As much as I try to protect my identity online, this is a story that I cannot just let go. Scotts Bluff County Sheriff Jim Lawson and the sheriff’s department in my town has decided that there is a major threat of terrorism and that the county needs to adopt the “See something, say something,” mentality in Western Nebraska.

Lawson says he obtained permission from the New York Office of Homeland Security to use the slogan for a local campaign after seeing an article in a magazine. The Department of Homeland Security has announced intentions to expand the campaign nationally.

“If it can work for them, why not use it here?” Lawson said.

It won’t work here because there honestly isn’t a need for it here. This is a small town, with no major venues, no tall buildings, and no reason for a terrorist to want to come here. Everyone knows everyone else. There are plenty of racists around so you’d quickly hear if there were any “towelheads” in our midst.

While western Nebraska may seem like an unlikely area for a terrorist attack, Lawson said, “Oklahoma City, Okla., was struck by a domestic terrorist. We don’t want people to get overly frightened, but they just need to be aware and be kept aware.”

Yes, Oklahoma City was bombed. Oklahoma City had a population of 506,132 in 2000. The entire Scotts Bluff County had a population of 36,554 in July, 2008. Oklahoma City was targeted by Timothy McVeigh because he believed the orders against The Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge came from the FBI offices in the Murrah Building. It was a specific attack in response to perceived specific orders from the federal government. There is nothing in Western Nebraska that would warrant the same response.

Lawson offered some awareness tips for signs of possible terrorism, though he highlighted that “individually, these things are unlikely indicators of terrorism. He said citizens should be alert for suspicious persons out of place, such as a person who seems to be doing surveillance around governmental buildings or national monuments.”

National monuments in the area include Agate Fossil Beds, Chimney Rock and the Scotts Bluff Monument. These places are not areas where anyone would try to blow anything up. The government buildings are small and may kill up to 200 people if it were blown up, if all the people stayed inside, and only if you reduced the buildings to rubble. The only building that could cause damage would be if the Western Sugar Cooperative refinery were blown up. However, even if you did that, few people would be killed. It’s on the edge of town. The only thing that would be damaged would be the car dealership across the street. A handful of people, at most, would be killed.  The refinery accidentally exploded in 1996 and no one even remembers it. Trust me, if a terrorist wants to make an impression, Denver is a much better target.

He advised that people be alert of people who are in locations where they are not supposed to be or do not fit into the usual routine of the location. He advised people to be aware of frequent signs that someone may be “testing security,” such as an increase in frequent false alarms or unusual questions about operations, staffing or security.

How does a normal person know if someone is or is not supposed to be somewhere? I shop at the supermarket all the time, but I don’t know who else does. Nor do I know if some guy sitting in a truck is waiting for his wife or casing the joint. Now, he can be harassed by the police while his wife shops.

“It’s better to be safe,” he said, saying that depending on the circumstances of a report, information could be forwarded to the local Joint Terrorism Task Force for further scrutiny. “If it turns out to be nothing, so what?”

No, it’s not better to be safe. This isn’t about being safe. This is about turning regular citizens against each other just because they might be different. If it turns out to be nothing, it is a huge deal. You’ve just willingly turned yourself into an informant. It’s not your business to needlessly interfere with other people, nor are you part of the police department. Maybe if the police actually moved their vehicles from out front of their homes once in a while, they could actually solve crimes instead of making the people do their work. After all, there’s a murderer still on the loose and the police don’t have a clue who did it.

“But, if a person sees something, like a burglary in progress, and reports it because of this campaign, we still will have scored some points for the system,” Lawson said. “Someone got involved, someone did something, and hopefully, someone went to jail.”

Really? Really? You honestly think that ordinary citizens won’t call in a burglary in progress without this program?

Though Lawson will be leaving office in early January, he said he didn’t hesitate to begin implementing the campaign before incoming Sheriff Mark Overman takes over. He said he hopes to see Overman and other law enforcement agencies in the area expand the program.

Nice. Lawson gets his pet project in place just before he leaves and hopes the new guy will push it even further.

Lawson said deputies will start carrying the bumper stickers in their cars and he would circulate them at events throughout the holiday season.

Give one to me and I’ll tear it up. It’s an idiotic program designed to scare people into thinking that we are in danger of terrorists taking over the county.

“I thought, it would be pretty easy for me to just sit here with my foot up on the desk, take it easy for the next month and say, ‘Let the next guy worry about it,’ but I’m pretty excited about this,” he said. “If it helps out, and I think it will, I can say that I was a piece of that.”

Well, put your feet up on your desk anyway and gloat. You were actually able to spend taxpayer money on a ridiculous program that extended the ridiculous fear this country already suffers from.

Photo by Maunette Loeks