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Terror Hits the Midwest
May 10, 2002
By Richard Prasad

There is fear in the Midwest. People are afraid to open their mailboxes. A series of pipe bombs were set off in rural Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska, Texas and most recently Indiana. In total, there have been 20 pipe bombs in these five states, and six people have been hurt.

Questions abound.

Are there more bombings to come? Is the suspect who was arrested the only person involved in the bombings? Where is Attorney General Ashcroft right now? Where is Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge? And perhaps the most important question, are these bombings and other examples of domestic terrorism, such as the anthrax scare, being consciously or subconsciously pushed to the back burner, by a government that is supposed to be protecting all of its citizens?

The bombings started with a series of 8 bombs in Southern Iowa and Western Illinois on May 3rd 2002, 5 of the 8 bombs detonated. The bombs were crudely made with pipe and a nine volt battery. The bombs were placed daily for 5 days with the last bomb detected in Indiana on May 8th.

The crude homemade bombs have been accompanied by antigovernment rhetoric typewritten in notes. Here is some of what the May 3rd note says according to CNN.com:

Mailboxes are exploding! Why, you ask? Attention people. You do things because you can and want (desire) to. If the government controls what you want to do, they control what you can do. If you are under the impression that death exists, and you fear it, you do anything to avoid it. (This is the same way pain operates. Naturally we strive to avoid negative emotion/pain.) You allow yourself to fear death! World authorities allowed, and still allow you to fear death! In avoiding death you are forced to conform, if you fail to conform,you suffer mentally and physically. (Are world powers utilizing the natural survival instinct in a way that allows them to capitalize on the people?)

Who could have written such a note? It could have been a conservative pro-life individual decrying the legality of abortion, in this country and in the world. It could have been a left-wing anarchist, warning against the rising power of global organizations like the World Trade Organization. To some the increasing globalization of the world economy means economic death. He keeps mentioning world authorities, it could be an anti-United Nations statement, and that could come from either the right or the left. It could have been be the work of some apolitical nut job giving rambling statements of a Unabomber type. From what is known of the suspect, it seems like he is a rambling apolitical loony who desires a stage, and what bigger stage than a federal court during his trial?

There is a cultural angle to these bombings as well. There is a cultural bias that favors the Midwest in this country. Midwestern people are usually pictured as honest, hardworking, decent men and women of the land. They are churchgoing and God-fearing, and as such, immune from things such as pipe bombs. The Midwest is known by nicknames such as "the Heartland" and "America's Breadbasket." The nicknames themselves conjure up warm cozy thoughts of hearth and home. The term "family values" seems to have grown from the very soil that Midwesterners walk and these family values are only corrupted by money-hungry Northeasterners, and Hollywood-driven Californians, who make movies that are an insult to good, decent hardworking Midwestern folks.

Republicans are all too happy to exploit such stereotypes for their own political gains. Don't vote for Democrats, says the Republican script, they are the party of the Hollywood left, and of the intellectual elite. They don't worry about average people like you or me. They worry about their interest groups, feminists, minorities, and gays. And that strategy has worked like a charm. The Midwest with the exception of Illinois, and its more urban Chicago constituency, is reliably in George W. Bush's corner.

This Midwestern stereotype is illustrated in an article written by the New York Times on May 6th. The very title of the article, "Bombs Echo Where Fear Is A Stranger," reinforces the attitude that nothing bad happens in these small sleepy towns in the Midwest. The article paints an idealistic picture of life in the bucolic Midwest. "Today with the town awash in sunshine, mulberry trees leafing upward, dandelions underfoot, residents of Tipton (Iowa) seemed determined to go on with their lives." The article also reflected the incredulity of the citizens of Tipton that pipe bombings could actually happen in a town like Tipton. "To me, it sounds like the person wanted to hit the most unlikely place in America - a town where nobody expects things like this to happen." In other words, bad things happen in New York City, but never in Iowa. But bad things do happen in the Heartland, if you need to be reminded of that, just think of the mangled remains of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

During this crisis, what exactly is Attorney General John Ashcroft doing? He is leading prayer meetings, he is clothing nude statues, and he is detaining Arab men without charging them with any wrongdoing. This procedure is unconstitutional according to at least one judge. On April 30th 2002, U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed charges of perjury against Osama Awadallah, a Jordanian-born student. According to an article on CNN.com, the judge said: "No Congress has granted the government the authority to imprison an innocent person in order to guarantee that he will testify before a grand jury conducting a criminal investigation." In other words, indefinitely detaining a person as a material witness to a crime, and hoping that person will give the Justice Department information on the war on terrorism, is illegal. There are hundreds of Arab men being held in just such a manner. In another such case, according to the New York Times dated May 5th 2002, names of hundreds of Arab men must now be made public under New Jersey's Right to Know Law. The judge called the government's secrecy "odious to democracy." No one is saying that these Arab men are not terrorists, but if the Attorney General has charges to make against these men, let him do so. If not, let them go. That is our system of justice.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge seems too busy arguing with Senator Robert Byrd to even speak about the current pipe bombings. Maybe someone can tap Ridge on the shoulder and tell him that homeland security is being threatened by this pipe bomber. Maybe this will mean a change from code yellow alert. Big Deal.

The FBI first issued an all-points bulletin for Luke John Helder, a 21-year-old brown-haired white male, with Minnesota license plates. Why didn't Ashcroft secretly detain hundreds of white males with brown hair? The answer is simple. Ashcroft is a product of the Midwest; he represented Missouri as a Senator. Detaining men that look and sound like he did as a youth would hit a little too close to home for the Attorney General. Detaining men that look and sound like foreigners is a much easier sell for Ashcroft, and it's much easier for Americans to swallow the detention of Arab men. But these pipe bombs expose the double standard of Ashcroft and his cronies once and for all.

Like lightning, the FBI swooped in and arrested Luke John Helder in Reno Nevada on Tuesday April 8th. A complex, confusing picture has evolved about Helder in the time since his arrest. He was part of a garage band, a nice friendly kid who always said hello, and technically savvy enough to build homemade bombs. He had troubling aspects to his so-called philosophy. According to one source, Helder believed in astral projection, he believed that he could project his soul anywhere on earth at any given time. That is why he talked so much about death. He didn't believe in the finality of death. And while many people believe that death is the not the end of life, not a lot of people believe in astral projection. According to FBI, Helder wanted the bombing pattern to look like a smiley face. Clearly if this is true, Helder fits the Unabomber profile, a lone nut, but is that all there is to these pipe bombings?

The arrest of Helder would seem to bring to an end the series of rural pipe bombings, but it did not. Two pipe bomb-like devices exploded in Indiana after Helder was arrested. It might be as simple as a copycat event or it might be something else. Maybe Helder had help. I wonder how a person can travel through five states in the course of 3 day and plant 18 bombs. If the bombings continue, this might be bigger than just one person. Time will tell.

Even if the bombings in Indiana are a copycat event, questions still arise. Will the FBI pursue this copycat as wholeheartedly as they did Helder? Will the media cover the copycat bombing with as much gusto as they did Helder? And has the media forgotten about the last case of domestic terrorism, the spread of anthrax through the mail?

It seems Ashcroft and his pals have done their best to make us forget the anthrax scare of last fall, but recently anthrax is rearing its ugly head again. According to a May 6th CNN.com article, there was white powder in a letter sent to a St. Louis Missouri Federal Building. There have been 5,000 people questioned in the anthrax attacks, but still no suspect named, and no word on any progress on that front.

There is no doubt that 9/11 has proven America to be vulnerable to international terrorism. But it seems like all the focus of the Federal Government has been in detaining Arab men, while seemingly turning a blind eye to domestic terrorists, like the anthrax letter mailer and the Midwestern pipe bombers. Hopefully, the arrest of Helder will bring an the end of the blind eye to the problem of domestic terrorism.

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