Why is the media ignoring this bombing?

January 15, 2015

David Long looks at what we know about the bombing at a Colorado NAACP office.

AN ATTEMPTED bomb attack on the NAACP office in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on January 6 has received almost no media attention.

Fortunately, no one at the NAACP office or the adjacent barbershop was harmed after a homemade explosive device failed to ignite a gas canister placed next to it. Photos of the scene show only a few burn marks on the outside of the building, but witnesses reported an earsplitting explosion that shook the building and knocked pictures off the walls.

Agents from the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrived on the scene shortly after the explosion at 11 a.m. Agent Thomas Ravenelle said the agency had identified a possible "person of interest," described as a balding white male in his mid-40s. Witnesses claim to have seen a man carrying something into an alley behind the building, then walk away empty-handed and drive off in a pickup truck, possibly with covered license plates.

Although Ravenelle says he is "not naïve" about where the bomb went off, he explicitly said on Friday, "We're not going to call it terrorism, and we're not going to call it a hate crime. It's a bombing investigation."

Colorado Springs NAACP office following the bombing
Colorado Springs NAACP office following the bombing

In stark contrast to the attacks in Paris the following day, the bombing in Colorado Springs was mentioned only by local media outlets, which were hesitant to call the explosion an attempted "bombing" until days later when it was officially confirmed that the explosion came from a "crudely made" explosive device.

All this seems to betray a double standard in the way "domestic terror attacks" and "hate crimes" are handled in the U.S. The wider context for this is the Ferguson protests that erupted around the country after the shooting death of Mike Brown last August, and the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Right-wing extremism must at least be suspected in the Colorado Springs bombing. So why has the media been so quiet?

FOUNDED IN 1908, the NAACP is today known as a moderate civil rights organization. Its legal and lobbying strategy is characterized by its most famous victory, in winning the famous Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case in 1954, overturning segregation.

But the NAACP has suffered a string of bomb attacks and attempted bombings, beginning in the early 1950s. Harry T. Moore, the NAACP's field secretary in Florida, and his wife Harriette were killed after a bomb exploded under their bed on Christmas Day 1951. Four Klan members were later implicated. A decade later, in June 1963, Medgar Evers, the NAACP's first field secretary in Mississippi, was assassinated outside of his home by white supremacists.

George Metcalfe, an NAACP leader in Mississippi, survived a car bombing carried out by a local Klansman in August 1965, but was seriously injured. A year later in August 1966, the NAACP's Milwaukee chapter, and the following February, Wharlest Jackson Sr., an NAACP treasurer in Mississippi, was killed by a car bomb.

In December 1975, an NAACP chapter in Boston was firebombed by racists opposed to school desegregation. In 1989, Robert E. Robinson, a Savannah, Georgia, NAACP attorney, was killed by a mail bomber. As recently as January 2011, the FBI thwarted a white supremacist plot to bomb an NAACP march on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Spokane, Washington.

Colorado Springs has a well-earned reputation throughout Colorado as a bastion of conservative politics with strong ties to the military. Its local economy is driven primarily by the military and high-tech industry. It is home to the U.S. Air Force Academy (one of Colorado's largest tourist attractions) and Peterson Air Force Base, with the Fort Carson army base just a few miles away.

About 80 percent of the city's 439,858 residents are white, while Blacks account for 6.2 percent, and Black-owned businesses are only about 3 percent of the total. The Latino population of Colorado Springs currently stands at 17.1 percent and has been growing rapidly in recent years, further stoking the fears of white supremacists.

Needless to say, racism is no stranger to Colorado Springs or to Colorado in general. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least 17 hate groups have been operating in Colorado in recent years, including the Loyal White Knights and the Ku Klux Klan. Last summer, Colorado Springs was the target of a massive nationwide recruitment drive by the KKK--at least 34 homes in the area received fliers inviting residents to join.

Meanwhile, a recent article in the Colorado Springs Independent statesthat "Colorado Springs city manager Jim Mullen this week scrambled to execute damage control over the revelation that he kept secret for more than a year the results of a study showing significant racism, sexism, ageism, classism and anti-gay sentiment among the city's 2,000-plus employees."

Although the NAACP has many members in Colorado, the branch is ususual. Eric Verlo, a social justice activist, wrote in an article: "As befits the Springs' conservative nature, the local NAACP is headed by a card-carrying member of the TEA PARTY!... For a decade, this NAACP chapter has been estranged from its Black community, mostly poor and neither elitist nor libertarian."

Dr. James Tucker, who publishes African American Voice, a monthly newspaper in Colorado Springs, expressed his frustration with the city's conservative politics and the local NAACP branch when he told reporters for the International Business Times that the NAACP chapter had "done little to address persistent economic and educational disparities for Blacks."

No one knows for certain who committed this attempted bombing, but there are questions stirring in the minds of an anxious public: Is it the case that this attack received so little attention just because it failed to kill scores of people? Or because it seems likely to have been the work of an unsophisticated white supremacist who acted alone? Would the FBI have launched a more aggressive investigation if the suspect had targeted a Jewish organization? Or had been thought to be a Muslim extremist?

This much we know: These questions demand more satisfactory answers than what the FBI and the local press have given so far.

Further Reading

From the archives