Let’s ignore what’s hot in the news — Trump’s executive order sabotaging parts of Obamacare (remember the Obama era, when Republicans hated executive orders?); Trump’s warning that federal relief workers won’t stay in Puerto Rico “forever” (contradicting his veep, who said we’d stay as long as it takes) — and let’s focus instead on a scary story I bet you haven’t heard a word about.
You’ll soon learn why.
One week ago, an act of terrorism was thwarted at the Asheville Regional Airport in the western mountains of North Carolina. A guy in black clothing and a black cap showed up with a bag, and quickly left without the bag. It looked suspicious on the surveillance footage, so cops and a bomb dog were called in. The dog sniffed, and signaled that the bag was for real. Turned out, it was an IED — an improvised explosive device; specifically, it was a Mason jar packed with a widely used industrial explosive called ammonium nitrate.
According to the criminal complaint written by the FBI, “The jar was filled with steel wool that was then wrapped around nails and one shotgun cartridge. There was an alarm clock taped on the outside of the jar. There was then a grouping of matches taped to the striker arm positioned between the bells, and the bells were removed,” and the clock was set to go off at 6 a.m., when the earliest passengers typically arrive.
Last Saturday, after tracing the bomb’s ingredients, authorities arrested Michael Christopher Estes, a 46-year-old local, who waived his Miranda rights and explained that he planted the IED because he was “preparing to fight a war on U.S. soil.” He appeared in federal court on Tuesday and was charged with attempted malicious use of explosive materials. The FBI complaint says that ammonium nitrate is commonly used “in a number of terrorist-related incidents around the world.”
Disturbing, yes? But take a wild guess why this story — an attempted domestic airport attack — hasn’t gone viral.
Big hint: Michael Christopher Estes is not a Muslim.
Rest assured that if the bomb suspect was a Muslim, if he looked swarthy in the mug shot, if he’d confessed admiration for ISIS, and if upon his arrest he’d shouted “Allahu akbar” while voicing his desire to fight a war on U.S. soil, we would’ve been steeped in this story for the past week.
Conservative websites would be warning anew about the purported existential Muslim threat within our borders, and calling for heightened surveillance of mosques. The suspect’s guilt would be spun as a sweeping indictment of his faith. Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill would be summoning Homeland Security officials to testify about airport safety. Mainstream media would be ferreting out every last detail of the Muslim’s life in America.
And, most predictably of all, Trump would be tweeting until his thumbs ached that this airport incident proved he was right all along about “radical Islamic terrorism” and the urgent need for a travel ban on Muslim-majority nations, most notably the suspect’s country of origin.
But instead, because the bomb suspect is all-American, having purchased his materials from Walmart and Lowe’s, the story somehow fizzles out. Estes’ life will not be spun as a sweeping indictment of his race or faith. Few seem interested in connecting the obvious dots — this episode was a fresh reminder that most terrorist attacks in America are committed not by radicalized Muslims, but by Americans — and few seem willing to point out that Estes, by volunteering his desire to “fight a war on U.S. soil,” at least flirted with the federal definition of terrorism (“the unlawful use of force and violence … in furtherance of political or social objectives”).
I guess we’ll have to wait until a future suspect fits the profile.
In other non-news:
On Tuesday night at the Free Library of Philadelphia, I hosted Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne and Washington analyst Norm Ornstein, co-authors (along with think-tanker Thomas Mann) of the new bestselling book “One Nation After Trump.” Most Americans are hungry to know how we can put an end to our current dystopia, and their book is ultimately optimistic (!!) about that prospect. We talked about this for an hour, and you’re invited to watch the proceedings.