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Terrorism in a small mountain town
May 18th, 2010 6:49 pm ET
By Richard Thornton, Architecture & Design Examiner
Even public buildings in rural America must now be fortified

Robbinsville, NC – May 17, 2010: At 2:30 AM a passing motorist happened to notice flames flashing out of the windows of the Sheriffs Department Building across the street from the Graham County Courthouse.  Since the one-story brick structure was also only about a block from the fire department, firefighters were able to put out the inferno before it completely destroyed the building. Fortunately, there were no injuries to firefighters.The next morning, when folks arrived for work in this quaint mountain town of about 2000, word had spread about the fire.  The assumption around town was that there had been an electrical shortage in the fifty+ year old brick building.  However, something very odd was going on.  All the streets around the sheriff’s department were blocked off by local law enforcement.  Then they noticed State Bureau of Investigation and FBI vehicles converging on the blocked off area. Dozens of plain clothes, out-of-town law enforcement personnel were circulating around. Some were walking the grounds.  Others were carrying equipment into the burned out building.  This was no electrical shortage. By early afternoon, the local radio station announced that incendiary devices had been placed in the rooms of the Sheriff’s Department, used for storing records and evidence in court cases.  Folks around Graham County then assumed that someone, possibly a drug dealer facing trial, had paid someone to torch the Sheriff’s Department in order to have his or her case thrown out of court.
However, by late afternoon, the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper interviewed Graham County District Attorney Michael Bonfoey.  Bonfoey stated that there was no evidence or records in the Sheriff’s Department building which would affect pending trials. There were multiple copies of any case records in the building.Graham County Sheriff Russell Moody told the Citizen-Times that some activities by his department had “ruffled some feathers” during the past three years.  Moody is seeking re-election this November.   Moody declined to comment on the details of the arson until the investigation is completed by the North Carolina SBI and Federal agents.

The “ruffled feathers” Sheriff Moody referred to is undoubtedly the secret organizations that combine elements of white supremacist racism, organized crime, neo-Nazi politics and a violent brand of Christian fundamentalism. They have become powerful behind-the-scenes forces in the mountains of western North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee since 2000. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), membership in these domestic terrorist bands had increased dramatically since the election of President Obama.  The SPLC and FBI have obtained intelligence that many bands are openly espousing acts of terrorism and war against all levels of government.  A clandestine group of these domestic terrorist were recently arrested in Michigan before they were able to attack local law enforcement officers. While providing financial and electoral support for ultra-rightwing candidates, the members of these self-styled “Patriot” groups obtain revenue by protecting drug shipments and run contraband weapons themselves.  They also have been known to sabotage businesses which are competing with those owned by their members.  The Graham County Sheriff’s Department contained absolutely no architectural features, which would deter terrorists.  It was built in an era when such things happening in America were unthinkable.   It had wide front windows directly adjacent to the sidewalk. There is no electronic lock on the front door that would prevent the receptionist-secretary from being assaulted through a plate glass window.  Apparently, the door locks on the building were no different than in a typical house.  The arsonists reportedly entered the building by removing a window air conditioner!

Residents of urban areas take building security for granted.  However, in rural areas this has not been a concern until recently.  The Graham County Sheriff’s Department had no security lights and apparently, didn’t even have an electronic anti-burglar system.   The building is usually not occupied during evening hours.

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