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A vulnerable country

The atmosphere following the bombings in Boston revealed just how vulnerable America has become. The absence of any person or group taking responsibility for the act has sent the country plummeting into depths of panic and paranoia.

Lee Siegel, O Estado de S. Paulo

21 de abril de 2013 | 03h00

Was it Al Qaeda? That was of course the first thought that crossed everyone’s mind. Since the attacks on 9/11, America has not experienced one successful terrorist assault by Al Qaeda or by any militant Islamic group. This seemed incredible since America’s crackdown on that group in Afghanistan and Pakistan was relentless and bloody. And being a democracy, America is vulnerable on countless fronts. The feeling after Boston was that time had finally run out. This suspicion that some radical Islamic group had finally taken revenge was strengthened by the fact that the Boston bombings occurred on Patriots’ Day, which is the anniversary of the first two battles of America’s Revolutionary War.

But wait a minute, said some people. The very fact that the bombings took place on Patriots’ Day meant that the perpetrators were not radical Muslims from some distant place, but American citizens who lived right here. The bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, known as the Oklahoma Bombing, which destroyed the lives of 168 people and injured hundreds more, took place on Patriots’ Day almost exactly 18 years ago. The three men responsible for that mass slaughter were homegrown American terrorists, dedicated to their own private war against taxes and gun control.

That latter theory seemed to make more sense. Foreign terrorists, when they strike, launch their attacks partly as sensational fundraisers. They need to let their targets know who they are to strike terror into them, thus hoping to force them to meet their political demands. But they also need to project an image of power and success, in order to inspire wealthy supporters.

Domestic terrorists, on the other hand, rarely seem to declare themselves after their acts of destruction. Ted Kaczynski, known as the "Unabomber,"-he was some sort of eco-anarchist-waited 17 years before taking responsibility for the bombs that he sent in the mail, which killed three people and maimed many others. Timothy McVeigh, the leader of the three men who did the Oklahoma Bombing, was caught right after the bombs went off, so it is impossible to know whether he would have boasted that he, or any group he was affiliated with, was the culprit. But some time elapsed before his accomplices were caught, and neither they nor anyone else who shared their twisted values ever claimed responsibility for the attack.

Then, too, the fact that bombs instead of guns were used could well be symbolic. It could be gun-control opponents’ way of demonstrating that, as they like to say "Guns don’t kill. People do."

But wait another minute, say some other people. Maybe the person who set those bombs in Boston didn’t belong to a political group. Maybe he-it is usually, but not always a man-didn’t even have a political agenda; left, right or anything in between. Maybe his goal was not to protest what in his deranged imagination had become an abuse of freedom. Maybe his goal was to kill and maim as many people as he could. Simply for the sick pleasure of it.

Nothing can ever console anyone who had any type of connection to the slaughter in Boston, but the thought that the act had some kind of sense to it-as sick and twisted as it might have been-was some type of comfort to the country. If it were a foreign terrorist group, then we would know who it was and take action to catch them, punish them, prevent them from striking again.

But if the culprit was a lone individual - I'm writing on wednesday afternoon -, then there seems almost no hope. Somehow we associate bombings with political violence, and shooting with individual violence. The mass murderers of Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, Newtown Connecticut-and countless other places throughout the country-are society’s random psychosis, springing up all of a sudden, unpreventable. They either kill themselves or are almost immediately apprehended.

A mass bomber, however, who doesn’t kill himself, who gets away, who clearly has invested a great deal of time in his plan of destruction, is something else altogether. In a month when a Texas justice of the peace has been accused of murdering, in cold blood, a Texas district attorney and his wife; when a Mississippi man has been accused of sending poison-laced letters to President Obama and other politicians-at such a time, it seems that the individual is more dangerous than any group. And in the wake of the utter failure of gun-control legislation in the Senate, it seems that the group-the community, the society, the state itself-can no longer control the individual.

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