Nashvillians woke to disturbing news of a bomb detonated downtown around 6:30 am this Christmas morning. As the investigation continues, unprecedented aspects of the attack raise troubling questions.
Yesterday morning, around 5:30am, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department received a report that gunshots had been fired downtown, prompting officers to respond near the 2nd Avenue North and Commerce Street location. On the scene, Police Chief John Drake noticed what appeared to be a suspiciously parked RV squarely in front of an AT&T transmission building. Drake shared that aboard the RV was a recording which declared a bomb would detonate in fifteen minutes. With the bomb squad on the way, officers began clearing the area, even redirecting a man taking his dog for a walk. Before the squad arrived, the RV erupted into a moving wall of energy, destroying much of the nearby infrastructure. The blast was felt miles away. Individuals as far as six blocks away experienced windows shattering. Some within a closer three-block radius were even knocked out of bed.
Nashville’s Mayor, John Cooper, took it lightly on local news coverage, explaining his passive attitude towards the unexpected disaster. “Nashville’s been bombed before,” he said. Harping on the lack of fatalities as a sort of silver lining, he urged the city’s residents to enjoy their families on this Christmas day.
As the day dragged on, the oddities grew ever more conspicuous. Why did the attacker warn those who arrived on the scene, and why did they provide ample time to prevent as many deaths as possible? Of all Nashville’s attractions and hubs, why detonate the bomb on 2nd Avenue North near Commerce Street?
With regards to the motive, it has been speculated that the attack, which drew police officers to the scene and allowed them time to keep citizens out of harm’s way, targeted these police officers. If this were, indeed, the motive, the perpetrator failed miserably, as the attack killed zero and only wounded three. (At 5:24 ET, CNN updated this article to include that human remains have now been found in the rubble and have been sent to the examiner’s office for analysis. No police officers have yet been reported missing, although time may correct this statement).
The location of the blast is peculiar. Pictures surveying the damage show what could be convincingly argued to be much more attractive sites for destruction within view of the attack like, for example, the Nissan Stadium. Such observations beg the question: What was the point of this attack?
Disasters inspired by terrorism often carry a message along with them, and they also seek harm in large numbers. Shouts into the void of Twitter have suggested Islamic extremism lies behind the bomb. A threat of terrorism would be much more likely to target a hotspot of tourism or a public building responsible for a significant amount of revenue, like the relatively new convention center. Additionally, this attacker offered a window for evacuation which rendered this tragedy significantly less fatal. Unless, perhaps, a terrorist organization knew something the American public does not about the contents of the buildings surrounding the blast, it is highly unlikely that the crime was committed in the name of any sort of extremism.
The location of the explosion is, indeed, rather interesting. The RV parked outside of an AT&T transmission building, a building which houses physical equipment which facilitates online communications and data storage. It is tempting to think of the digital world as dispersed throughout space, forgetting entirely the physical counterparts that make the vast interconnectedness of today’s world possible. Computers must process our online worlds, and their physical sizes as well as their vastness in number is truly astonishing, yet simultaneously elusive and largely unrealized. Data storage, which has become a point of political and ethical debate recently, requires physical space: servers. These servers have physical locations, and there is reason to believe some servers suffered considerable destruction as a result of the blast this morning.
Edward Snowden was the first to sound the alarm about the NSA’s breach of constitutionality, something achieved through the use of AT&T’s networks and data, before fleeing the country in 2013 to avoid persecution.
After the blast, AT&T users as far away as North Carolina reported disruptions in the network. 9-1-1 services more than one hundred miles outside of Nashville went dark. I wonder what happened to the rest of the physical equipment positioned within extreme proximity to the blast. Perhaps, was the destruction of this machinery the motive? At this time, we have only speculation. Nashville residents somberly turn to loved ones and try to push the disturbing news out of mind before sitting down to Christmas dinner.