The Morning Jolt

Law & the Courts

What Happened in Nashville?

Debris litters the road near the site of an explosion in the area of Second and Commerce in Nashville, Tenn., December 25, 2020. (Andrew Nelles/ TODAY NETWORK via Reuters)

On the menu today: I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. In the final week of this annus horribilis, we look at the Nashville bombing and try to figure out why that guy decided to end his life in such high-profile, terrifying fashion; the president signs the pandemic relief and omnibus spending bill; the New York Post tries to stage an intervention; and a special offer that ends with 2020!

The Mystery in Nashville

The Christmas Day explosion in downtown Nashville wasn’t just frightening terrorism; it was creepy, with an almost cinematic sense of timing and drama.

The suicide bomber either used gunshots or audio of gunshots to attract attention shortly after 5 a.m. on Christmas morning. A loudspeaker on the recreational vehicle started playing a woman’s voice declaring and repeating, “This area must be evacuated now. If you can hear this message, evacuate now,” in a dispassionate tone fit for an airport terminal-change announcement. In between, the speakers played “Downtown” by Petula Clark from 1964. This was some Joker-level theatrics.

And then at 6:29 a.m., the bomb detonated, injuring three people. Considering the power of the bomb and the scale of the physical damage to the surrounding buildings, it was a near-miracle that no one was killed.

Law enforcement identified the bomber as Anthony Quinn Warner, a local “self-employed computer guru,” and declared he died in the explosion; his identity was confirmed through DNA testing. The FBI and local law enforcement have no other suspects. At this hour, the explosion appears to be a dramatically high-profile suicide.

Here’s what’s spectacularly odd: This might be the most successful attack on our telecommunications infrastructure ever, and it wasn’t by a terrorist group. In fact, it’s not clear that the AT&T building was deliberately targeted.

Despite massive destruction to 41 buildings, no one else was killed in the explosion. Officers helped evacuate nearby residents from several apartments.

The RV was parked outside of an AT&T facility, though authorities have not said whether they believe the telecommunications company may have been a target.

The blast caused extensive damage to phone and internet coverage throughout the region, causing communication blackouts for 911 centers in surrounding counties, leaving customers throughout the state without service and exposing vulnerabilities in infrastructure.

The bomber apparently did not intend to kill innocent people, but he managed to put together a bomb powerful enough to kill many people — and the bomber could never know for certain that no innocent people or police would be within the blast radius. And of course, if you knock out 911 service, you put many lives at risk — an ambulance might not get there in time for someone who’s suffering a heart attack or had a car accident or the fire department won’t make it to a blaze. At this hour, no one has found any manifesto or suicide note from the bomber. This took elaborate and meticulous planning, and there are some signs the bomber had put his affairs in order before launching his attack.

I said above that this was probably the most successful attack on our telecommunications infrastructure ever. It reminded me, however, of another attack that was less successful — but almost as mysterious — back in 2013:

The attack began just before 1 a.m. on April 16 last year, when someone slipped into an underground vault not far from a busy freeway and cut telephone cables.

Within half an hour, snipers opened fire on a nearby electrical substation. Shooting for 19 minutes, they surgically knocked out 17 giant transformers that funnel power to Silicon Valley.

A minute before a police car arrived, the shooters disappeared into the night.

To avoid a blackout, electric-grid officials rerouted power around the site and asked power plants in Silicon Valley to produce more electricity. But it took utility workers 27 days to make repairs and bring the substation back to life.

Nobody has been arrested or charged in the attack at PG&E Corp.’s Metcalf transmission substation. It is an incident of which few Americans are aware. But one former federal regulator is calling it a terrorist act that, if it were widely replicated across the country, could take down the U.S. electric grid and black out much of the country.

The attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred” in the U.S., said Jon Wellinghoff, who was chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the time.

For reasons the FBI never disclosed, the bureau did not believe the attack on the substation was a terrorist attack. No one was ever arrested, but in 2015, Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security declared at a conference, “While we have not yet identified the shooter, there’s some indication it was an insider.”

In the aftermath of the California attack, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission required power companies to upgrade their physical security. But it is very difficult to protect critical infrastructure in an urban environment from a bomb as powerful as the one in that RV.

After All That Sound and Fury, Trump Signs the Pandemic Relief Bill

Remember everything we discussed last Wednesday? Never mind. On Sunday night, President Trump reversed course on the appropriations and coronavirus relief bill.

This is the same bill that he called a “disgrace.” Trump pledged that he would “send back to Congress a redlined version, item by item, accompanied by the formal rescission request to Congress insisting that those funds be removed from the bill.” Congress does not have to remove the funds, however, and if the House Appropriations Committee — controlled by Democrats — rejects the recission request, the request dies. Trump will be out of office before the 25-day window for congressional action expires.

Trump’s statement, released Sunday night, declared, “Congress has promised that Section 230, which so unfairly benefits Big Tech at the expense of the American people, will be reviewed and either be terminated or substantially reformed. Likewise, the House and Senate have agreed to focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election.” If you are skeptical that House speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to “focus strongly on the very substantial voter fraud which took place in the November 3 Presidential election,” join the club.

As for the other major piece of legislation that Trump vetoed, a defense bill that the president called “a gift to China, Russia & Big Tech” that “fails to terminate the internationally dangerous Section 230, won’t allow us to bring our troops back home (where they belong), renames & destroys our forts & National Monuments, & makes 5G almost impossible!” . . . the House and Senate are expected to override his veto in the coming days.

Life is pretty tough for a lame-duck president.

The New York Post Tries to Stage an Intervention

The New York Post editorial board speaks directly to the president:

Mr. President, it’s time to end this dark charade.

We’re one week away from an enormously important moment for the next four years of our country.

Unfortunately, you’re obsessed with the next day, Jan. 6, when Congress will, in a pro forma action, certify the Electoral College vote. You have tweeted that, as long as Republicans have “courage,” they can overturn the results and give you four more years in office.

In other words, you’re cheering for an undemocratic coup.

You had every right to investigate the election. But let’s be clear: Those efforts have found nothing . . .

Democrats will try to write you off as a one-term aberration and, frankly, you’re helping them do it. The King Lear of Mar-a-Lago, ranting about the corruption of the world.

I look forward to the usual declarations that the New York Post editorial board and its editors have gone soft, aren’t willing to fight, are selling out to “the Establishment,” etc. Apparently, some recent straw broke the camel’s back, or snapped the unbreakable thread. Remember this the next time you hear the usual disingenuous hollering that someone else is just out for invites of Georgetown cocktail parties or yearning for the approval of the liberal establishment. Maybe that’s the case. Or maybe some people just see the facts clearer and spend less time in denial and/or rabble-rousing, posing as the last of the true fighters in a world full of sellouts and milquetoast moderates.

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