Colorado doesn’t yield presidential material
November 23, 2007
For the past 124 years, from the Horace Tabor boomlet of 1883 to the Tom Tancredo campaign of 2007, potential presidents from Colorado have gained no traction and have sometimes caused embarrassment.
Consider Rep. Tancredo’s recent commercial televised in Iowa. A gloved hand stuffs a bomb into a backpack. Then a hooded character ambles through a shopping mall while the narrator warns that “Islamic terrorists now freely roam U.S. soil.” Naturally a woman with a baby carriage enters the scene. The hooded fellow sets the backpack beside a bench and walks away.
We hear this is “The price we pay for spineless politicians who refuse to defend our borders against those who kill.” Then the bomb goes off.
There’s nothing wrong with focusing on immigration as a campaign issue, and for obvious reasons, every known candidate opposes terrorist attacks against Americans. But conflating the two issues implies that our republic is incapable of growing its own terrorists, and that is simply not so.
It’s a common myth, though. I remember watching the expert analysts on TV the morning of April 19, 1995. A bomb in Oklahoma City had killed 168 people and was, up to that date, the most deadly terrorist attack on American soil. The talking heads all agreed that the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building was definitely the work of Arab terrorists. It was like a car bomb, it was timed to cause maximum fatalities, etc.
As it turned out, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were homegrown American terrorists using bomb material purchased in America. Every American border could have been hermetically sealed with 40-foot-high electrified impenetrable fences topped with razor wire and patrolled constantly by helicopters and foot soldiers, and it would not have mattered.
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Back in Colorado’s salad days, a century or so ago, there were many acts of terrorism as miners and mill workers struggled for an eight-hour workday: kidnappings, murders, fires, dynamite explosions. Mine owners often blamed the troubles on “foreign-born anarchists” ” American immigration laws were rather loose then, since the industrialists wanted a large supply of cheap labor, so there were few if any “illegal immigrants” to blame for terrorism.
But generally, these pioneer terrorists were homegrown Americans. Big Bill Haywood, a union officer charged with conspiracy in the 1905 murder of former Idaho Gov. Frank Steunenberg, was the son of a Pony Express rider and was born in Salt Lake City. Charles Moyer, tried along with Haywood, was from exotic Ames, Iowa.
Harry Orchard, though, was the most notorious. He’s the one who built and set the bomb that killed Steunenberg. In Colorado on July 6, 1904, Orchard set off a bomb at the Independence railroad depot in the Cripple Creek district that killed 13 non-union miners and maimed many more.
The simple fact is that no matter how secure the borders, terrorist attacks on American soil could still happen, either from homegrown bombers or legal immigrants and visitors. Connecting terrorism to immigration, as Tancredo does, may make for good TV, but it’s certainly not “reality TV.”
In 1883, an editor touted Colorado’s Horace Tabor for president as “the champion of the working man” who was “of sterling talent and purity of character.” Tabor responded that “Colorado is not ready yet to have a president,” and that still seems to be the case, 124 years later.