America is full of soft targets – Mall of America is an obvious choice simply by virtue of it’s size – but really any place where people congregate and are focused shopping, socializing, or anything other than paying attention to what’s going on around them fall into this category. For most of our lifetimes we’ve been safely sheltered from the world’s troubles by our dual moats, the Pacific and Atlantic, and by the simple fact of how unimaginably large a land mass we occupy. High speed travel and the internet are making those distances seem less significant – the unintended consequence being that it also makes us less secure.
I’ve often said that if I were going to plan an domestic attack on America all I’d need is a hundred really committed followers and the location of the busiest Starbucks in ten different states, the ten busiest banks in ten different cities, the ten best rated elementary schools in the ten most affluent zip codes in America. Are you seeing a theme yet? If my goal is to cause terror, why would I bother attacking military bases, government centers, or even utilities? Want to see society grind itself to a halt over a period of a month? Hit us where the people are – not at our grand events, but at the places we frequent day in and day out. Hit us where we collectively feel comfortable.
A reasonably well coordinated attack on our soft underbelly is one of the several nightmare scenarios that genuinely keeps me awake at night – and now ISIS has blatantly told us that they’ve been thinking about those kind of targets too.
We can’t harden every target. Even if we could, living in an even more intrusive surveillance state than we do now isn’t something I’d consider a worthy tradeoff. That means it’s basically up to us to mind our own little corner of the store. Pay attention to where you are and who’s around you. Do you know what to look for when something feels wrong? Can you pick a room apart for what or who looks out of place? Can you spot an average pickpocket working a crowded food court or spot the telltale “print” of a badly concealed handgun?
Yeah, neither can I… at least most of the time. That doesn’t mean I’m not looking every time I walk into a room. I might not live up to General Mattis’ rule for having a plan to kill everyone I meet, but you can be damned well sure I know where the closest exit is just in case I need to get away from them in a hurry. Trust me, you’d be surprised just how fast this fat man can move when he thinks his life depends on it. It might not be the stuff of heroes, but I have a very well developed sense of self preservation. I hope you do too.