Your morning may have started out as routine: grab some coffee or orange juice, get yourself out the door on the way to work (much less anyone else in the house) and hope you had fuel in the tank and wouldn't need to deal with the price of gasoline. The ride home tonight may be a bit different, especially when looking over the rail on the bridges that span the Cuyahoga, Rocky, Vermillion, Chagrin, Tuscarawas or the hundreds of other rivers, creeks, streams and valleys that crease northeast Ohio.
The federal government provided a glimpse of how terrorism isn't just a problem overseas. It's here at home, thanks to a five-pack of self-described "anarchists" who, at one time or another, talked about blowing up the Detroit-Superior Bridge, the Valley View Bridge, the Cleveland Federal Reserve, ships carrying cargo and themselves before settling on getting what they thought was discount C-4 explosive to take down the Route 82 bridge linking Sagamore Hills Township with Brecksville.
13,000+ vehicles cross that bridge everyday. It passes over the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, bikers, runners, scenic trains, deer and eagles. It's not a strategic military target, not even a particularly commercially interesting bridge linking a pair of powerhouse industrial sites. The nearest business to the bridge is the Clippity-Clop Shop where you can buy items for horses, or cowboy shirts and boots. There's a bar nearby, and an art framing gallery. And trees. Lots of trees.
The government charges three men at the center of the alleged plot. Douglas Wright, aka "Cyco", is 26 and appears to be the hot-headed leader of the pack. Brandon Baxter, 20, aka "Skabby", at one point jokes about strapping on explosives and blowing himself up in the Federal Reserve if he got drunk enough. Anthony Hayne, aka "Tony" or "Billy" met with two others and hatched a scheme to use $900 dollars worth of explosives and remote detonating devices.
They were joined by a confidential informant who first met Wright at "an event" held by a group of anarchists. The FBI was notified and sent their informant to the party in October of last year, where several participants weren't happy the protest crowd wasn't buying into their opinion that violence was better than peaceful disobedience. That led to more meetings and more talk.
Among the items included in the 21-page complaint:
- use smoke grenades on the Veteran's Memorial Bridge (also known as the Detroit Superior Bridge) in Cleveland so they could knock down signs from banking companies downtown;
- taking action against banks or a hospital using stink bombs, paint guns or explosives;
- making plastic explosives from household items;
- taking down the Detroit-Superior Bridge between Cleveland and Ohio City;
- timing their bridge attacks to be at night, or close the bridge off with traffic cones, so the attack because they "didn't want people to think they were terrorists";
- buying ballistic vests, retractable batons, tear gas, gas masks and deciding on explosives;
- where to store their riot gear and C-4, if it was cheaper to buy it instead of make it;
- bargaining over prices of C-4 bricks and getting a volume discount from $75 apiece for two down to $50 apiece for eight, and folding their order into the riot gear purchases;
- blowing up a Nazi or Ku Klux Klan headquarters in Ohio, noting Lodi was their best bet;
- derailing a train by blowing up a bridge but discarding the idea because "...there are not too many passenger trains anymore";
- targeting mines or oil wells;
- driving an explosive-laden car into the Federal Reserve Bank;
- blowing up a "Fusion Center" in Cleveland, where federal, state and local law enforcement share resources;
- blowing up the Justice Center in Cleveland, but discarding the idea because it would kill too many inmates;
- use the C-4 to blow up a cargo ship;
- using Google Maps to figure out where bombs should be dropped, and planning getaway routes;
- whether to buy the C4 from the FBI's undercover agent despite thinking he might be a cop;
- timing the explosion on the Route 82 bridge for when the National Park below closed it's visitor parking;
- use the bike trail below the Route 82 bridge to "recon" where the explosives would be placed;
- arranging to pick up what they thought were two IED's from the undercover agent;
- interrupting the agent when he was explaining how the cellular telephone remote detonator worked, because Hayne said he had a photographic memory;
- picking up what turned out to be inert (non-functioning) IED's from the undercover agent last Sunday;
- at 9:09 last night, they tried to blow up the bridge. It didn't work.
C-4 is one of the explosives of choice, and like most explosives gets it's destructive power as gas rapidly expands. The website HowStuffWorks has an interesting read on C-4 and why it's designed for military purposes. The photo from HowStuffWorks.com, at left, shows the power of the plastic explosive from two charges set off on an airport runway.
There's a healthy debate going on around the country as to whether the trio, and pair of other alleged accomplices, were the victims of an F.B.I. sting and the actions of the informant or undercover agent was more entrapment than investigation. It's a good discussion to have, even while I personally approve of law enforcement gathering intelligence and working undercover. In my mind, it beats what might happen when real C4 and real IED's are used.
We see enough of that already to know they kill. But that's overseas, right? Except for September 11th, it's only something that might happen, right? Even then, we're in Cleveland, for goodness sake.
I take this bridge to work occasionally; my wife and I have walked or biked this path in the National Park hundreds of times. Friends and family take it as a matter of course, thinking only of how pretty it is when the colors ripen in the fall or the first hint of green starts to proclaim spring's here. It's just a means of getting across the valley, from one point to the other. At least, I suspect, that's the way it is for the 13,000 other cars using the bridge on a daily basis.
We live in such a sheltered world. To imagine there aren't those who wish to do us harm, extremists to believe any means justifies the end, has been proven wrong again and again. We walk a tightrope of living in a system that allows us to drift off into a fuzzy innocence, one where we don't think we need informants and undercover agents because they intrude on our privacy. Balanced by the need to remember there are those who wish to do us harm, even though to them we are just nameless and faceless collateral damage.
Balancing our privacy and security is a choice between reactive and proactive, and just how far we are willing to let that pendulum swing in either direction. With a quintet of men we may have walked past in the supermarket before they were arrested standing as a reminder, and the target not the function of what happens thousands of miles away or on a television show but on the very road we travel, what is your answer?