The Terror That Stalks Texas

Bexar County is pronounced “Behar” just as “Texas” ought to be pronounced “Tehas,” which undoubtedly explains the cluelessness of Fox News as they ejaculated their fear all over the airwaves this week.

click here for YouTube

I happened to be, literally, right across the street at the time that the TERROR scare was happening.

I have been offline for a week, attending a national tax convention in San Antonio, Texas, and we had arrived a day early (although HOW we arrived is another story). We had eaten at San Antonio’s legendary Mi Tierra restaurant, open 24 hours, founded in 1941 by Pete Cortez, who said something important on the back of the menu that seems to have been forgotten in post 9-11 America: “I am an American by choice, not by chance.”

Walking back to the hotel at about midnight, we passed right around two sides of the Bexar County Courthouse, and I noticed that they had one of those old-time fire escapes that you can jump up, and pull down the last stage of steps. A little more than an hour later, a bunch of drunken tourists did just that. They found an open window, and just like you used to do at the old high school building, they opened the window and got inside. The surveillance videos later showed them wearing sombreros they’d found and the oversized gavel they stole as a souvenir.

Local news crew leaving courthouse, with fire escape in question

But nobody knew that on San Antonio television when I woke up that day.

Across the street, at my hotel

It is rightly and duly noted that paranoia requires a large dollop of megalomania to grease the gears, and megalomania isn’t exactly in short supply in Texas.

That megalomania was on display as the local newsies spent long minutes speculating on WHY they were an OBVIOUS terror target: there “is a lot of military” around San Antonio, and, of course, the American National Shrine of The Alamo is located there. ‘Nuff said? Well, not exactly.

We always conveniently forget all the foolish blather that accompanies any sudden news. Within days or hours, it is “history” with the hysteria stripped away and forgotten.

But, at the beginning, it’s always the same story: in the absence of facts, humans invariably veer into paranoia and wild fantasy, and having very little to go on, TV talking heads are required to soberly and somberly fill the vast void of facts with commentary — which is, if you think about it, a perfect Rorschach Ink Blot test: it tells you more about what’s going on in the mind of the observer than it tells you about the indistinct chaos presented for interpretation.

Bexar County Courthouse

Just reading the descriptions in the news stories gives you a window into the mind of the news writer:

Five men allegedly involved in a late-night break-in … (Wall Street Journal)

Five young men were arrested early Wednesday morning in connection with a break-in … (New York Times)

FIVE drunken French tourists landed in a Texas jail … (Herald-Sun [Australia] reprinting the Agence French Press wire story)

five French-Moroccan nationals tried to break into a Texas courthouse … (local Fox affiliate broadcast)

Five foreign men were arrested during a courthouse break-in … (National Post [Canada])

And, of course, Fox News (the video above):

 Breaking news … the FBI is investigating a possible terror threat in the State of Texas … broke into an [sic*] historic courthouse in downtown San Diego [sic] … Muslims …  (Headline: FBI questioning 5 Muslims who broke into Texas courthouse).

And they mispronounced “Bexar” even though all the local footage was from their affiliate (the second video above) who KNOW to pronounce it as “Behar” or, essentially, “Bear” with a Texas accent. San DIEGO? [* but they got the “an historical” right, grammatically? Oy.]


BBC – Anti-Muslim grafitti

The Reuters story gives a little better rationale for the paranoia (but note that it’s after the fact, with the conference information slipped in AFTER the fact, as hysteria is repurposed into history:

all five were Moroccans.

Officials said they found “photographs of infrastructure” inside the vehicle, including shopping malls, water systems, courthouses and other public buildings that they say were taken in cities across the United States.

“They got travel documents, parking passes, they have been all over the country,” Police Captain Cris Andersen said. “A lot of photographic equipment, a lot of documentation equipment [was] inside their vehicle.”

“They are going to be held for interrogation by the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the joint terrorism task force,” Andersen said.

San Antonio is home to three major U.S. military bases, and officials said they have notified them of the incident, and have told them to be on the lookout for any suspicious activity and vehicles.

A military intelligence convention is underway at the city’s Convention Center several blocks away, with top intelligence officials including White House officials set to speak, but investigators did not say whether there was any connection.

Except that we now know that two of them, drunk, broke in, while their three buddies were in the RV with California plates (rented in Miami). So, “five” Moroccan, French nationals, foreigners, Muslims DID NOT break into the courthouse, and, seeing the surveillance videos, it’s pretty clear what happened with the two drunken burglars.

Bexar County Courthouse (center two towers)
Site of the Bomb Scare 

They even announced it in an afternoon press conference in front of the San Diego landmark that is actually in San Antonio, Texas:

Police arrested five men with French visas about 2 a.m. Wednesday after two of the suspects set off an alarm by climbing a fire escape to the fourth floor and entering a courtroom, Bexar County Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz said.

The two men donned sombreros, according to surveillance video, and spent 30 minutes “clowning around inside the courtroom,” Mr. Ortiz said.

They left beer bottles behind, and the sheriff’s office learned that they had visited several bars earlier in the evening.

“It’s very likely these individuals were just intoxicated,” he said. “There are no indications of terrorism.” (Wall Street Journal — like, Fox, owned by News Corp.)

Somehow, two sombreros, a couple of bottles of beer and an oversized gavel had been turned into a national terrorist Bomb Scare. And then slowly backed away from.

Except … this should NEVER have been a news story.

Aftermath to Texas Terror across the street from my hotel

Had two drunken San Antonio high school football players pulled the same stunt, what do you suppose the coverage would have been?

Should never have been a national news story — save for the skin color and imputed nationality of the prank suspects, that is. And, like Mormons, Muslims are teetotalers. They don’t drink if they are devout, and the fanatics we’re worried about are generally very devout. I don’t know if they actually WERE Muslims (Fox tossed THAT one in), and now it doesn’t matter.

Doesn’t matter except for the bigotry that the insane over-reaction represents. I have this odd feeling that this is NOT the first drunken tourist escapade that San Antonio police officers have responded to. So how’d it get to be a Federal case? A Fox News ALERT?

Prejudice and cowardice. Sorry, kids. That’s the bottom line.

Historic Bexar County Courthouse

Rationalize it any way you want, but it’s all you’re left with after a ridiculous security lapse. Had I been drunk and nimble, I could have pulled the same stunt two hours earlier. I even noticed how easy it would be to get on that fire escape and commented on it to my wife, walking back from a couple of Margaritas and wonderful Mexican dinner.

The Canadian National Post got the headline right:

Drunken prank lands French tourists in US jail

AFP October 20, 2011 10:19AM

Even the New York Times felt the need to engage in a little creative revisionism, changing the original title of their story from “5 Held in break-in at San Antonio courthouse” to “Texas Courthouse Break-In Seen as Prank.” (Check the page title).

© 2011 Hart Williams

This commemorative stone in the courthouse plaza suggests
that “privatization” is not a new notion in government 

Or, if it was five drunken college students who’d rented an RV with a GPS in Miami and were taking pictures and videos of their trip, would anyone have characterized the event thusly:

“photographs of infrastructure” inside the vehicle, including shopping malls, water systems, courthouses and other public buildings that they say were taken in cities across the United States.

“They got travel documents, parking passes, they have been all over the country,” Police Captain Cris Andersen said. “A lot of photographic equipment, a lot of documentation equipment [was] inside their vehicle.”

Welcome to Texas, foreign nationals!

Really? Or, perhaps, were paranoid sekurity officers covering their butts and dreaming of ceremonies awarding them plaques for stopping a “terrorist plot” (or a “bomb plot” as the Fox Affiliate in San Diego … er, ANTONIO, claimed)?

Still: the Bexar County Judge ended up being  interviewed by the Guardian in England [!!??!?!]:

“It’s just very strange,” [Bexar County Judge Nelson] Wolff said. “If it was some kids in the neighborhood, you’d think it was a prank.”

The Rorschach blot test reveals the panties-wetting nature of the over-reaction, belieing that song they sing in Texas at football games every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the Fall:

o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Not bravery, but mere bravos, terrified of their own shadows, alas.

We might or might not have been in Rick Perry’s Texas, but we were surely in George Bush’s Amerika. Still.

The notion that three military bases are threatened by five college-age guys in a rented RV is laughable on the face of it: If the military is that vulnerable, why bother having one?

If you swung around to your left slightly less than 180º
from the shot of the cameraman above, you’d have seen this
van being towed away. These rental vans are extremely popular
with foreign tourists, as a trip to Chaco Canyon or the Grand Canyon
in May will quickly reveal to the inquiring traveler … 

Another incident took place later that afternoon.

A “Turkish national” was arrested for taking photographs of the Federal Courthouse and Post Office building across the street from the Alamo. Officials stated that it was because it was suspicious that he was taking photographs of the building.

“It isn’t an interesting building,” the official said, noting that the Alamo is across the street.

That building whose name I forget

That’s weird. I took photos of that building because I thought it was both interesting AND an interesting contrast to the martial hallowed ground and shrine across the street.

The “uninteresting” Federal building as seen along the wall of the Alamo

Hell, if taking uninteresting pictures was grounds for incarceration, there’d be very few Americans not in jail. Tourists most of all.

I don’t know what ever happened to the Turkish photographer.

Probably on his way to Guantanimo Bay.

The Statue of Justice in front of the Bexar County Courthouse

And that is the terror that stalks Texas.

Or, as the Dallas Blog notes:

Drunk Sombrero-Wearing Frenchmen Terrorize Texas Courthouse
by Tom McGregor Wed, Oct 19, 2011, 10:08 PM

The U.S. Homeland Security has been alerted to an alleged terrorist scheme by five drunken French tourists who wore Mexican sombrero hats and snuck into the Bexar County Courthouse in Texas. After conducting a thorough and rigorous investigation it was later determined that the so-called terrorists were simply throwing a surprise ‘Welcome to Texas’ party for themselves….



A writer, published author, novelist, literary critic and political observer for a quarter of a quarter-century more than a quarter-century, Hart Williams has lived in the American West for his entire life. Having grown up in Wyoming, Kansas and New Mexico, a survivor of Texas and a veteran of Hollywood, Mr. Williams currently lives in Oregon, along with an astonishing amount of pollen. He has a lively blog His Vorpal Sword. This is cross-posted from his blog.

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About Hart Williams

Mr. Williams grew up in Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas and New Mexico. He lived in Hollywood, California for many years. He has been published in The Washington Post, The Kansas City Star, The Santa Fe Sun, The Los Angeles Free Press, Oui Magazine, New West, and many, many more. A published novelist and a filmed screenwriter, Mr. Williams eschews the decadence of Hollywood for the simple, wholesome goodness of the plain, honest people of the land. He enjoys Luis Buñuel documentaries immensely.
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