A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

15 September 2017 — 2114 mdt

What happens if the cops can’t catch the creep threatening our schools?

Classes cannot be canceled forever. Or, as a practical matter, not for much longer. Children must be educated. Community activities must resume. Our daily round must be restored, even if it is at higher risk of disruption than before.

Will schools reopen with beefed-up security?

Will a false alarm be declared? Sheriff Curry, reports the Missoulian, now says ““Based upon our estimation, without revealing any details of the investigation, we certainly feel that there is a credible threat, or at least a potentially credible threat.”

A potentially credible threat? That’s an artful phrase. To me, it’s a predicate for a face saving statement to the effect of “Folks, we can finally relax. A diligent investigation revealed this was a clever hoax. We’re sorry for the disruption, but to play it safe we had to take it seriously. That’s our job.”

Meanwhile, the nature of the alleged threat is still being withheld from the public. I’ve been advised that this is standard procedure, which it undoubtedly is, and that being deprived of the facts is nothing to be concerned about, which is nonsense. When a county shuts down its schools, a city (Whitefish) bolts the door to city hall, businesses cancel sales (the Sportsman Ski Haus), public events are canceled (the oil and water don’t mix program sponsored by Trout Unlimited, et al), the public needs to know why.

Most threats are hoaxes. The damage done is from the reaction to the threat, not from the threat’s being carried out. If someone decides to blow up a school, he’s going to plant the bomb, light the fuse, and perhaps make a last minute warning call from an untraceable burner phone. He’s not going to reduce the probability of success by issuing a threat and losing the element of surprise.

But a criminal might issue a bomb threat in an attempt to extort money, to force the release of a prisoner, or to force a change in public policy. Because Sheriff Curry and school officials are being so tight-lipped, we cannot rule out the possibility that someone is trying to extort money by threatening to blow up a school, shoot a student, or do another bad thing. Our schools, of course, by being shut down, are being held hostage right now. Update, 19 September. This is extortion. The person or group that hacked the Columbia Falls school servers issued a demand for ransom.

If this is attempted extortion, our law enforcers could be stalling for time while they attempt to capture the extortionist. They could also be stalling for time while they raise the ransom (which might have to be paid in Bitcoin).

But doing all that while keeping the public ignorant stands democracy on its head.

Public officials must hold themselves accountable to the public. That requires releasing information the public needs to evaluate the decisions and conduct of those officials. If information can be kept secret while a school system is shut down, the doors to city hall are locked, and commerce is curtailed, because of fears of something that’s unknown but is alleged to exist, we’re living in a police state, not in a democracy.