by Khalil Marrar
A violent explosion stunned residents of Colorado Springs, Colorado in the morning of January 6, 2015. Given the location, most feared that it was an act of terrorism as an investigation and manhunt ensued. Even after the apprehension of the assailant, Thaddeus Cheyenne Murphy, the mystery surrounding his alleged act, which according to the criminal complaint involved an improvised explosive device meant to “maliciously damage and destroy” the building housing the Colorado Springs’ chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), still persists. The event has renewed concerns about racial hatred while fueling worldwide interest in American race relations as it became the latest cauldron in the heated debate between progressives and conservatives. The reason: Murphy, a white male in his 40s, is the chief suspect in the incident involving the NAACP. His apparent crime has raised a number of troubling questions. The most pressing involves motive. Was it an act of terrorism against the NAACP? Or was it, as Murphy claims, an attempt to get back at his accountant Steve DeHaven, who coincidentally had been dead for months by the time the bombing occurred, for tax and bankruptcy disputes. Whatever the answer, an immediate concern surrounding the crime is how speculation has unfolded about the intended target of Murphy’s pipe bomb. And given racial tensions in the United Sates in the aftermath of Ferguson, Staten Island, and other hotspots of race relations, plenty of contestation continues to surround the bombing. If it’s ascertained that the attack was racially motivated and indeed was an assault against the NAACP, then the incident will confirm what some have feared for some time now: some, like Murphy, may engage in “lone wolf” acts of terror motivated by hate that are neither predictable nor understandable against a target as widely celebrated as the NAACP.
Irrespective of why it happened, it has become manifestly clear that the bombing has touched a nerve in the divide between left and right in the US and has brought renewed attention to what has become a crisis of race throughout the country. Colorado Springs is simply the latest flashpoint. As conjecture continues about Murphy’s intended target, a new front in the “culture wars” has emerged. Events since have pointed to just how divided the United States has become, particularly in relation to other advanced democracies, even about an act that apparently involved terrorism, an issue which, as demonstrated by the violence against Charlie Hebdo in Paris, always garnered domestic and international consensus. What took place in Colorado Springs has prompted the frequent list of pundits to gear up for a fight. Many of them, while lacking broad public support, do enjoy active and loud backing from the fringes represented by them. For instance, Michelle Malkin’s commentary on the bombing may be interpreted by many of her followers as a call to arms to resume what they believe is an existential struggle against their counterparts in the left. In reality, on both sides of the political divide, that struggle has earned its leading elites quite a bit of celebrity and wealth. Rather than offering solutions to the scourge of racism in the USA, the way that pundits from right and left manipulate tragic events for their own gains, not to mention, the events themselves, have refocused world attention on America’s racial tussle, as was demonstrated by a Washington Post report.
Unlike the broad condemnations of Islamist violence in France or elsewhere around the world, in America, the attack has proved highly polarizing. On the left, some surrogates have been jumping the gun and crying racism since the earliest moments of the Colorado Springs detonation. On the right, figures like Malkin led the charge to downplay the bombing as nothing more than a “barbershop bang.” Meanwhile, Fox News, a champion of conservative causes, has remained mostly quiet about the subject, perhaps waiting until the dust settled and having clarity about Murphy’s motives. The same could be said about the more centrist CNN. Most media outlets offered mention to what happened in Colorado Springs with little speculation about what actually motivated it or what the attack may have represented.
It is true that the NAACP has been a beacon for those interested in defending the civil rights and liberties of minorities around the world for a century. The organization has been on the forefront of political and economic equality for all citizens, from race riots preceding the First World War, the federally mandated integration of the US armed forces after the Second World War, through the popular civil rights movements of the 1960s. Today the NAACP, in its own words, has continued to “fight for social justice for all Americans.” Such a mission has always been targeted by those, animated by hate, seeking to disrupt and undo progress made on issues of race, ethnicity, and gender.
As media outlets from around the globe descended on Missouri to cover the racially charged atmosphere after Ferguson, whatever happened in Colorado Springs should demand concern from the American public and its leaders. And with names like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner becoming international symbols for how minorities in the US are treated, they also served as constant reminders to Americans that their country remained enmeshed in a vile set of racially tinged politics. The Colorado Springs bombing, while unsuccessful in killing anyone, might well have been intended to send a message that racial animus and lynch mob insanity persisted despite advancements in race relations. These advancements have culminated in the election of the first black president while America remains a majority white society. Not only did Barack Obama represent progress made by the country to all Americans, his global celebrity demonstrated that the world cared about the outcome of race relations in the United States.
Nevertheless and despite how much progress was made as demonstrated by Obama’s two term presidency or other progress in race relations and advancement of minorities in the USA, incitement to hate, while prominent during a terrible period in American history, had staying power, as demonstrated by the terrorist plot in Colorado Springs being read in the larger context racial animus. It will remain known worldwide that regardless of its particular motive, the reaction to it has demonstrated once again that rather than moving beyond race, the US remained mired in the troubled aftermath of Jim Crow.
The United States, despite its globally awe inspiring achievements in civil rights for all regardless of identity, inborn or chosen, still remained a country in which hate has always been a preeminent motivator for ideologues caught up in and perhaps benefiting from racial and ethnic division. And regardless of the outcome of the investigation into the Colorado Springs bombing, Americans need to reflect on why such incidents illicit so much fury from the left and right and where their country is headed—whether it’s towards more inclusiveness despite identity or towards a bleak future in which immutable factors determine quality of life, health, and wealth of its citizens. Americans and the world will continue to watch and remain invested as the future unfolds.
Dr. Khalil Marrar is a professor of politics and justice studies at Governors State University in University Park, Illinois. His research focuses on the intersection of public policy and foreign affairs, and he is the author of The Arab Lobby and US Foreign Policy: The Two State Solution (Facebook page) He is currently working on a book entitled Middle East Conflicts: The Basics, to be published Routledge. His lectures and research focus on Arab and Muslim diasporas, particularly their policy preferences. Marrar also teaches American, global, comparative, and Middle East Politics.