Fifteen years ago, I was stirred from sleep at an early Pacific hour with the news of the terror attacks on the East Coast—and ran into work at the San Bernardino County Sun. Even with three of four hijacked airliners bearing a nominal destination of Los Angeles, there seemed to be a stunned yet strangely insulated feeling in our newsroom that day—after all, what reason would anyone have to attack San Bernardino?
As the December 2, 2015 attack on a county holiday party unfolded, and it quickly became evident that this mass shooting was more than a case of a disgruntled employee, I saw the city where I worked all day and night on 9/11 become the target of a terrorist attack.
But it was more than a tragic moment underscoring that no place is immune from terror. The massacre perpetrated by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik should have influenced how we think about terror, how those assumptions we may have held about terrorist recruitment, targets and methods from the 9/11 era must evolve if we’re serious about national security.
In the hours and days after Farook and Malik killed 14 people at the Inland Regional Center, a nonprofit with an auditorium rented for a Christmas party by the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, some incredulous talking heads panned the initial conclusions of terror largely due to the choice of target. How could terrorists choose an office party when they could have gone a bit west to pick a symbolic target in Los Angeles?
Because “symbolic target” has such a wide berth these days, the meaning is almost nonexistent.