Let’s start with the obvious: all of us are, or should be, thankful that Portland’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony was not bombed by a would-be terrorist. Other facts to put on the table: the young man harbored strong anti-American feelings, he communicated with and attempted to visit a friend that moved to Pakistan, and, most importantly, he believed his actions would lead to the detonation of a bomb at the tree-lighting ceremony.
But there’s another important point that may not be as obvious to those of us reading the news reports this week: there never was a plot to bomb Portland’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony, nor was there ever any danger of such an attack. In the media’s rush of breathless triumphalism, it’s easy to overlook the fact that this young man was not arrested as the result of the government uncovering a bomb plot; he was arrested after the government lead him into a fictional bomb plot that was wholly the creation of FBI informants.
If we were less preoccupied with the professed-heroism of the FBI informants who invented and suggested the fictional bomb plot to this young person, we might think to stop and ask questions that were either de-emphisized or completely ignored in the media. Questions like, what is it that would make a teenage, naturalized American citizen want to participate in actions that he believed would kill people? Why would such a young person feel that way about his adopted country? Exactly what good was served by entrapping this young man with the fictional bomb plot? Is staging acts of terrorism an effective way to root out and prevent acts of terrorism, or are these sting operations just fishing expeditions that further alienate groups of Americans who are already being made to feel unwelcome in in a host of other ways? Exactly what message do we want our government to send to disaffected youth from other cultures? In the end, do these types of actions make us more, or less safe as a nation? And finally, do we really believe that we’re going to be better off focusing on security measures instead of examining actions and policies that lead to anti-American sentiment around the world?