Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Boom Sooner

Although I generally shy away from Oklahomacentric topics here, I cant help but weigh in on the percolating conspiracies surrounding the Oct. 1 Sooner boom on the University of Oklahoma campus. The apparent suicide bombing of Joel Henry Hinrichs III is still prompting rumors floating through the blogosphere, and it's easy to understand why.

Joel Hinrichs III

As is the case with conspiracy theories, there is an abundance of tantalizing coincidences -- if they are coincidences, that is -- with which to connect the dots.

Of course, the curious death of Hinrichs is made all the curiouser because of Norman, Oklahoma's footnote connection to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker, attended Airman Flight School in Norman, lived near the OU campus, attended the Islamic Mosque in the town and, strangest of all, somehow ended up using the email address of an OU student from Pennsylvania named Nick Berg. As investigators later concluded, Moussaoui had bumped into Berg on a bus in Norman, when one thing led to another and, to make a long story short, the al Qaeda terrorist gained access to Berg's email account. It proved to be a fortuitous meeting for Moussaoui. After all, Berg attended OU for only a semester, although he did end up spending another several months living on the OU campus, sleeping in the student union center and even on the floor of the Lloyd Noble Center. Strange.

Even stranger, four years later terrorists in Iraq beheaded Berg, a gruesome murder that was transmitted across the globe via the Internet.

So Joel Hinrichs chooses game day at OU to kill himself with the explosive TATP, which shoe bomber Richard Reid used in his thwarted act of terrorism and which is the explosive of choice in the Middle East. Then investigators find more explosives in Hinrichs' apartment, which he shares with a Pakistani student. Some media outlets and blogs contend that an airline ticket to Algeria was found in the apartment. Whether that is true -- or, if true, whether that means anything -- remains to be seen.

KWTV, Oklahoma City's CBS affiliate, reports that unnamed sources place Hinrichs as having visited the Norman mosque on a few occasions earlier this year. That claim is disputed by the FBI. By the way, the bureau successfully pushed to seal the search warrant executed on Hinrichs' apartment, which, we are told, is not particularly common in a case of apparent suicide.

We concede that there are some mighty strange things about the case. First, we suspect that people who commit suicide by bombing are probably intending to rack up a body count with them. We also have trouble believing Hinrichs' father's claim that his son was just an enthusiast about blowing shit up.

There's also the interesting business about Hinrichs, a 21-year-old junior majoring in engineering, having attempted to purchase a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer two days before he eviscerated himself. Although the sale never happened -- the seed-and-feed store Hinrichs visited no longer carried the fertilizer -- he aroused enough suspicion that an off-duty cop in the store jotted down the young man's license plate number.

Accuracy in Media, for what it's worth, has a concise summary of the main mysteries by Cinnamon Stilwell (now, that's a name!):

"When it comes to the Hinrichs bombing, it doesn't take a tinfoil hat to wonder whether there's a cover-up in progress and why. It may simply be that investigators don't want to jeopardize the case by giving away too much information or maybe they don't want to alarm the public needlessly. But doesn't an attempted terrorist attack that could have killed countless civilians warrant some concern?"

My own totally uneducated theory is that Hinrichs was a lonely, sad and misguided young man who wanted to die and take a lot of people with him in the process. My hunch is that something detonated too soon or too late, or something just plain screwed up, and he accidentally blasted himself to smithereens while sitting on a bench.

But will that be what actually comes out? Who knows? OU President David Boren has an obvious vested interest in dismissing any question of public safety at a home game. After all, we are talking about the university's financial lifeblood.

As for the other side of the coin, the more salient mysteries surrounding the case are sure to be tarnished by the likes of conspiracy mongering reporters who overreach and compromise the credibility of everything they allege.

Nope, our prediction: There will be nothing more definitive to come from the strange case of Joel Hinrichs.


At 12:43 PM, Blogger Conrad Spencer said...

Who's the more foolish--the person who believes in every conspiracy theory, or the person who belives in none of them?

At 2:19 PM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

I suspect both parties cancel each other out in the scale of foolishness.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find the Berg connections much more fascinating. I cannot believe there isn't some conspiracy -- if only that Berg was an operative -- there.


At 10:25 PM, Anonymous flamewhore said...

Just now reading your old post from October. Don't you think all those coincidences just have to do with the fact that Oklahoma is a small state? You see connections like this all the time, they're just not newsworthy.

What do you think about the case now that the FBI investigation is done?

At 6:37 AM, Blogger Chase McInerney said...

I don't have a great deal of confidence in the FBI, but I do believe that Hinrichs had no connection to Al Qaeda. Do I believe he planned to kill as many people as he could along with him? Damn right I do, and I think the evidence is pretty clear on that count.

I'm not sure, flamewhore, that I agree with you that there are connections like this all the time, though. I think each connection needs to be evaluated on the smell-test factor. In retrospect, I definitely concede that Hinrichs' connections to international terrorism were nonexistent ... but the link between Moussaoui and the guy whse email account he used -- and he would be beheaded by Iraqi insurgents four years later -- is too coincidental to be, well, coincidental.

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