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It Can Happen Here

Political violence isn’t ‘supposed’ to happen in the U.S. That doesn't mean it won't.

On Friday, the FBI arrested three Kansas men for plotting to bomb an apartment complex that more than 100 Somali immigrants had made their home. These men called themselves “The Crusaders,” and had planned the attack for November 9, the day after Election Day. They had been stockpiling explosives for months, planning to blow up not just the apartments but also local churches that had been aiding the Somali community. One of the men, Patrick Stein, told the others, “When we go on operations there's no leaving anyone behind, even if it's a 1-year-old, I'm serious. I guarantee if I go on a mission those little fuckers are going bye-bye.”

That wasn't the only terrorist attack in America last week, or even just last weekend. On Sunday, news broke that the Hillsborough, North Carolina GOP office had been firebombed. Someone had spray painted on a nearby wall, "Nazi Republicans leave town or else." We aren't supposed to do this here, in Kansas, in North Carolina, in the United States. Terror attacks on apartment buildings, violent attacks on party offices — they're for somewhere else, we think.

Somewhere like Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Truck bombings have killed hundreds of people in Somalia over the last decade, and the country's decades-long civil war has forced 1.3 million people to flee. Fadumo Dayib, the country's first female presidential candidate, told MTV News earlier this year that life for Somali youth was “one of survival, of fighting the odds, day in, day out.” The people living in that apartment building in Kansas, the people “The Crusaders” wanted to kill, wanted more than that, for themselves and for their children.

It's not enough to say that what could have happened in Kansas or what did happen in North Carolina isn't “supposed to” happen here. “Not supposed to” doesn't mean “won't.” And when one presidential candidate is telling his supporters that the race he's running is doomed because the whole thing is “rigged,” and when the presidential election itself seems like less of a referendum on our country than an autopsy, the kind of violence we tell ourselves is “un-American” can and will take place. There will be bombings of political party offices, or threats made towards journalists, or plans to murder hundreds of people fleeing violence.

Violence is wrong, but it's frighteningly easy. Maintaining a peaceful representative democracy, on the other hand, is hard. The United States contains over 300 million people, and a lot of them don't agree on anything at all. Yet every four years, for more than two centuries, we've managed to choose a president. Some of those presidents have been bad, and some of them have been good, and yet the country has moved forward each and every time. That sort of progress is rare. Fadumo Dayib has prepared a will in case something happens to her. In Somalia, a popular, “one-man one-vote” election hasn't taken place since 1967.

The Somali people living in that Kansas community came here to find peace, but the truth is that no country can immunize itself against extremist violence, no matter their flag or religious affiliation. The propensity to hurt people who believe something different can exist anywhere, within anyone. As Americans, we aren't “better than this.” But we can do better than this. It'll be hard. Doing the right thing tends to be. But it'll be worth it.