As of the moment I type this column, the available evidence indicates that two men claiming jihadist motivations attacked a Garland, Texas, free-speech event Sunday night but were gunned down by Garland police the instant they opened fire. A security guard was wounded, and the terrorists are dead. Ominously, ISIS-affiliated Twitter accounts claimed the attackers as “brothers.” According to early reports, one of the suspected gunmen — Elton Simpson — is an American Muslim who had been “convicted of lying to federal agents about his plans to travel to Somalia five years ago.” A federal judge, however, “ultimately ruled it could not be proved that he was heading there to join a terror group.” He apparently received only probation.
With the caveat that early reports are often wrong, the attack has all the hallmarks of an attempted Charlie Hebdo–style massacre, a potential mass murder stopped in its tracks by alert police. I have three initial thoughts.
First, as the media has obsessed over allegations of police abuse of power, the Garland police just showed how to defend the Constitution. The goal of jihadists is to intimidate the Western world into silence — mandating “respect” for their faith at the point of a gun. In the face of an armed threat, the defense of free speech requires more than marches, rallies, and speeches. It requires men with guns who are just as determined to protect liberty as the jihadists are to take it. In this country we’ve grown accustomed to defending free speech the easy way, with court filings and op-eds. The hard way requires the use of disciplined, deadly force — exactly the force applied by the Garland police.
In the face of an armed threat, the defense of free speech requires more than marches, rallies, and speeches. It requires men with guns.
Second, given ISIS’s demonstrated ability to inspire Western terror, we cannot assume the threat is over. While we can’t guard every potential terror target, it would be wise for all individuals and organizations that speak publicly against ISIS or the threat of Islamic terror more generally to take stock of their security needs and make sure they are not soft targets. Had there not been adequate security in Garland, the headlines today would be very different indeed, with America picking up the pieces after a massacre more deadly than the shootings at Charlie Hebdo.
Third, we must show no patience for victim-blaming. There will be some who will claim that Pamela Geller and the other event organizers provoked the attack — that we’d be safer if only we were more “respectful.” Yet there is nothing worthy of respect in ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Hamas, or any of the other jihadist groups. Should we treat the beheaders of innocents better than our elite culture has treated our own peaceful Christian citizens? While I certainly will never equate ISIS with all of Islam, my message to peaceful, law-abiding Muslims offended by Geller’s speech is simple: Welcome to America. Here you have the freedom to practice your faith free from the massacres and violence that mark sectarian disputes in the Middle East, and here people have the right to mock your faith — as Christians have long understood. If one disagrees with Geller’s speech, the answer is more speech — not censorship and certainly not violence.
It’s wrong to say that yesterday America “got lucky.” Rather through preparation, prudence, and training, Americans thwarted a deadly terror attack — dealing ISIS (which would have reveled in the bloodshed) a propaganda defeat and saving potentially dozens of American lives in the process. We may not be as prepared at other times and other places, but last night we were, and for that we should be grateful.