Copyright 1995 The Denver Post Corporation
The Denver Post
May 21, 1995 Sunday 2D EDITION
SECTION: A SECTION; Pg. A-35
LENGTH: 599 words
HEADLINE: Bombings in U.S. up 76% Vandalism top inducement, though protests make news
BYLINE: Andrea Stone, USA Today
Whether seen in the rubble of Oklahoma, along the Unabomber's elusive trail or in a mailbox charred by a teenager's prank, the number of bombings in America has exploded, leaving an unnerving trail of random terror.
None of the new wave of bombings has wrought anything close to the devastation of the Oklahoma City bomb or New York's World Trade Center blast two years ago.
But, says the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, bombings did increase 76 percent from 1989 to 1993, the latest year available.
Analysts blame society's overall tide of violence, the spread of bomb-making information, the easy availability of raw materials, even big-budget action movies, for the jump to more than 2,400 bombings.
The vast majority of bombs are small homemade affairs, which injure no one but are still capable of ripping open a locker or starting fires.
By far the top inducement for bombers is vandalism - capricious or malicious. Revenge comes next. Protest bombings against the federal government, abortion clinics or other political targets may garner big headlines but actually make up a small proportion of incidents.
Culture, not ideology, appears to fuels the bombmaker's craft.
"Our appetite for the fantasy of explosions is rather profound, almost like this primal interest in fire," says Lawrence Myers, a bomb researcher.
The appeal of explosives is simple, says American University criminologist Ronald Weiner. "They go 'boom.' They make a real big impression."
As an attention-getter, "Bombs represent enormous power," says Brian Jenkins, a security consultant. "To have control over this enormous power is an attraction, especially to adolescent males."
Post-pubescent males, ages 15 to 22, are most likely to experiment with explosives, Myers says.
This is the same age group that helped make Sylvester Stallone's "The Specialist," about an ex-CIA bomb expert out for revenge, second on the movie rental chart last week. They, and many of their elders, have crowded theaters to see "Blown Away" and "Speed," movies in which bombs and their destructive effects are featured.
From TV's "Hogan's Heroes" to Tom Clancy novels, "the context is one of a culture that is deeply involved in violence and tends to celebrate that violence in the media," says Charles Strozier of the Center on Violence and Human Survival at John Jay College.
"There is an increase in the willingness of individuals to use more extreme forms of violence to make their point," says Weiner. "Sometimes it's not clear what those points are."
Not that bombings are new.
The eight-year reign of New York's "Mad Bomber," George Metesky, did as much to hurt Manhattan's theater business in the 1950s as did the new technology of television. In the 1970s, the left-wing Weather Underground and Puerto Rican nationalists were linked to a series of bombings. The still-loose Unabomber, who has killed three and injured 23, began his reign of terror in 1978.
And, analysts say, bombings tend to be cyclical, with peaks and valleys over time. "Bombings feed upon themselves," Myers says, with copycats always a threat. The latest example: the Unabomber attack in Sacramento, which experts say not by accident came on the heels of the Oklahoma tragedy.
The rising bombing statistics represent another trend, though. They underscore a softening of civility in a nation overcome by economic uncertainty, says Paul Ragonese, a former New York police bomb squad member. "Instead of talking, they're yelling, they're threatening," he says. "There seems to be no negotiation but detonation."