The most terrifying event of the post-election meltdown in American civility is not the riot at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, but the Christmas morning bombing in Nashville, Tennessee. The ability of a single disgruntled individual to build a mobile bomb of such explosive power without tipping his hand or blowing it off is indeed frightening.
I know what I write about. In the 1980s, I was an editor at Loompanics Unlimited, publishers of controversial and unusual books, sellers of such titles as The Anarchist Cookbook, Kitchen Improvised Plastic Explosives, and Homemade Guns and Homemade Ammo. We published books on making bombs, modifying guns, and causing mayhem. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says words cannot be prohibited, only actions.
The idea that one person can pack that much explosive power into an old recreational vehicle and drive it into position without blowing himself up along the way is stunning. None of the books I’ve worked on have ever hinted at this sort of explosive power commanded by a single individual. This is a quantum leap in the deadliness of a lone wolf.
When the Oklahoma City bombing happened in 1995, Loompanics got a visit from the Feds. Anytime they found one of our books at the last known address of a fugitive, we got a visit from the Feds. Previously, nothing as powerful as the Nashville Christmas bomb could have been built without a team of people and a large budget. The Oklahoma City bombing was a team effort and a much bigger truck. For a home hobbyist to build that big of a bomb inside a cheap RV and get it right is almost unthinkable.
Most bombers leave a trail of experiments leading up to the big boom. They practice with detonators and explosives out in the woods until they get it right. Many people hear these explosions, notify the authorities, and the perpetrators are put on a list and watched. Not the Nashville bomber. His girlfriend told the police more than a year before the bombing that he “had been making bombs in his RV.” When the cops arrived, the bomber’s attorney was there and the police were denied access. Call it white privilege.
The purchase of explosive materials in the quantities used in the Nashville bombing usually comes with some scrutiny. The Feds watch purchases of the ammonium nitrate fertilizer used in the Oklahoma City bombing and a possible component of the Nashville bomb. One expert suggested that “very powerful high explosive” might have been used due to the large fireball, an indication of an accelerant such as gasoline or black powder. How was the Nashville bomber able to purchase devastating quantities of high explosives without notice?
Even if you can get hundreds of pounds of ammonium nitrate without attracting notice, how do you get it to blow up? Detonating mechanisms are notoriously difficult to engineer and build. Messing around with them often leads to injury explosions that reveal the bomber’s intentions or take a bomber out of action.
Adding timers to detonators is even more tricky, but necessary to blow things up remotely. The Nashville bomber blew himself up with the RV, so he could have been there to flip the switch. To detonate the explosives from a distance requires a bit of engineering and practice. It’s possible, though not likely, the Nashville bomber could have blown up the RV just by shooting at it with a gun, but that’s a low-percentage detonation method that more often than not would lead to a dud.
We’re supposed to believe that a single, disgruntled individual built a mobile bomb capable of taking out a city block in the back of an old RV, and nobody saw him building it or practicing or stockpiling explosives? He built a detonator and a timer and somehow these worked perfectly without practice? He was able to drive this RV anywhere he wanted and it did not blow up from the road vibration. He was able to add a sound system, hooked into the timer and detonator, playing Petula Clark’s “Downtown” between synthetic voice messages to “evacuate now.”
When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go Downtown.
We published a book at Loompanics called Basement Nukes that was not a primer on making such devices but an exploration of the impacts of such deadly power in such small packages. It was subtitled, “The Consequences of Cheap Weapons of Mass Destruction” and the consequences are not good. It took a genius like the Unabomber decades to figure out how to build something he could mail that would kill someone. A genius at math, maybe; not so much at chemistry.
The ability of a small group to launch a massively destructive attack is known as “asymmetrical warfare.” A recent example is the Houthi drone attack on Saudi oil processing facilities resulting in an estimated $500 million in damages from less than a hundred thousand dollars in weapons. The ability of small groups to inflict massive damages is shocking.
The ability of a lone individual untrained in military pyrotechnics to successfully build, move, and detonate a device the size of the Nashville Christmas bomb should be unnerving to every American. The Nashville bombing provides a much more dystopian vision of the future than the sacking of the Capitol by MAGA fanatics. The Nashville bombing means that now, any 65-year-old disappointed white male determined to “show them” is capable of packing the old camper with explosives and “Going Downtown.” Maybe he’ll be nice enough to add a warning notice, maybe not.