The bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh appear to have come to an end. What did we learn from them?
The individuals alleged to be responsible for making more than 140 bomb threats at the University of Pittsburgh stated that they were ceasing their activities because their demands had been met, according to a piece published two days ago in The Pitt News:
A group calling itself “The Threateners” claimed in an email late on Saturday that it will stop sending bomb threats to Pitt buildings because the University dropped its $50,000 reward offer for information in the case. The group, in a pair of untraceable emails sent Friday and Saturday to The Pitt News, claimed responsibility for threats emailed after Pitt first offered a $10,000 reward for information on March 30, more than a month after bomb threats at Pitt began.
Possibly at the urging of the FBI, the university had withdrawn its notice regarding the reward. No threats have been received since that action was taken, so perhaps this sorry saga has come to an end. How, then, is one to sum things up?
The Wall Street Journal ran a thoughtful piece by James Hagerty that discussed how the University of Pittsburgh had altered its bomb threat response policies. Instead of automatically evacuating threatened buildings, authorities would instead determine if there was an “imminent threat” of harm:
Security experts say the former automatic-evacuation policy, while understandable, risked prolonging the agony if evacuations were what the responsible parties are seeking. “Bomb threats are rarely legitimate,” said Dewey Cornell, a forensic psychologist and expert on school safety at the University of Virginia, and evacuations aren’t always the best response. Dr. Cornell, who stressed that he was not second-guessing Pitt security officials and didn’t have their inside view, said people behind threats often just want to cause fright and disarray. “It is a no-win situation,” Dr. Cornell said. “You’re going to be criticized no matter what decision you make.”
Nathan Zimmerman, writing two weeks ago for The Good Men Project, had urged an end to the evacuations:
The policy of evacuating and searching all buildings that are threatened so as to assuage our feelings of vulnerability only makes sense in a world in which the rational response to a tragedy like 9/11 in which fewer than 4,000 people lost their lives is to spend more than a trillion dollars and more than 4,000 soldiers’ lives (not to even mention the hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians whose lives have been lost as a result of the inevitable hardships of war). Sometimes, we must sacrifice our sense of security on the altar of a greater good. Any unwillingness to do so makes the job of the terrorist far easier: the terrorist does not care about taking your life—your life is only a means to their ends. If the terrorist’s goal of eternal frustration and gridlock of his opponents is as simple as reminding them of their mortality and vulnerability inside their technological wombs, terrorist victory is a foregone conclusion. Because danger is not going anywhere, what justification can there be in putting our lives on hold until the day when it does?
Andrew Fournaridis, who runs the extremely detailed and useful Stop the Pitt Bomb Threats blog, had initially disagreed with Zimmerman, but later, in a discussion on the blog’s comments section, indicated he was gradually warming to that argument.
Each day, the bomb threats (generalized to include every building, for the sake of convenience) would be e-mailed from untraceable accounts by the perpetrator or team of perpetrators, and each day the buildings, even if locked down overnight, would be evacuated and searched. Then the facilities would reopen, get threatened, close again, etc. Hundreds of bomb-sniffing dogs, cats, meerkats, and apes would roam the campus. Life, such as it is, would go on. But eventually no student in his or her right mind would choose to attend this benighted place, and its oft-threatened facilities would be shuttered for good.
I have no idea how to estimate the cost of the threats, but the university community’s losses–as measured in terms of cancelled classes, wasted student tuition dollars, fruitless law enforcement investigations, hours squandered on Reddit red herrings, and general frustration on the part of all involved parties–must be extraordinary. And who knows how this will affect enrollment in Fall 2012? University supporters are quick to say there will be little to no impact. However, when the threats are considered in conjunction with massive budget cuts and a proposed tuition hike, it appears that considerable damage has been done to the school’s reputation.
So why did all of this happen? What was the point? Was it a genuine, meaningful protest against the University of Pittsburgh’s antediluvian bathroom policy? Were some international terrorists taking aim at Pitt for its role in a sophisticated sub rosa chemical weapons project? Was a small but dedicated spinoff of the Occupy movement attempting to punish Chancellor Nordenberg et al. for the top-down, take-them-or-leave-them austerity measures imposed on various academic departments?
The answer is none of the above. Here’s why the shit hit the fan, according to the alleged perpetrators:
This all began when you, Nordenberg, put out a $10 000 – then $50 000 ‘reward’ (bounty) for some young kid who’d pranked the University. Remember? That REALLY angered us! Hey, man! This is America! We don’t treat our kids like that!
That’s right, friends: all of this happened because Nordenberg et al. got on some kid’s case. Didn’t these crusty old deans realize that it was just a goof? That the young kid was just pulling off some sweet punk’ings as if it was still 2000-and-late and Punk’d remained America’s most talked-about show?
Andrew Fournaridis, who has been struggling to assemble the pieces of this curious story since the very beginning, is now engaged in a serious attempt to compile a summary of the facts as they now stand. The coverage on his site was always several steps ahead of what one could find in the conventional media, and he deserves to be commended for that. Outside of Michael Macagnone‘s piece in The Pitt News, Vaughn Wallace‘s article on Time‘s NewsFeed blog, the Wikipedia page that appeared out of nowhere (as Wikipedia pages are wont to do), and the Hagerty story in The Wall Street Journal, there hasn’t been much coverage that actually increased our understanding of what was taking place. There’s been lots of chatter in the local papers, of course, but it was hardly any different (and certainly no better) than the “case-cracking” undertaken by a team of Junior Inspector Clouseaus over on the Pitt Reddit that led to the arrest of the ridiculous Mark Lee Krangle.
But let me save everyone involved in this ordeal the trouble of “putting it in perspective,” of crafting a deeply-considered “takeaway message,” of “learning a lesson.” The lesson, according to the alleged perpetrators, was to not teach lessons. Do you know what kind of lesson that is, Arrested Development fans? That’s a stupid goddamn lesson. This whole affair, from beginning to end, was stupid. The prayer circles and other inane displays of American pop religiosity were stupid (one person on the University of Pittsburgh’s Facebook feed kept urging others to “PBA: pray the bombs away” as if bombs were actually falling; another person exhorted everyone to “PUSH: pray until something happens,” which fortunately for all involved it never did). Everything written about the threats, including my own work, proved to be both futile (because it accomplished nothing) and stupid (because we writers wasted more than a split second bothering to care about it). All of our statuses and tweets, however clever, were dumb as hell. That Wikipedia page represents the height of stupidity. Sleeping on the floor of the Peterson Events Center, as many students did when they were forced to evacuate their dorms in the middle of the night, was utterly stupid.
In my attempt to seem not-quite-so-stupid, I’ll conclude with what seems like a poignant quote from Søren Kierkegaard’s Either/Or:
It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke.
No, that won’t do. I’m just as stupid as everybody else, and I ought to leave you with an equally poignant quote from Adam Sandler’s breathtakingly stupid Billy Madison:
What you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.
Let’s try to forget this ever happened, shall we?