Introspective: I have a different article that I started yesterday fresh on my mind, and with this morning’s coffee came some additional insights. But it’s Superbowl Sunday.
It’s the day of the big game. The local store is packed with last minute party shoppers. Many many people are focusing all their energy on this grand event, one team vs. another in ritualized warfare. And all the big arty ads from the big arty companies are going to come out, some will be funny, others controversial, but none will be ordinary. This is the way we celebrate spring.*
In the US, the Superbowl is bigger than Valentines Day or Easter. Priorities!
A Rioting Mob Sleeps In Every Crowd
I joke with my friends about the dangers presented by sports spectators, especially in large crowds, specifically how a cheering grandstand is a riot waiting to happen, and how sports-related parades could easily break into a riot (if harassed by a rival fans) or a lynching (if someone proves not enthusiastic enough).
I exaggerate these fears for humor’s sake, but they are not completely unfounded. The international association football sector is renowned for city riots breaking over games and rulings, as is the hockey sector. Less so baseball and American football. Dunno about rugby. And I don’t have stats for sports-related violence (in or out of the stadium) in contrast to politically or religiously motivated violence, but in sports, it’s acceptable to hate the other guy for rooting for the wrong team. In religion and politics, resorting to violence to make your point is generally frowned upon. By most.
Granted, political races have become more like sports since the 90s and aughts. The press focuses less on issues and more on how well a given politician is faring in a given race. And people will often vote on someone they think will win, rather than someone who will represent their interests. We be dumb sometimes.
My causal hypothesis is not that sports leads to fanaticism, but sports is an accepted outlet for fanaticism and tends to draw people who get fanatical about things.
And sports fanaticism seems to be more accepted than religious or political fanaticism. Mission street street preachers barking away with a public address system or a megaphone are annoying and crazy. And the guy spinning the Jesus Loves You sign down in the Powell / Market area seems a bit kooky. But a dude in red and gold facepaint? He’s just a true-believer. Dudes with whole-body paint, may be a bit too true believers, but that’s acceptable on game day. Some Twitter studies have shown links between game fanaticism and religious fanaticism. So maybe it’s not that I’m afraid of sports spectators, but the sort of people who like to spectate sports.
Maybe my worry is because so many of the Jesus Loves You messages have been perverted into major campaigns of violence, and the Forty-Niners don’t love you, so much as they want to massacre the other team (thankfully, only within the confines of the game rules). It seems like it would be an easier message to pervert.
Then again, sports may serve as a safe outlet for all that obsession and fanaticalness that people would otherwise focus on prosecuting heretics and infidels. Do the middle east Islam-centric nations play much ball? Maybe sports serves as the two minutes of hate to depressurize people who might, without such an outlet, go bomb abortion clinics or shoot up schools — I suspect one of the key factors among such killers is that doing the deed is the sole thing about which they obsess.
So it worries me that the Islamic State might decide to bomb the Superbowl.
SWATting the Country
If someone bombed the Superbowl (or shot it up or nerve-gassed it or whatever), it might not necessarily be the Islamic State. But IS might want to do so, and non-IS attackers might want to blame IS, and some influential people might want to peg it on the IS even if they didn’t do it and the attackers identify themselves as non-IS.
We’ve seen a number of fictional sports-stadium attacks. The idea isn’t particularly unique or new. Tom Harris’ first novel Black Sunday was about a US domestic terrorist groomed by foreign nationals to chemical bomb a football game. Then in The Sum of All Fears (Tom Clancy, 1991) a Palestinian independence group captures plutonium and a Soviet scientist to construct a thermonuclear device. In the book, it fizzles due to impurities in the fissile fuel but still kills everyone at the stadium. The movie version features Nazi revivalists (not Neo-Nazis but actual old German guys) and a successful a nuclear blast. Then there’s the Michael Bay film The Rock (1996, Sean Connery, Nicolas Cage) in which disgruntled ex-special-operative dudes capture some really evil nerve gas and then take over Alcatraz and threaten to attack Candlestick park.
So this idea isn’t new. We’ve always been somewhat afraid of a stadium attack, and they’ve been rather rare. So why should we be concerned about it now? Well, we shouldn’t (which is a different essay), but it might be more likely for a number of reasons:
For one thing, the US wants a fight. The United States puts a ridiculous amount of its budget into our military forces, including lots and lots of new toys (Active-camo tanks! Laser planes!) and we like to use them to shoot up the bad guys, but the 9/11 attacks are becoming a tired excuse for ongoing wars (which provide a lot of money for big corporations and campaign dollars for representatives). A Superbowl attack would re-kindle that fervor among the people, and allow even more power to be centralized to the President. Even if there was a half-assed attack at the stadium, (say a small bomb that killed twenty people) the US would leap at the chance to go to war against a clear target.
Secondly, IS needs the legitimacy. Right now they’re an annoying movement that is talked about in the international community, but a war against NATO or a Coalition of the Willing would give it veracity. Within the Muslim population only a small percentage of them are believe in the directive to create an Islamic state and then push out all other nations / religions in the world. But to those that do, a legitimate state that is taken seriously by the international community (e.g. the US or NATO) would serve as a clarion call.
Here in the United States, there’s been a surge of Swattings, a form of mischief in which an anonymous caller phones into the police to invoke a SWAT raid. The dispensation of military weapons from the Department of Defense to civil law-enforcement precincts has led to epidemic of under-trained SWAT teams, and reasons to send those SWAT teams to bust into houses. SWAT raids are used to serve warrants and bust barbershops giving illegal haircuts (or, to interpret it another way, harass businesses that serve and are owned by unwelcome minorities). Contrast to the 1970s when only major metropolitan areas had SWAT teams and they only managed hostage-barricade situations. (In 1970s we averaged 500 SWAT raids a year across the nation. Contrast the 2010s when we average 50,000.)
Precincts are totally been eager to deploy their SWAT teams to investigate calls and bust in houses. Thus, mischief minded individuals looking to ruin someone’s day will troll emergency dispatch and report a scenario that might (according to precinct policy) warrant a SWAT raid, because they’ll totally send one even before they have the warrant in hand to do so.
An attack on the Superbowl would totally provoke a raging full-on military response by the US. And most of our representatives want that soooo bad.
* In pre-Christian society, spring is about sex and fertility and birds and bees and starting to plow the earth for sowing, but our culture is goddessless and so all that girly stuff is strange and awkward. Instead of giant love-ins with singing and dancing, we have Saint Valentine’s Day with candy and romantic missives and then the Resurection of Christ but named after a sex goddess with yet more candy and bunnies and eggs.
The Hellenic games started in the springtime, but without sports seasons and television, they held games like they held orgies: for every plausible occasion.