Police have received more than 600 alerts to suspicious packages, more than 500 FBI agents have been put on the case, and the state government is funding the use of portable bomb detectors by local police.But the cases have not been solved.The strangeness of the events – clearly these...
Police have received more than 600 alerts to suspicious packages, more than 500 FBI agents have been put on the case, and the state government is funding the use of portable bomb detectors by local police.
But the cases have not been solved.
The strangeness of the events – clearly these deadly explosions take some planning – occurs in a sprawling central Texas city with a flair for the unusual.
This, after all, is a city that has been home to Cosmic Cowboy music movement, the psychedelic Butthole Surfers, and Alex Jones. It’s a place that has historically marched to a different beat in ultraconservative Texas.
The phrase ‘Keep Austin Weird’, basically counter-cultural marketing against the mainstream marketing, sums up the vibe.
And yet the fear sparked by exploding packages and planted bombs has not paralysed the city, even as it prevented residents of the affected suburbs from entering their homes for a night, as police combed the areas looking for evidence or more booby traps.
People continue to go about their business, enjoying temperate spring weather.
None of this is to say Austin doesn’t have a history with unusual violence.
In 1966, a former Marine, Charles Whitman, killed his mother and wife and then ran up to the top of the University of Texas clock tower and where he killed 15 people and injuring more than 30 with a rifle.
And the reality is that the weirdness of latest bombings comes amid the larger weirdness of our times.
Even as police search for leads in the crimes, ex-spies are being poisoned by nerve agents, presidents tweet unrestrained fury about advancing investigations, and Russian trolls possibly try to register for the Texas state Democratic convention. Facebook, everyone’s new home online, is turning out to be a giant playground for influence campaigns both foreign and domestic.
It’s an era of such information overload that explosions seem to be one of the few things that can pulsate through people’s cluttered and manipulated social media feeds.
In other words, these are weird times.
So the question in Austin – as people continue to go about their business, but with a wary eye for packages and tripwires – is how much the explosions reflect anything of the city or its people, and how much they reflect troubling new times we live in.
Until the police can crack the case – and get concrete answers – people in Austin and beyond can only imagine the worst.
But that’s probably what the bomber, or bombers, want.
This is one bit of strangeness the city doesn’t relish or identify with.
Chris is a foreign desk news editor.
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