CINCINNATI - You might be surprised to hear that Hamilton County earned the dubious distinction as a "Hot Spot of Terrorism" between 1970 and 2008.
That's the conclusion of a controversial new report from START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism.
It's a division of Homeland Security, Science and Technology, Human Factors/Behavioral Sciences Division housed at the University of Maryland.
Co-author Gary LaFree said the report was based on information gathered from open sources to build an objective terrorism database.
"Clearly, your county has a very different footprint than a lot of other places in the country," he said.
Hamilton County earned a "Hot Spot of Terrorism" label because 10 incidents were identified as "terrorism" in the 37-year time span. That was above the national mean of four incidents for single-issue, ideologically motivated acts.
However, Hamilton County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Snowden immediately took issue with the findings.
"To say that we're a hot spot because of events that happened that many years ago is not very fair to our region," he said. "I don't agree when you look at terrorism in today's terms."
Terrorism expert Ed Bridgeman likened the report to someone crying "wolf."
"When people see this sort of thing, they think it must be terrible here," he said. "That couldn't be further from the truth especially in this area."
Seven of the 10 Hamilton County cases cited involved women's health clinics, one was tied to a serial killer, one was an attempted firebombing and one was a bombing that damaged utility equipment.
1) March 3, 1970
--A bomb is detonated at a Cincinnati Gas & Electric booster station in Lockland, causing extensive equipment damage.
2) November 1, 1977
--A fire is set at the Cincinnati Planned Parenthood Clinic housed at Christ Church, causing $4,000 in damage.
3) February 1, 1978
--A chemical bomb is thrown into the Women for Women Clinic in Cincinnati, causing $3,000 in damage. The clinic is shut down for nine days and three other Ohio abortion clinics are attacked within a two-month period.
4) June 8, 1980
--Avowed racist Joseph Paul Franklin shoots and kills two African-American teenage cousins – Darrell Lane and Donte Evans Brown -- as they walk along Reading Road in Bond Hill. Franklin said he was on an overpass looking to shoot an inter-racial couple, but became so impatient that he decided to shoot the young men. He is convicted of the murders on October 21, 1988, and is later charged with with shooting Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt and civil rights leader Vernon Jordan.
5) December 30, 1985
--A fire is set in the basement of the Margaret Sanger Center of Planned Parenthood on Auburn Avenue in Mount Auburn. Damage is listed at $75,000, but the building is torn down and a new structure built. John Brockhoeft is convicted in the case.
6) December 30, 1985
--A fire is set at the Women's Health Care Center on East McMillan Street in Mount Auburn, causing $250,000 in damage. John Brockhoeft is indicted in the case, but the charge is dismissed when he agrees to a plea deal in the Sanger Center case.
7) February 23, 1987
--A pipe bomb is placed outside the temporary offices of the Margaret Sanger Center, but is discovered and removed before it detonates. John Brockhoeft is indicted in the case, but the charge is dismissed when he agrees to a plea deal in the Sanger Center case,
8) March 30, 1984
--An incendiary device is placed at the offices of the Cincinnati Herald Newspaper, but it is discovered before it detonates.
9) January 3, 2000
--A bomb is placed in a package sent to the Cincinnati Planned Parenthood Clinic, but it is discovered and disarmed.
10) January 3, 2000
--A bomb is placed in a package and sent to an abortion clinic in Cincinnati, but it is discovered and disarmed.
LaFree defended the study and its Hamilton County conclusion.
"We're trying to lay out the data in the most objective way we can," he said. "Whether you think nine or 10 incidents is a lot, you'll have to judge for yourself. I would say it's more than many other counties in the database have."
The report identified 2,600 terrorism incidents in the United States between 1970 and 2008 with 65 of the nation's 3,143 counties being termed "hot spots."
"We started with the definition of terrorism that essentially is violence or the threat of violence for a political purpose engaged in by non-state actors – someone other than the government," LaFree said.
A total of 30 percent of the cases were reported in New York City, Washington, D.C., Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
LaFree said data was collected from major newspapers, major studies by organizations and government reports, but not police data.
"There aren't any great alternatives for studying terrorism," he added.
Notably lacking in the report is the December, 2005, bombing of the Islamic Mosque in Clifton
"It's a place that's special to you and your family," said Karen Dabdoub, Executive Director of the Cincinnati Chapter of CAIR Ohio, the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "When it's bombed like that, it is traumatic."
The FBI is still investigating the case, but Dabdoub said she believes it was bombed because of some sort of religious hatred.
"It seems pretty much of a safe assumption, but no matter what the motivation was it was definitely a terrorist attack." she said.
Dabdoub grew up in Hamilton County and when she read the report, said she was flabbergasted by its conclusion.
"Cincinnati is not a hot spot for terrorism – not by a long shot," she said. "Random things can happen anywhere at any time."
What Americans think of as terrorism has changed a great deal from the 1970's forward, largely because of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. The people have changed. The issues have changed. The world has changed.
Civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein represented Planned Parenthood during the tumultuous days following the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
"In 1985, there were a number of anti-abortion activists who did believe that violence was an appropriate response to those clinics that were providing women's reproductive health," he said. "They were a minority, but they existed."
Now, Gerhardstein said the anti-abortion movement has chosen to move away from violence, but clinic staffs remain vigilant.
That's why he said there hasn't been any violence locally for 10 years. However, he added he feels the report isn't helpful.
"I think it's unfair and I think it's misleading and I think it makes people more nervous than they need to be," he said. "Those people receiving reproductive health care can have a safe visit and thousands of them have safe visits every year."
Bridgeman characterized Brockhoeft as someone who today would be called a "lone wolf terrorist."
"He was carrying it out not at the direction of any group, not at the direction of any person, but because of personal ideological beliefs," he said.
Joseph Paul Franklin, he said, was another story.
"He was a random serial killer," Bridgeman said. "His target selection happened to be persons of color. Other serial killers target prostitutes. Other serial killers target college-age females. That doesn't make them terrorists."
Since 9/11, $65 million Homeland Security dollars have been spent to improve terrorism prevention and preparedness, not only in Cincinnati and Hamilton County, but the entire 12-county, Tri-State region.
"We're doing a lot more to prevent terrorist activities, to understand what's going on in the world and make sure we're prepared to deal with any situation that comes up," Snowden said.
Those dollars have created a number of new services…
An Emergency Operations Center for disaster coordination
A terrorism early warning group that monitors intelligence
A Homeland Security analyst that studies that intelligence to see what impact it might have on the region
However, Snowden said the biggest benefit to public safety has been the coordination of services from multiple states, counties, cities, villages and townships.
"We now work together – multiple disciplines – police, fire, health, hospitals and public works," he said. "We never worked like that before."
Mass-casualty training exercises have been held at Great American Ball Park, Great American Ball Park and in many other counties and municipalities.
Asked if people should be worried about their safety because of the "hot spot designation," Snowden simply replied, "No. Flat out no."
"Things can happen, but for the most part I think we're watching that pretty well and I think we're doing a pretty good job in making sure they don't happen," he said. "I think we're about as prepared as we can be."
Bridgeman said he agreed.
"The truth in this area is that we have one of the most transparent and cooperative homeland security operations of any place I've seen in the country," he said. "The public should feel safe."
LaFree said he thinks if citizens get objective information, such as contained in the report, they're not likely to panic and go flying out into the streets doing crazy things.
"If you give them the story that you have these nine or 10 incidents, most of them happened more than a decade ago and they were very specific, I'd say let them take that as they will," he concluded.