With less than two weeks before the midterms, it is instructive to remember that the rush to presuppose the culprits and motives behind unsolved terror attacks sometimes leads to blind alleys. The facts of these cases do not always end up following preconceived narratives.
Alexander Soros, the son of major leftist funder George Soros, is among those who blame President Trump for inspiring the recent pipe bomb mailings directed to former vice president Joe Biden, actor Robert De Niro, former President Obama, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, former attorney general Eric Holder, former CIA director John Brennan, and California Rep. Maxine Waters.
One can understand why a son frightened for his father’s safety might lash out at a president who seems to share political enemies with the culprit of these attacks. But the rest of us shouldn’t believe accusations like this without good evidence.
The culprit (or culprits) need to be caught and punished. Period. There’s no political angle to that proposition. History has repeatedly made fools of those who attempt to solve terror attacks based upon narratives. Things are not always what they seem. Here is a list of four times that apparent terror attacks on America ended up not fitting the popular narrative.
1. The 1996 Atlanta Olympics Bombing
As described by Wikipedia, Richard Allensworth Jewell was an American police officer and security guard who discovered a backpack filled with three pipe bombs in the Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 summer Olympics. Jewell alerted police and helped to evacuate the area before the bomb exploded, saving many people from injury or death.
Three days later, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution revealed that the FBI was treating him as a possible suspect, based largely on a “lone bomber” criminal profile. For the next several weeks, the news media focused aggressively on him as the presumed culprit, labeling him with the ambiguous term “person of interest” and sifting through his life to match a leaked “lone bomber” profile that the FBI had used.
The media, to varying degrees, portrayed Jewell as a failed law enforcement officer who may have planted the bomb so he could “find” it and be a hero. The media frenzy was wrong. The real culprit was Eric Rudolph. The allegations nevertheless destroyed Jewell’s life.
2. The 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing
In 1995 a massive bomb exploded outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. Initially, several news organizations, including CNN, reported that investigators were seeking to question several men, described as being Middle Eastern in appearance, who had driven away from the building shortly before the blast. The real culprits were not connected in any way to Islam or the Middle East.
3. The 2002 DC Sniper
In October 2002, the DC area was terrorized by a shooting spree that claimed ten lives and injured three. On October 3, 2002, a witness spotted a white van or truck speeding from the scene of one of the shootings. The initial FBI profile had law enforcement looking for a white male, 25-40 years old, who was a firefighter or construction worker.
These assumptions were wrong. The real culprit did not drive a box van or truck, was not white, and was not a firefighter or construction worker.
4. The 2001 Anthrax Attacks
Shortly after the 2001 terror attacks on September 11, 2001, letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to several news offices and to Democratic Sens. Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Initially the FBI focused on an American physician and virological weapons expert who worked at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.
The FBI repeatedly raided his house and his phone was tapped. In addition, Attorney General John Ashcroft named Steven Hatfill as a “person of interest” in the investigation on national television. Eventually, however, the federal government was forced to pay Hatfill $4.6 million to settle a lawsuit and issue an official exoneration.
In 2008 the FBI identified Bruce Edward Ivans as the sole perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. Ivans committed suicide before being brought to justice.
To the victims of these apparent latest pipe bomb attacks, I offer my prayers and support. Thank God nobody was hurt. I also offer my thanks and support to law enforcement, whom I suspect are already closing in on the culprit or culprits.
When Sen. Bernie Sanders supporter James Thomas Hodgkinson attempted to shoot several members of Congress, including Steve Scalise, a number of conservatives distinguished themselves by refusing to blame Sanders for the acts of one of his political supporters.
Peter Roff of U.S. News and World Report noted, “It is remarkable therefore that those potentially most affected by this, including President Donald Trump, have been counseling reconciliation and unity. They have not…sought to blame and shame their opposite numbers for creating an environment in which such things are possible.”
Conservative talk show host Sean Hannity said, “There’s always gonna be a crazy in every crowd. The shooting that took place at that baseball game practice, where Steve Scalise was shot, he was a Bernie supporter, but I don’t blame Bernie Sanders for the fact that one of his supporters is a nut.”
Not every conservative can claim the honor of refraining from politicizing the shooting. But history is kind to those who resist this temptation, particularly before the facts are in.
What makes these attacks so puzzling is that they come at a time that the president is trying to emphasize the violence of his political opponents. These attacks undermine that message and do not help the political opponents of the victims. Certainly, of someone who has the broken mental circuitry required to construct and mail pipe bombs, it is not a stretch to imagine that he also lacks rational political instincts.
One thing we know for certain: We don’t yet know the full story.