Reno and terrorism
Northern Nevada has had its fair share of domestic terror attempts over the years
At 5:40 p.m. on Dec. 17, 1995, two Gardnerville men attempted to ignite a barrel containing some 100 pounds of kerosene and fertilizer in the parking lot outside the Internal Revenue Service building on Moana Lane. The drinking buddies held an extreme hatred for the IRS, and they decided to follow the lead of Timothy McVeigh’s actions earlier that year.
Fortunately, the two men, Joseph Bailie and Ellis Hurt, weren’t the most brilliant bomb-builders. The device didn’t detonate, according to testimony by Jerry Taylor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, because the wrong type of fertilizer was mixed with the kerosene. And it’s a good thing.
“The damage would have been ungodly over several blocks,” Taylor testified, according to an Associated Press account of Bailie’s trial.
An IRS employee found the barrel the next morning. Bailie is now serving a 36-year sentence, while Hurst—who testified against his co-conspirator—is serving 10 years.
A domestic threat
Let’s make one thing clear: While acts of international terrorism could happen anywhere, Northern Nevada is not at high risk.
“There’s no reason to think Reno would be singled out by international terrorists as a target,” says city spokesman Chris Good.
Leonard Weinberg, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, agrees that nothing makes Reno stand out as an international terrorism target.
“In terms of vulnerability to international terrorism, and in terms of targets with great symbolic value, if any national attention-grabbing acts happened in Nevada, I would say Southern Nevada is more at risk,” Weinberg says.
But that does not mean Northern Nevada is completely free of terrorist worries. Instead, the real threat here is domestic terrorism, like the failed IRS bombing mentioned above.
“Terrorism has, in fact, hit Northern Nevada,” Weinberg says.
Nevada is a different kind of state with a different kind of people. The vast majority of Nevada land is under federal control, which can lead to backlash—such as the Sagebrush Rebellion movement, which was highlighted by the battle over a blocked road near Jarbidge in northeastern Nevada. And as the dislike of federal control festers, on occasion it can drive people to violence, as the IRS building bombing attempt (which made national headlines) shows.
The list of terrorism attempts is longer than some might realize:
· In 1984, according to Weinberg, members of the neo-Nazi group Bruders Schweigen, aka the Silent Brotherhood, fled to Northern Nevada after they robbed an armored truck near Ukiah, Calif., of $3.6 million as part of a series of crimes and acts of terror. It was later learned, Weinberg says, that the group’s leader, Robert Mathews, and his associates divided the money in a Sparks hotel before going different ways. The group would later die out after Mathews’ death later that year.
· In 1993, a bomb thrown on the roof of the Bureau of Land Management’s state headquarters on Financial Boulevard in Reno caused $100,000 worth of damage. Nobody was injured in the blast, and the case remains unsolved.
· In 1995, an unknown assailant or assailants tried twice to injure Forest Service District Ranger Guy Pence. Early in the evening of March 30, a bomb was placed outside of his office in Carson City; although nobody was injured, the blast ripped a hole in a wall, broke several windows and damaged office equipment. This happened one day after a pipe bomb destroyed a bathroom at a Forest Service bathroom in Elko; on the following day, the Sparks headquarters of the Toiyabe National Forest were evacuated following a threatening phone call. On Aug. 4, a van parked outside Pence’s home, also in Carson City, was bombed. Nobody was injured, although Pence’s wife and children were home at the time. The spate of attacks was blamed on anti-federalists, and no arrests were ever made.
Preparing for the worst
Weinberg says that there is a distinct possibility that Northern Nevada will again be victimized by terrorist attacks.
“The people who are hostile to the federal government’s role in land management might become more violent,” he says, adding that such thoughts are only speculation.
But Weinberg also says that he believes a new form of domestic terrorism could rear its ugly head in the future.
“If you want to speculate, eco-terrorists have thus far tried to avoid hurting people, but eventually they will, and that could affect this part of the state,” he says.
If terrorists strike Reno, local officials say they are prepared—at least as prepared as any city can be. Press Clewe, the program manager for the Washoe County District of Emergency Management, says the county is ready to provide support to whoever needs it, be it one of the cities, Reno-Tahoe International Airport, the Washoe County School District, UNR, the Regional Transportation Commission, the utility companies, etc.
A lucky break for the Biggest Little City could come from the fact that Mayor Jeff Griffin chairs the U.S. Conference of Mayors Criminal and Social Justice Committee. In May, Griffin led a meeting of mayors from Nevada, California, Idaho, Utah and Arizona to discuss how cities “can prepare for the possibility of terrorist attacks using weapons of mass destruction,” according to a city press release. The meeting featured a discussion about the roles and responsibilities that mayors must assume during a crisis. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is developing a mayoral training institute on weapons of mass destruction with the help of Texas A&M University and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Griffin’s words at the time were borderline prophetic.
“World events over the past year have only served to heighten the urgency of preparing American cities for the increasingly more tangible possibility of terrorist attack,” Griffin said. “No matter who the federal or state governments think should be in charge of preparing for and responding to a [weapons of mass destruction] event, the mayor is the one person in a community whom our citizens will demand address the issue in the event of an actual incident. We will be called on immediately to direct police, fire and emergency response resources, restore calm, coordinate activities with federal, state and local partners and provide the information our citizens will need regarding the specific nature of the attack and proper responses. This type of training is essential to America’s mayors.”
While it’s extremely unlikely that Jeff Griffin will ever have to deal with the terror that New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has, it’s important to remember that terrorism can happen anywhere, at any time.
“There is no reason to think that Reno is a particular target for anyone, either inside or outside the United States," says city spokesman Good. "But any population center can be made a target. In our world of high-speed communication and travel, a terrorist threat can come from anywhere on Earth, including places near home."