Christie: Should the Austin serial bomber be considered a ‘terrorist’?

The suspect in a string of bombings in Austin is dead, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirms March 21. Manley stirred controversy when he called serial bomber Mark Conditt “a very challenged young man” instead of a “terrorist”. (Ricardo B. Braziell/Austin American Stateman/TNS)

UPDATE: According to the Daily Beast, Chief Manley Thursday morning told an audience in Austin that he now feels comfortable calling the Austin bomber “a domestic terrorist,” according to reporters at a panel discussion on the bombings. “When I look at what he did to our community—and as your police chief—I actually agree now, that he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us,” Manley said. Read more…

To some degree, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley probably wishes he could take it back. But it’s far too late for that.

After Austin police, ATF,  FBI and other law-enforcement finally caught up to 23-year-old serial bomber Mark Anthony Conditt earlier last week, after he terrorized the Texas capital for three weeks, killing and maiming several people with homemade bombs, the unemployed college dropout took himself out by detonating one of his own devices.

RELATED: Inside the 20 hours that led to Austin bomber Mark Conditt’s downfall

The authorities viewed a 25-minute cellphone video left behind by Conditt that detailed the differences among the weapons he built and amounted to a confession. It seemed to indicate that he knew he was about to get caught; in fact, Austin SWAT was closing in on him when the device detonated and killed him.

Chief Manley, possibly a bit punch drunk from weeks with little sleep and continued stress, felt compelled to give an arguably unqualified and politically unwise assessment of Conditt based on the cellphone recording.

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“It is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his own life,” Manley said of the recording, which authorities still have not released amid the ongoing investigation.

Mark Anthony Conditt

Hold up. The “outcry of a very challenged young man”? people asked.

Let’s recap: This “very challenged young man” just held an entire city in a grip of fear for weeks with bombs he made from materials bought at Home Depot.

Isn’t that the definition of a “terrorist”? That’s the question that blew up quickly all over social media after Manley statement — what many criticized as just the latest example in which a white suspect seemed to receive an injection of humanity that is less often extended to blacks, Muslims and others.

“Remember how they talked about innocent black children” like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray, tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“I believe passionately in acknowledging the humanity of those who commit even terrible crimes. Reading this police chief’s empathy for this young white man highlights the awfulness — the plain awfulness — of the persistent refusal to extend this empathy to young black people,” Ifill added.

Those young black males were described as “thugs” by some authorities and in popular discourse. Another case often cited is that of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old fatally shot by a white officer in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. The New York Times described Brown as “no angel” in a profile, a phrase that drew an angry response from readers and was criticized by its own public editor.

Beginning March 2, police say Conditt planted bombs in different parts of Austin, killing two people and severely wounding four others. He began by placing explosives in packages left overnight on doorsteps, killing 39-year-old father Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old musician Draylen Mason and critically injuring 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera. He then rigged an explosive to a tripwire along a public trail, injuring two young men who crossed it. Finally, he sent two parcels with bombs via FedEx. One exploded and injured a worker at a distribution center near San Antonio.

Police are still trying to figure out Conditt’s motivations. The recording is only one piece to figuring out that puzzle.

RELATED: Who is Mark Anthony Conditt, the suspected Austin bomber?

After Manley drew fire for calling Conditt “a challenged young man,” he struck a different note Saturday, saying: “The suspect in this incident rained terror on our community for almost three weeks.”

That’s not an apology; nor does it come right out and label Conditt a terrorist.

The same can now be said for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who after hearing the recording called Conditt a “sick individual,” but not a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.

McCaul, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, chose instead to use his news conference to heap praise on law enforcement officials for bringing the three-week spree to an end. He called the investigation, which included more than 800 officers, a textbook example of how local, state and federal agencies should work together, the AP reported.

Of Conditt, McCaul said: “He did refer to himself as a psychopath. He did not show any remorse, in fact questioning himself for why he didn’t feel any remorse for what he did.”

Conditt makes no mention of a racial motivation on the recording, but investigators are still looking into that as a possibility, McCaul said. The first three victims were minorities.

In the days and weeks to come, as law enforcement officials look into what motivated Conditt, it will be interesting to see whether or not they move away from this kinder, gentler description of the bomber.

Take our poll here and tell us what you think:

Christie: Florida ban on greyhound racing could finally be going to the dogs

Florida voters look ready to ban greyhound racing by a supermajority vote, according to a new survey that shows the issue fares better at the polls if people identify the proposal with animal welfare instead of gambling. (Photo by David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post)

UPDATE: The Florida Constitution Revision Commission on Tuesday night gave preliminary approval to Proposal 67, which would phase out commercial greyhound racing in the state by 2020. The proposal will now go to the Style and Drafting Committee before returning to the full CRC for a final vote. If approved, it will appear on the November ballot.

Would Florida voters ban greyhound racing if a proposed constitutional amendment appeared on the November ballot?

According to a new survey released by animal rights group GREY2K USA, the answer is a solid “maybe” … that is, if the question focuses on animal welfare instead of anti-gambling.

RELATED: Poll: Florida voters favor Greyhound racing ban

The poll, which was shared and reported on by POLITICO Florida on Tuesday, showed a sampling of likely voters supported the measure, 65–27 percent. But POLITICO also reported that overall opposition remained flat. Support appeared to increase to about 70 percent after respondents were asked three questions in support and three questions in opposition to the proposed amendment.

The amendment, along with many others, is under consideration this week by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) to decide which proposals will go before voters this fall.

Of course, supporters of ending Florida’s controversial tradition of tying gambling (pari-mutuel wagering) to greyhound racing are heartened by the poll results. At the same, opponents — such as our own Palm Beach Kennel Club — are somewhat dismissive.

The two sides have been warring over the issue for years, as wagering on greyhound racing has been declining. But supporters of a ban have been out-maneuvered largely by the fact that 12 tracks still operating in the state are concerned about being shut out of other, more profitable forms of gambling — like card games and slots — if they lose the dogs.

RELATED: Editorial: Require injury reports for racing greyhounds

Efforts at “decoupling” the two issues, championed by lawmakers from Okaloosa to Palm Beach counties over the years have died during the legislative session as Florida struggles with its “gambling-versus-family” image.

But animal rights groups may have finally found a way to tip the scales in their favor. Everyday folks really do care passionately about dogs.

“Floridians are deeply concerned about the humane issues including confinement, greyhound deaths and injuries,” said Carey M. Theil, executive director of GREY2K USA, told POLITICO Florida. “By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Florida voters are not moved at all by opposition arguments, including job claims. We gain support when it’s clear this is an animal welfare issue.”

Although commercial greyhound racing is banned in 40 states, Florida has been a particularly tough nut to crack with a majority of the nation’s 18 operational tracks located in the Sunshine State.

If the poll numbers hold up, the amendment would easily clear the 60 percent voter-approval threshold to become law in Florida.

Patrons at the Paddock Dining Room at the Palm Beach Kennel Club. (Photo by David Spencer/The Palm Beach Post)

That’s not likely to happen without a fight as breeders and kennel operators like Palm Beach Kennel Club, who insist that they take good care of their animals, call the proposed amendment a job-killer and “a backdoor way of expanding gambling” in the state.

The CRC, to avoid voters getting “ballot fatigue” from considering too many amendments, is also looking at combining disparate proposals on the ballot. This could be a good or bad thing depending on what the greyhound racing ban is coupled with, i.e. oil drilling, school board term limits or nursing homes.

Regardless, it’s looking as though voters will get a chance to vote on it. Take our poll here and tell us how you would vote: