I remember when I was in middle school in the 1980’s and some of my friends told me about a rebellious recipe for destruction and chaos called ‘The Anarchist Cookbook’, which had, among other things, instructions on how to build a pipe bomb. I never picked it up, but I remember hearing about someone who knew someone in high school who had, and had constructed one of these crude devices. He was arrested, thrown in jail, juvenile detention, and released to get his GED and head to community college. No big deal. I’m sure the ‘anarchist’ who performed this moronic chemistry experiment had a family and was relatively successful today. Whenever I hear of an ‘explosive device’ that makes the local newspaper rounds, when I read further down the column it inevitably involves a 2 liter Mountain Dew bottle or a pipe with matches tossed into a nearby – you guessed it – garbage can.
The media generally doesn’t report on these devices because they have the ability to maim or kill, which they do, but because they are explosive, and things that blow up scare people. Media coverage means that they earn page views and ratings, which leads to higher advertising revenue. If they were concerned about humanity and the necessity to avoid death by being maimed or killed, they would focus more heavily on the mine-laden fields of Yemen, where US cluster bomblets blow up the legs and arms of children every month. They would discuss the civil war in Syria more often, and demand justification for US and their allies’ involvement in what certainly is drawing out the conflict. Or the current infant mortality crisis in the United States. Instead of these pressing international issues, we have the story about an angry overweight loner who blew up a garbage can with a pressure cooker and dropped a few pipe bombs around New York and New Jersey, killing absolutely zero people. What else do we know about this moron? He left his fingerprints on one of the devices. He used the PATH train without a disguise. He fired off rounds with his gun, injuring police officers, but failed to leave a bullet for himself, and he was found not hiding out in a safe house, but sleeping in the doorway of a bar. He wasn’t only a loser, loner terrorist, he was a bad one at that.
While one can certainly applaud the NYPD and FBI for finding this guy so quickly, he didn’t exactly make it that tough. He was one step above leaving a trail of breadcrumbs to his public hideout. His ineptitude as a terrorist or ‘soldier’ of any kind is a testament to the difficulty for skillful terrorists to make it to the United States by air or sea, even with a ‘liberal’ refugee settlement policy. In fact, while Trumpists decry the Obama administration’s policy on settling Syrian refugees, this clown arrived in the United States in the 1980’s from Afghanistan during a Republican administration, and was a naturalized US citizen. But in spite of his ham-handed and bungled attempt at sowing death and destruction, he was successful in one fashion: getting the media, and the US public to take notice.
The symbiotic relationship between lone shooters, mass murders and now, useless and amateurish would-be terrorists and the media is one which must be ended, and soon. A 2003 study determined that when the media reduced reporting on celebrity suicides, copy cat attempts and subsequent ‘contagious’ suicides were reduced. While one must preserve the freedom of press, major media outlets should work hard to limit coverage of maladroit malcontents, especially during an election cycle.
Besides fame and attention (which is sure to last through the trial), terrorists and ISIS in particular want leaders who preach Islamophobia to rise to power in Western countries in order to make moderate Muslims feel there is no other way to seek protection except through ISIS and war. The cycle of terrorism, media coverage and reactionary voting patterns reinforce one another until a low level civil war becomes the norm. The most effective way to shortcut this is to reduce coverage of mass carnage events and attempts, which is why I’m not mentioning this idiot by name. I’m glad they caught him, but his story belongs on the back page of a local police blotter, not the front page of the New York Times.