There are no words

paris crowdOn the evening of November 13, 2015, the city of Paris, France was hit with a barrage of coordinated terrorist attacks. The fallout: 130 dead, 368 injured.

The vast majority of fatalities occurred at a crowded nightclub known as The Bataclan.  However, I’d like to focus on the 4 fatalities which occurred outside the national soccer stadium, the Stade de France in St. Denis.  Three terrorists detonated their suicide vests resulting in three separate explosions.

The first explosion occurred at 9:20 p.m., about 20 minutes after the start of a soccer match between the French and German national teams.  The bomber was prevented from entering the stadium after being turned away by security personnel.  Shortly thereafter, he blew himself up and killed an innocent bystander in the process.  The sound of that detonation was distinctly heard inside the stadium.

Ten minutes later, another self-detonation could be heard inside the stadium.

Twenty three minutes later, the third bomber killed himself.

Investigators later surmised the likely intentions of the terrorists.  It’s reasonable to assume that the first bomber’s objective was to detonate inside the stadium.  Creating a panic that would result in a stampede, which in itself, could result in an extraordinary number of casualties.  Those fortunate enough to make it out of the stadium alive would be met by the two additional suicide bombers.  The tactic of targeting emergency responders arriving at the scene or innocent people fleeing carnage is not uncommon.

I’d like to raise two obvious questions that have alluded reporters and the media at large.

Question #1.  Has anything like this ever happened in the United States?  Specifically, has someone ever blown themselves up outside an NFL or NCAA football stadium of comparable size while a game was in progress?  The answer might surprise you.

In 2005, a sold out crowd of 84,501 was in attendance at Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma.  During the second quarter, a man identified as Joel Hendrichs blew himself up exactly 173 yards from the stadium.


Rather than rehash all of the intricate details, I’ll refer you to a 2014 article.

I realize it’s an incredibly uncomfortable topic — the prospect of a suicide bomber intentionally trying to weaponize a human stampede.  But what’s even more troubling is the notion of the Oklahoma incident being dismissed and disregarded by the mainstream media.

It’s doubtful the NCAA would appreciate the press shining a spotlight on such a bizarre occurrence.  The National Collegiate Athletic Association is big money and the government is big power.  The “mystery of the Oklahoma suicide bomber” embodies that challenging dilemma between public disclosure and imprudent fear mongering, individual rights vs. state control, see something – say something.

Question #2.  Does stadium management have a moral or legal responsibility to notify fans of potential dangerous activity, particularly if its in the nearby vicinity?  This one gets a little tricky.  Exactly where do you “draw the line?”  Why is it acceptable to notify fans about the prospect of lightning strikes or an approaching tornado, but not real-world terrorist activity?  Like I said, it’s a fine line.

While the game was in progress, Stade de France management made a calculated, deliberate decision to remain silent… just like Memorial Stadium back in 2005.  Even though everyone in both stadiums immediately learned about the incident during the game.  How you ask?  Cell phones.  Information dissemination and retrieval is speeding up, not slowing down.  These days, bad news travels fast.

Wireless technology is the unspoken variable.  Everyone’s allowed to talk about its upside.  Social media updates, checking fantasy football stats, sending pics, taking selfies, convenience.  But nobody’s ever allowed to speak of the downside.  Does a strict adherence to this path seem wise?

So what’s the problem here?  The problem is that every football and soccer stadium, some of which handle crowds in excess of 100,000, seem to be living in this permanent state of denial.  With one hundred thousand people, come one hundred thousand cell phones.  In particular, social media represents a very dangerous, decentralized and unaccounted for variable.  But nobody’s allowed to address the core dynamic.  Nobody’s allowed to challenge the status quo.

This is a recipe for exploitation and disaster.

Just like crashing planes into buildings, someone will eventually test the “cracks in the system.”  I’m not the only person on the planet earth who thinks like this.  Also, I’m not the only person who has ever considered this asymmetric national security issue.  It’s not top secret.

Most would agree that the media and government often appear “seemingly complicit” in cultivating an atmosphere of distrust and a culture of fear.  We live in an era of social media hoaxes.  Recent history indicates that terrorists usually seek high profile civilian targets (airplanes, theaters, public markets… locations where large crowds gather).  Now let’s put it all together.

Stadiums and wireless hyper-connectivity.

If you cannot grasp the prospect of a stampede being intentionally weaponized, well… that’s okay.  Most people never conceived of passenger planes being hijacked and used as 250,000 lb. weapons of mass destruction.  Until it happened.  It’s difficult to conceptualize a hypothetical “black swan” event that irrevocably alters the direction of history, let alone the course of humanity.

And even if the artificially generated stampedes were to fail, isn’t it still reasonable to assume that the dynamic will eventually be tested?  Seriously, in the aftermath of such a thing being ATTEMPTED, even people with limited intellectual curiosity would surely ask, “hey, what was that all about?”  Unless of course, everyone on the planet earth dismissed the incident as a silly, non-threatening prank.  I just can’t follow that line of reasoning.

I originally had two questions but here’s a third.

Question #3.  Why not try to fix the existing problem?  Why not try to address the security disconnect?  Why not devise a straightforward contingency plan?  Especially since there’s a discernible inevitability in play and mitigation is not an option.  Hey, the overriding solution here is free!  YOU TELL PEOPLE THE TRUTH.

At an absolute, bare minimum, just start telling people that official stadium emergency evacuation orders would NEVER be delivered via their personal mobile devices.  You don’t need to disclose generically sensitive details about protocol or delve into bomb threats, panic, stampedes, asymmetric warfare, etc.

There’s simply a moral (and many would argue legal) obligation to explicitly divulge the following… legit evac orders don’t come from your cell phone.

The First Amendment protects my right to disclose this public safety information.  In present-day hindsight of a tragedy that would inevitably be compared to 9/11, let’s try to prevent another utterance — THERE ARE NO WORDS.  Sound familiar?  It should.  It’s that same phrase we heard after the Paris terrorist attacks.

One parting shot.  Since our government seems committed to establishing a permanent culture of terror and fear, lemme give it a shot.  How about this for a futuristic headline?  Extra!  Extra!  Read all about it!

10 Cities, 1,000 Dead, No Weapons