Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
Five blasts. Four injuries. Two deaths. And then one final blast that killed the mad bomber.
The killing began with a bomb on the front porch of a tree-lined street in Austin, Texas. It ended off I-35 at a Red Roof Inn in Round Rock, Texas, when the bomber set off his final bomb and ended his own life.
Haverford Drive, with its clean narrow suburban streets and cookie cutter homes, was an unlikely place for a killer to leave a bomb disguised as a package. Unlike the Unabomber, the Austin bomber offered no manifestos. His victims were white, black and Hispanic. Some were chosen deliberately and others by chance. They ranged in age from 17 to 75. There was no common denominator except their vulnerability.
We have heard much in recent weeks about the killing power of firearms.
Mark Anthony Conditt, a college dropout, assembled increasingly sophisticated explosive devices. He didn’t use an AR-15, but he still spread fear and death around Austin. His tools of death were both exotic and ordinary, supplies from a local Home Depot and exotic batteries ordered online from Asia. The nails that tore through the bodies of his victims were obtained locally and the batteries were bought globally.
He bought a “Caution, Children at Play” sign at Home Depot and added a bomb and a tripwire. That’s also where he obtained the odd pink gloves that he could be seen wearing in the FedEx video.
Law enforcement was able to trace these items and many more to his Home Depot shopping expedition. The surveillance footage of Conditt kept multiplying as law enforcement tracked him back in time.
But while law enforcement could examine his habits, they knew very little about his mind.
They know a great deal about how he built the bombs, where he obtained the components, the nails, the galvanized pipe and batteries, and how he planted them, but his motives are another matter.
Conditt outwardly appears to fit the profile of a number of recent mass shooters like Adam Lanza and Elliot Rodgers. His obsession appeared to be killing for the sake of killing. Even at the end, he took more pride in the bombs he had built than in any political message. Facing capture or death, the video he recorded on his cell phone delved painstakingly into his bomb-making techniques.
Like many serial killers, Mark Anthony Conditt wanted the police to know how clever he had been.
The 25 minute confession that he recorded left law enforcement with few answers. It reportedly dealt with Conditt’s bomb-making techniques and his personal grievances. But not with anything political.
“He does not at all mention anything about terrorism nor does he mention anything about hate,” Austin’s Chief Manley said. “What was the motive? What was the reason? Sometimes we can’t assign reason to irrational acts.”
There are few answers at the Conditt home with its picket fence porch and drooping American flag. The one truth we have comes from the name that he used to ship his FedEx bombs: “Kelly Killmore”.
Conditt wanted to kill as many people as he could. And while we may never understand the dark motives that led him to his acts of terror, we do know the motives of the officers who stopped him.
While Conditt hunted for fresh victims, dedicated law enforcement personnel hunted him. They studied his bombs, analyzed his tactics and fed his ego. When he decided to show off by mailing bombs in person from a FedEx facility in Sunset Valley, Texas, wearing a blonde wig and pink gloves while going under the name Kelly Killmore, it was the beginning of the end.
One of the bombs went off on a conveyor belt. The other one was recovered intact. Law enforcement was able to reconstruct his bomb-making methods and equipment. And surveillance video from the Sunset Valley FedEx not only gave law enforcement a good view of the suspect, but also of his license plate.
Conditt may have worked with computers in the past, but he made elementary mistakes. He left his own cell phone on when he planted the bombs. And FBI agents spotted the pattern. One man with one phone had been near the site of all those bombings. And the bomber wasn’t as clever as he thought.
The story may have begun in Austin, but it ended at a motel in Round Rock.
When the police closed in on the Red Roof Inn where Conditt’s car had been parked, he knew it was over. But he still tried to escape. His red SUV went into a ditch. Conditt’s car, like his phone, had been his undoing. It was red, not the most common color, and an old car. He had parked it close enough to the FedEx office on his bomb drop for it to show up on the surveillance video.
Now the red Ford SUV would also be the scene of his last stand in a ditch off the I-35.
Two SWAT officers, members of the team that the other officers had been waiting for, came after him. And the bomber detonated his last bomb. A SWAT team officer was wounded, and another opened fire, but Conditt had claimed his last fatality.
The mad bomber of Austin was dead.
There were plenty of bomb-making materials found Inside the Pflugerville, Texas home that Conditt shared with his roommates. Enough so that much of the neighborhood had to be evacuated while law enforcement sorted through the stash.
With Conditt dead, many will wonder why. Neighbors recall a polite young man. Family members will remember a promising young boy. But the question of evil is a timeless one. And there are often no answers. But the answer to evil is not found by trying to understand it. That is the fallacy which so often leads to appeasement, to empathy and to Stockholm Syndrome.
The true answer to evil has never been to understand it, but to defeat it.
The answer to Mark Anthony Conditt ‘s evil won’t be found in his emails, his blogs or his confession. The answer to it came in a ditch off I-35 when law enforcement risked their lives to stop his reign of terror.
We don’t stop evil by understanding it. Instead we stop it by making sure it can never hurt anyone again.