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Why Did a Bomb Explode Outside an NAACP Office in Colorado?

On Tuesday morning, volunteers working at the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP heard a loud explosion outside the building that they said was powerful enough to knock items off the wall.

Josiah Hesse

Josiah Hesse

NAACP President Cornell William Brooks, right, marching in Oklahoma last month. Photo via Flickr user KOMUnews

Following the most divisive year in recent memory for race relations in America, the first week of 2015 was met with an act of violence possibly targeting the premier black activist organization in the country. At 10:45 AM local time Tuesday morning, volunteers working at the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP heard a loud explosion outside the building that they said was powerful enough to knock items off the wall.

"We do not know if this was a hate crime, or if the NAACP was specifically targeted," says Amy Sanders, media coordinator for the FBI in Denver, which is probing the case. "There was a salon next door that may have been targeted, or maybe there was a personal motive from a volunteer at the NAACP. This is still an ongoing investigation."

Whether the alleged bomber was targeting the NAACP or not, his or her skills with an incendiary device were pretty rudimentary, and if the intention was to cause harm to any persons or property, the attack failed miserably. Despite occurring in the middle of a workday morning while many people were inside the building, no one was harmed in the explosion. According to Sanders, the building containing the NAACP and Mr. G's Hair Design Studios "was slightly charred, as was the sidewalk, but all of the damage was external."

While the improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated successfully, a gas can that was placed next to the bomb (presumably to increase the size of the explosion and cause the building to catch fire) was not ignited in the blast and caused no damage.

Still, locals were a bit shaken up, to stay the least.

"It was a horrendous blast," says Gene Southerland, owner of Mr. G's Hair Design Studio, which has been in the building since 1967. "A corrections officer who was in my chair at the time described it as sounding like a shotgun blast."

Southerland says that in addition to the NAACP offices and his establishment—where the clients are predominantly African American—the building also played host to a campaign office for Barack Obama during his first run for president in 2008.

The bombing occurred just days before Colorado Springs residents are set to line up for the local premiere of Selma, a film chronicling the signature voting-rights marches led by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. The film takes place in the same year that NAACP leader George Metcalfe was injured in a car bombing. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the NAACP has been the target of seven additional bombings in the years that followed, three of which occurred in 1993. But the organization has not been the victim of any such attack since that year.

"Colorado has had a very strong radical right going back decades," says Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the SPLC. "It has a very substantial liberal, progressive element, but outside of the cities, it has a very conservative population. Colorado Springs in particular is an extremely conservative town. It's home to almost all of the major Christian right organizations in the United States.

"There was a lot of activity from militia groups in Colorado in the 1990s," Potok continues. "In 1997, anti-government radicals set fire to the IRS office in Colorado Springs. That arson caused $2.5 million in damage."

According the SPLC website, Colorado is home to 17 active hate groups—defined as having "beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics."

Sanders says that there is a "possible person of interest" in the explosion, described as a white, balding male driving a white pickup truck. Sanders is adamant that "at the FBI, we take any allegation of a hate crime very seriously, and we will investigate that possibility. However, there are many possibilities in this case at the moment."

Southerland, meanwhile, is already back to his routine at Mr. G's Hair Design Studios.

"Business goes on," he says. "I slept good last night, and that symbolizes the comfort and faith that I have in God. I don't have any haters. I feel blessed that nobody was hurt last night, and we just have to pray and be mindful and move on."

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