How would I have handled a terrorist manhunt? My reply to critics is here.
Yesterday a major US city – perhaps as many as 1 million people – was put under martial law. Business and universities were closed. Public transit and Amtrak were padlocked. Paramilitary cops from multiple states rolled down Boston’s residential neighborhoods in humvees with manned machine gun turrets on top. In full battle gear, these guys – they looked like soldiers – called people out of their homes. They then searched the homes. Boston became a ghost town and a police state for a day. And Bostonians cheered them for it. Some even called for a parade to honor the men who treated them like prisoners in their own homes.
This grand show of force, which even the FBI admits is unprecedented, was carried out for the purpose of catching a suspected terrorist – a 19-year-old honor student – who stands accused of deploying pressure cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon. These bombs reportedly killed 3 people and injured 170.
Think about that. Boston was turned into a giant prison for a day to catch a teenager with pressure cooker bombs.
What does this mean?
1. Terrorism “Works”
For a maximum investment of perhaps $1 or $2 thousand dollars, ideologically-motivated individuals can cost the economy perhaps as much as $1 billion dollars in economic output. Nobody yet knows how much it costs to shut down down Boston for a day but $1 billion is about how much the city produces on a daily basis. The return on investment for an enterprising terrorist could be as much as 500,000%.
The brothers Tsarnaev succeeded in gaining a lot of attention for themselves. Chechnya will benefit from this attention. People will want to travel there. People will want to understand what has been going on in Chechnya. We all want to understand why people do these kinds of things and people now want to understand these brothers.
In short, the boys in blue created a tantalizing incentive for others to copy the Tsarnaevs. The Tsarnaevs’ terrorism “worked” but only because the Boston government helped them make it work. This is not a conspiracy theory. By overreacting, the governments at work here magnified the Tsarnaevs’ effectiveness. The Tsarnaevs didn’t shut down Boston. They didn’t put paramilitary troops on the streets of a major US city. The governments at work here did that.
2. The Demand for Tyranny is too Damned High
People will put up with a lot – really a lot – in the name of safety.
- Turn the city into a war zone with soldiers and humvees? Sure.
- Lock down my proud city as if it were a prison? No problem.
- House to house searches without legal basis? It’s ok.
- Snipers aiming at me and my family while I wait on the sidewalk for my house to be searched? Yep, it’s legit.
- Cheer the guys doing all this, let them high-five my kid, suggest throwing a parade for them? Yep, it all happened.
It was like the TSA came out to your house for the day – and you were thrilled about it.
The ability of the US population to cheerfully accept tyranny is nothing short of amazing. If this doesn’t rouse people from their slumber, then anything that will rouse them is going to be too late.
3. The US is Shockingly Weak
It was just a 19-year-old kid with pressure cookers and guns. He didn’t even have fully automatic weapons. Yet everyone was so scared that they willingly cowered in their homes and complied with every request made of them.
Imagine if this kid actually knew what he was doing. Imagine if there were a dozen of these guys in multiple parts of the city or multiple parts of the country operating simultaneously. They could have brought the whole country to a standstill.
I thought America was a great country – a powerful country. I thought it was the best country in the world. That’s what they tell me at least. Is this the country that defeated Hitler in World War 2? Is this the country that put a man on the moon? If these events are meaningful to you, then you need to question what the hell happened. You can defeat Hitler and Tojo, you can hang Saddam and assassinate bin Laden, but you cower in fear of a 19-year-old kid?
Yesterday’s show of force actually made everyone more vulnerable by showing just how weak, frightened and cowardly people in the US are. Not only are the government cops a threat to freedom but they actually make you less safe!
The Proper Reaction
The proper reaction to a criminal (and let’s remember that the surviving Tsarnaev brother hasn’t been convicted yet) is to boldly (but tactically) proceed forward against him until he is neutralized.
Human life is precious. All life is precious, in fact. It demands protection. But there is something more important to me than my life – my self-respect. My self-respect demands that I not allow another person to control me through fear. It demands that I have courage. It demands that I resist evil.
We all feel fear. When there is a gun to your head, you have no choice but to comply. But we must not allow the fear to control us. We must not allow the gun, or the pressure cooker in this case, to become internalized and control us even when it is physically absent. Otherwise, any old boogieman can – and will – come along and enslave us.
If you allow an angsty teenager with a pressure cooker to frighten you into abandoning your daily routine and cowering in your home as if it were a prison, then you desperately need to re-evaluate your posture towards life. Reclaim your self-respect, Boston.
Bostonians could have sent a powerful message of courage to the world yesterday by continuing with their lives as usual. Now that would have served as a great deterrent to future terrorism. And the suspect would have been caught more quickly.
Should People have Cooperated?
When a dozen paramilitary cops with fully automatic battle rifles backed by a guy on a humvee turret and snipers come to my house, the words ‘voluntary’ and ‘cooperation’ have no place. I would be a fool to resist. They have guns to my head and the heads of anyone with me. It’s now too late to resist. I don’t blame anyone for cooperating. I blame them for cheering their oppressors.
Would an AR-15 have Helped?
Would having an AR-15 battle rifle and a high-capacity magazine have helped anyone (other than the paramilitary forces) survive the Boston lockdown (as one politician suggested)? No. It would be suicide for you and yours to fire on the paramilitary forces (not to mention not being constructive) and in the tight spaces of an urban area, I would rather have a handgun to defend myself from a home intruder.
The Police State for a Day Experiment Failed
It’s absolutely fascinating to me that only when they lifted the lockdown did they find the surviving Tsarnaev brother. That’s when the owner of the boat Tsarnaev was hiding in came out of his house and noticed something amiss.
Boston was turned into a police state for a day. It was an experiment. It failed miserably. The governments in operation there rallied all of the military might at their disposal with a near-complete suspension of liberty and they failed to find the man they were looking for – until they lifted their siege.
The bottom line is that the man on the street, the civilian, the regular joe, is a more effective agent for public safety than any hopped-up government employee with body armor, night vision, full-auto rifles and flash-bangs. Just like with Flight 93, the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber, it was the regular folks who played the key role in neutralizing a suspected terrorist – not the cops or the TSA. That should be a sobering fact for any law enforcement cheerleader.
What do we do now?
The Boston Lockdown confirmed what many of us already suspected. The climate for personal liberty in North America is going to get a lot worse before it gets any better.
- Those who favor arms will surely get more arms and better training. And they should.
- The lawyers will sue. And they should. It keeps them busy.
- Those who like protesting and running for office will do more of it. And they’re annoying so they should definitely stick to that.
- Those who are getting themselves put in jail for liberty should stop. Governments have an unlimited ability to incarcerate. And taxpayers have little sympathy for people who “break the law.”
- If you really want to do something useful, I think the best way forward is to practice what we preach. Become more resilient. Build more prosperity, for yourself and others. Build those personal bonds that constitute the emergent order of a free, decentralized society.
- And become stronger, both physically and spiritually. Because the road ahead is a long one. While there are no easy solutions, I foresee a lot of fun working them out.
Bonus: Here’s how the troops handled an individual video-recording them from his own home.
Bonus #2: Here’s what a house search under martial law in Boston looks like.