It began with a flash, a fireball that shattered glass and twisted metal, turning asphalt and nails into missiles that pierced flesh and splintered bone. Then came the shock wave, bursting eardrums, inflicting brain injuries and slamming people to the ground
Large explosions, like the ones detonated in Boston on Monday, have two distinct parts. Both are destructive. Both can be deadly.
Attacks on American soil come in two waves, as well.
First there is the attack itself, which consumes life and limb, crumbles concrete, injects fear, and unites us all through patriotism and compassion.
After the attack, with all of the loss of life, injuries, damage and panic, comes a secondary assault, often with more destructive and enduring consequences.
The first attack is performed by terrorists and vile, wicked villains. The second is executed by our government, which callously strips our rights and liberties in the name of security.
While concerned onlookers and medical professionals rushed to comfort and treat the victims of the tragic attacks in Boston, White House advisers and members of Congress were surely scurrying, as well. The best of them got to work dreaming up policies to keep Americans safe and thwart future attacks. The less noble likely wanted little more than credit for looking as if they were doing something to help in a time of crisis.
In their attempt to promote security, it is all but certain that the ideas discussed and the solutions considered by Washington powerbrokers and federal officials will do little more than lessen liberties and revoke rights.
As Washington's reply to the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11 proved, freedom isn't attacked by terrorism. Freedom is attacked by lawmakers' responses to terrorism.
In the months following the terrorist bomb attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City in 1995, Congress signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 into law. The law promised to "stop terrorists before they strike" on American soil -- a promise that was broken again Monday.
The ineffectual law demolished civil liberties and ravaged habeas corpus laws by allowing the federal government to invent secret courts that allow secret evidence, strip the rights of legal immigrants and limit the ability of death row inmates to appeal their convictions.
Of course, the federal government's rights grab following the Oklahoma City bombing was nothing compared to the response following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In a 14-month span following 9/11, Congress authorized the Patriot Act, created the Transportation Security Administration and established the Department of Homeland Security.
It is hard to know whether the Patriot Act resulted in greater safety, but it clearly empowered the government in frightening new ways, while battering the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
The Patriot Act allowed the government to:
• Force records custodians such a libraries, schools, social work institutions and Internet service providers to turn over records to the federal government without explanation or justification.
• Seize assets from charities, even without probable cause.
• Require the release of records from telecommunications and financial services companies without any court order.
• Spy on citizens using a Cold War-era statute designed for tracking the covert activities of Soviet agents.
• Imprison American citizens without proper due process.
The TSA, which Congress promised would strengthen airport security and prevent hijackings, has become a national annoyance for its cost, inefficiency, inability to prevent security breaches and assault on Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The final piece to the post-9/11 government incursion on freedom and Constitutional rights was the formation of the Department of Homeland Security in November 2002.
News reports indicate the bureaucracy has spied on Americans, engaged in inappropriate data mining on citizens and illegally intercepted mail, while costing taxpayers more than $700 billion. Additionally, a Homeland Security database meant to track people who are considered threats to national security has been filled with members of groups that comprise about one-third of the American population, including pro-gun, anti-death penalty, pro-abortion, anti-abortion, pro-Second Amendment, anti-war and tea party activists.
Are we more secure from government's intrusion on our rights in response to terrorism? Possibly, but likely not. We are, however, less American. Less free.
How will our nation's elected officials respond to the bombs in Boston? We will know within days. It is probable that some in Congress will work to further expand the Patriot Act and increase the authority of the Department of Homeland Security. It is likely that large congregations of people gathered for state fairs, Independence Day fireworks shows, music festivals or marathons will face a TSA-style federally imposed security detail. But at what cost?
Are the disintegration of our Constitution and the violation of our civil liberties worth the pretense of safety? Should we allow security procedures to become so bothersome that we forgo the pleasures of everyday life?
As much as the terrorist attack in Boston is a test of our humanity, our resolve and, yes, our safety, it is also a test of our principles as nation. The reality of our world is that terrorist attacks will occur; no matter how large the government grows or how many rights the state tramples in an attempt to prevent them.
While we should work to prevent acts of terror, we should work harder still to ensure that our own freedoms are preserved and our Constitution is protected. As Americans, we must recognize there is greater value in being the freest people in the world than the safest.