Home-grown terror: Suspected bomber in Fresno could also be a white supremacist

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Contributing Editor | Contributed

It was a relief to learn that Fresno police and FBI agents teamed up to arrest five people as suspects in a series of bombings in the city. As Bee staff writer Jim Guy reported, a task force of local police and FBI agents also seized bomb-making components, firearms and methamphetamine. But it was troubling to see Nazi and white supremacist paraphernalia in the evidence taken from the suspects. According to an analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, white supremacists represent the most significant terrorist threat in America today. It is unnerving to think a terrorist-threat reality is in Fresno.

According to police, a series of seven pipe bombings began in Fresno on Dec. 13 when a car exploded at 5674 E. Clinton Ave. Four more bombings occurred in January, three involving cars and one a mailbox. Two more cars were targeted in February, including a vehicle used by the Fresno County Probation Department. The video of that moment is straight out of Hollywood: a car pulls up behind the probation vehicle, someone throws a lit object under the official car, and it explodes and bursts into an enormous ball of flames. A few minutes later Fresno firefighters arrive to douse the fire.

Police Chief Paco Balderrama believes investigators “have a solid case on some very dangerous people,” he said. “The fact that they targeted a law enforcement vehicle was very concerning to me.”

Far-right terrorism

Much about the suspects and what they intended to do has yet to be revealed by the authorities. Was it their intention to start bombing law enforcement vehicles, and the Probation Department car was the first one? Balderrama said at a news conference that it was clear the suspects were improving their bombing proficiency as the incidents continued.Among those arrested was Scott Anderson, 44 years old. He is suspected of being the bomber.

Another suspect, 56-year-old Frank Rocha, allegedly had bomb-making materials in his possession. Balderrama said investigators discovered a link between Anderson and a white supremacist group. People with supremacist beliefs or adherence to Nazi principles comprise a terrorism trend rising in the nation for years now.

According to the analysis by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “far-right terrorism has significantly outpaced terrorism from other types of perpetrators, including from far-left networks and individuals inspired by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

“Right-wing attacks and plots account for the majority of all terrorist incidents in the United States since 1994, and the total number of right-wing attacks and plots has grown significantly during the past six years. Right-wing extremists perpetrated two-thirds of the attacks and plots in the United States in 2019 and over 90 percent between January 1 and May 8, 2020.”

Bombings not publicized

Another question: Why didn’t Fresno police say anything about the bombings until now? The department’s social media accounts are regularly updated with newsworthy arrests.

Lt. William Dooley, police department spokesman, gave The Bee Editorial Board this explanation:

At first, the bombings seemed more like arsons. “It was only after we identified who the suspect was that we were able to piece it all together and see the depth of the individual’s involvement,” Dooley said in an email.

“We secured a warrant as soon as we were able to and began our efforts to take him into custody. Could we have alerted our community at this point? Absolutely. But, to do so increased a greater risk to the community. We did not know if he was just doing this to simply blow up objects, or was he practicing and preparing for something bigger.”

Publicizing who investigators were looking for would have tipped off Anderson and likely would have made capturing him more difficult, with the added worry of putting the public at risk in any take down. As it was, Anderson and Rocha fled to Temecula after the probation car went up in flames, and were caught by Riverside County sheriff’s deputies.

Thankfully, no one was hurt or killed in the local bombings. But the incidents and arrests make clear that Fresno is not exempt from the specter of home-grown terrorism.

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