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Misunderstanding Yesterday’s New York Vehicle Attack

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With yet another vehicle attack in the news, I think it’s time we take a look at why these attacks are happening and what can be done to stop them.  Just over two months ago, we discussed the attacks in Barcelona and Charlottesville.  In that article, I suggested that we will continue to see this type of attack continuing on U.S. soil.

Today, I’d like to explain to you why we will continue to see these types of attacks.  And more importantly, I’d like to help you understand why we can’t stop them, at least not with our current mindset.  The short answer is that you cannot stop what you don’t understand.  Our government, media, and even our people don’t understand why these attacks are being conducted.

Before we get started, I’d like you to watch the following clip from NBC’s Today Show.  I’ll be using many of their comments to explain the situation.

New York’s history

It’s tempting to start off with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s comments at the end.  I won’t dig into the larger problem with his comments, as it could become more political than practical, but he brings up some good points.  Mr. Cuomo points out that New York has survived terrorism before and they will survive it again.

However, I’m not sure how much that helps the families of the victims.  All the laws and rules aren’t stopping these terrorist attacks.  They are simply causing the attacks to change form; to evolve.

It’s no surprise that New York City is a prime target for terrorism.  It is the economic capital of the world, and an attack on New York is a blow to western society in the eyes of terrorists.  However, as the Ohio State University attack demonstrated, these organizations know that they are going to need to reach middle America if they really want to accomplish their goals.

Politics aside, we need to look at New York as a symbol and testing ground of future terrorist objectives.

If we don’t stop it now, terrorism will be on the doorstep of middle America very soon.

Decentralized attacks

One quote that stood out in this broadcast was “A note left inside the truck says the attack was committed for ISIS.  But so far police believe (omitted name) was acting as a lone wolf and not part of a larger terror cell or plot.”

This quote stands out specifically because it seems to undermine the power of the attack.  While I know there are special units in law enforcement that deal exclusively with terrorism, I believe this “lone wolf” mindset is prevalent amongst the law enforcement community as a whole.  And it’s a hurdle that will keep us from preventing these attacks in the future.

As a young sergeant in the Army, I attended a course where one of our tasks was to analyze the performance of a decentralization test at Walmart.  They were able to significantly increase sales by decentralizing certain aspects and communicating results quickly to other stores.  The Army took notice.

The problem, of course, is that Walmart needs to balance that individual initiative with the comfort the consumer receives by entering a familiar location.  The Army, likewise, has issues with individual-initiative because going outside the box often means violating Rules of Engagement (RoE), international law, or public opinion.

But terrorists don’t have these restrictions.  They can and will encourage individual acts of terrorism.  And they will have no negative repercussions because they are not beholden to shareholders or public financing.

The “lone wolf” attack is the future of warfare.  Our veterans experienced this in Vietnam.  My brothers and sisters have more recently experienced this in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And now, unfortunately, this type of attack has come to American soil.

Why vehicle attacks?

I won’t go very deep into this since I’ve written about it so recently.  But I will point out that the vehicle is becoming the weapon of choice.  This is a demonstration of control.

the vehicle attack as a political amplifier

2017 Charlottesville Ramming by Brennan Gilmore | Public Domain

While Americans argue over firearms, terrorists are choosing to attack with vehicles.  It’s not from a lack of available firearms.  They use vehicle attacks because they’re more effective!

The goal of terrorism is to cause change by instilling fear in their enemies.  They want the American people to live in fear.  By not using firearms, these terrorists ensure that the media doesn’t blame the gun.  They want credit for the attack.  They don’t want the credit for their actions to be given to a mechanical device.

Furthermore, they want you to fear them as a group.  In this case, it’s religion.  This is made evident by the attacker’s religious comments during the attack.  By using everyday items, items that Americans will not bicker about, they are letting you know that they can get you no matter what law is passed.

So why the toy guns?

I know that some of you are going to point out that pellet guns are not toys.  I respect that opinion, but in this case, they may as well have been.

Again, we’ve already discussed why the attacker might not want to have real guns.  It would give the media something to focus on beyond his “accomplishments.”  However, he had these “guns” on hand for a reason.

It’s a little early to know for sure, but I believe he wanted to use these to create a suicide by cop situation.  He was trying to be a martyr for his cause.  He entered an area where he knew he wouldn’t get out and committed this atrocious act.  The last thing he wanted was to get caught.  It’s better to die for the cause than to get caught and potentially give up information.

To this, I say “Great Job” to the boys in blue who didn’t kill this guy.  Interrogating this guy should produce a wealth of information.  It may even help build cases against other terrorists or prevent the next attack.

How do we stop the next vehicle attack?

Unfortunately, the only way to stop a vehicle attack is for every citizen to become a sentinel.  Like most of the attacks we’ve seen lately, you can largely avoid being a victim by avoiding crowded, enclosed areas.  The bike lane may not seem like an enclosed space, but when your option is to stay on the path or crash trying to get out of the way, the natural reaction is to stay on.  While this isn’t a physical barrier, it is a powerful mental barrier.

Law enforcement officers understand better than most citizens that they are not prepared to stop crime.  As much as many of them would like to be able to stop all crime, their job is mostly to respond to situations after the crime has been committed.

That means that every one of us needs to act as that sentinel and respond to the best of our abilities.  During yesterday’s attack, it was a school bus that stopped the attack.  But any number of other vehicles could have stopped the attack.

And the reality is, at least I believe, that many people would have been willing and able to stop this attack before the driver hit the school bus.  The reason they didn’t is that a terrorist attack wasn’t what ran through their minds when they saw a vehicle on a bike lane.

So whether it is another vehicle attack, or the next shooting incident, only by each person being mentally able to identify the situation can we stop the next one.

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