the scene, but was taken into custody after being wounded.
Rahami might be the luckiest person in the country both because he escaped death at the hands of police after actively shooting at them, but, more pertinently, because authorities — not a petrified, Islamophobic propaganda-believing citizen — affected his capture.
Concerns about the breakthrough use of the Emergency Alerts System have been unfortunately underreported and downplayed in favor of the premise of added security against errant terrorists it supposedly will now provide.
“This is a tool we will use again in the future,” Mayor de Blasio asserted adamantly during a press conference. “No more wanted posters on the precinct house wall. This is a modern approach that really engaged a whole community.”
His assertion, of course, failed to add ‘whether or not they approve of this use or desire to become the State’s citizen-spies.’
Beyond crafting guilt for one person before it’s been proven, the alert exposed several additional disturbing flaws.
“It was very troublesome,” Bandana Kar, a professor of geography at the University of Southern Mississippi who has studied the alert system, told the Times. “The alert was very unspecific and open-ended.”
Advising people to blindly turn to media for a picture of the man trusts that they will, but issuing his name, which sounds obviously Middle Eastern — during a time of heightened xenophobia and bigotry — put countless others in peril.
“By encouraging people to go to the media to look at a picture, what if someone had identified the wrong person?” Kar added.
Misidentification — an issue so common, eyewitness accounts aren’t necessarily weighted in court testimony — could easily have cost a wholly innocent person their life.
“Today, brown guys like me are walking around worrying about the threat of terrorism like everyone else,” Brooklyn resident Shuja Haider told the Times. “But we’re also worried about being blamed for it.”
Already, additional police have been deployed in the locations of the attacks and politicians have called for increased or improved surveillance programs and powers.
After the first test of forcibly roping an entire city into hunting for an alleged criminal, however, it appears the surveillance state just commanded its biggest opportunity to date — hundreds of millions of captive and terrified proxy employees.