That demented, hate-filled terrorists could build bombs and detonate them in a crowded public place should not have come as news to anyone. That’s what terrorists have been doing around the world for decades – centuries. That it could be done in the U.S. by people we had welcomed with open arms should also have been no surprise. Islamist extremists have been promising and perpetrating attacks in the U.S. since the 1970s. Other extremists, from anarchists, to White supremacists, to Puerto Rican separatists, to anti-abortion activists, to radical leftists have perpetrated acts of terror on our soil since the foundation of the republic. Indeed, American revolutionaries of the 1700s were considered terrorists by the British. The use of violence as a means of advancing a social or political goal is as old as society itself. How it is remembered generally depends on who wins and is around to write the history. Nonetheless, acts of terror, particularly when perpetrated against civilians, generally backfire and engender hate and loathing for the assailant’s cause rather than sparking the desired changes in policy.
So there were no new lessons to be learned from the actual bombing of the Boston Marathon. In a free society, extremists will always have the ability and opportunity to inflict harm on the innocent. We know this. We’ve seen it. We’ve mourned with the victims and families. At most, this bombing serves as a reminder to be aware, be prepared and to take precautions.
The bombing of the Boston Marathon was not meant to generate support for Chechen independence, or appreciation for the “religion of peace,” or even to strike a blow for fallen comrades in the ongoing conflict between Islam and the rest of the world. This attack, like the senseless atrocity at Sandy Hook, was an example of weak-minded losers trying to give some significance to their lives at the expense of innocents.
What both outrages accomplished, though, goes much deeper than individual narcissistic validation. The fear and anger arising from such acts tend to push the public away from individual liberty and into the arms of an ever more protective, ever more powerful, ever more intrusive, ever more restrictive government. That is the lasting damage done by terrorists and violent lunatics.
In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the citizens of Boston and its suburbs were ordered to stay in their homes while state, local and federal police, along with units of the National Guard, swept through the streets in full military battle gear, armed with real assault rifles and shielded by heavy armored vehicles. On multiple occasions, officers and agents kicked in doors without warrants or probable cause, pointed guns at residents – men, women and children – and herded them into the street with shouted orders and violent threats. Authorities totally ignored constitutional protections, disregarded individual rights and trampled on the rule of law – all in the name of public safety.
The pictures and videos coming out of Watertown were chillingly reminiscent of film clips of Jews in 1940s Germany and Poland being herded from their homes by heavily armed Nazis. I don’t mean to suggest that the motives or intentions of the police and agents in Watertown mirrored those of the Nazis, but only to point out the similarity in the tactics employed. I understand the tension and concerns of the authorities in light of the earlier firefight with the suspects – but can we condone the total disregard for the Constitution and civil rights they displayed with their actions? It’s one thing to pursue a fleeing suspect into a dwelling, but it’s something else completely to kick down doors on the basis of suspicion or anonymous tips. Had this action been carried out in the Phoenix or Dallas suburbs rather than the virtually gun-free utopia of Massachusetts, the odds would be high that a homeowner might have been shot. I know that if there were mad bombers running loose in my neighborhood, I would not be hunkering in the house empty-handed. How would that have played out when the authorities illegally kicked down my door without warning?
The crux of the issue is that a couple of disturbed and radicalized young men sought to immortalize their names and to damage our way of life. They viciously attacked us by abusing the freedoms and protections our people enjoy. In response, our government agents shredded the Constitution and trampled on those freedoms and protections. And those people thanked them for it! What’s worse is that some of those same people are seriously considering, even demanding, further restrictions on rights, further degradation of liberty, further dismantling of the Constitution, all in the futile hope that surrendering our liberty will enhance their security.
Just this result is a victory for the terrorists.
The Marathon bombing was a difficult and unusual situation, but it did not justify the police actions. Police and federal agents involved must be called to account. All law enforcement should undergo remedial training in constitutional limitations and protections. If there is not accountability and no lessons learned, and especially if politicians are allowed to trade freedom for a false sense of security, then the terrorists and enemies of liberty will have secured an even greater and lasting victory.
The Constitution and civil rights are not mere suggestions, they are the supreme law of the land. Ignoring, disregarding and trampling them must not be permitted, much less praised and rewarded. Too many people have fought, sacrificed and died to preserve our freedoms to simply throw them away because of some terrorists’ lawless actions.