By Lowell Ponte

San Bernardino, 65 miles east of Los Angeles, became a scene of carnage on Wednesday, December 2, as three gunmen disguised in facemasks and camouflage gunned down more than two dozen people – leaving 14 dead and another 17 hospitalized.

Their as-yet-unexplained target was a rented room in a treatment center where county environmental health officials were having a holiday party and awards banquet.

The shooters carried assault rifle-like weapons, blasted the partiers, then calmly reloaded and continued shooting. They may also have carried three improvised explosive devices, pipe bombs.

The shooters reportedly wore body armor, reminiscent of a scene in Los Angeles years before where police were unable to stop armed and armored robbers with 9 millimeter police handguns. Officers rushed to a nearby gun store to borrow elephant rifles, which brought down the criminals.

The shooters on Wednesday fled to their black SUV and drove to nearby Redlands before returning. Police closed in on the vehicle and a firefight ensued that riddled the SUV with bullets and killed at two suspects inside. The Los Angeles Times pulled back its initial report that one may have been Tayyeep Bin Ardogan, a 28-year-old female citizen of Qatar on the Persian Gulf; police later identified her as Tashfeen Malik, 27.

One of the three suspects was identified by the Los Angeles Times as Sayed Rizwan Farook, an American citizen employed by the San Bernardino County Health Department as an environmental health specialist.

Why this attack happened is uncertain. The FBI refuses to rule out the possibility of terrorism. The Joint Terrorism Task Force is involved in this case.

San Bernardino is a desert town where someone from the Middle East might feel comfortable. Summer days often hit 100 to 105 degrees. I remember them well, having been born and raised next door in Redlands. Summer days were comfortable because humidity fell as the temperature rose. Most local air conditioners were evaporative, not refrigerant.

San Bernardino, with 214,000 people, was once home to only a few thousand acorn-gathering Native Americans along the banks of a small stream called the Zanja….or Sankee. I remember leading a successful protest at the local Spanish mission asistencia because its museum had labeled these indigenous people as “savages.”

Today San Bernardino is laid out on the original ABC-123 street pattern of the Mormons who settled it as part of a Mormon corridor between Salt Lake City and San Diego that Brigham Young hoped would lead to a seaport state called Deseret…not one named Utah after the Ute Indians.

In the early 20th Century the average climatic temperature here dipped by two or three degrees as people forested the region with orange groves, according to University of California research. But the temperature rose again after World War II, as housing subdivisions and paving replaced the orange trees as Americans rushed to the area’s sunshine and prosperity.

I remember as a child being able to walk through orange groves for hours, never being stopped by a fence. But those groves are now almost entirely gone.

Even so, San Bernardino was home to the National Orange Show convention center. This is where my Franco-American father won a prize for his orange cake. This is where the Rolling Stones played for the first time in the United States. This is where I practiced journalism for the first time by interviewing visiting bands such as Cream.

Another California desert city of the Inland Empire celebrates the National Date Festival; where as a small child I was at age 4 sketched wearing a Fez.

The local Dairy Queen in Redlands offered not just malts but also date shakes, and locals knew to make these with sugary Medjool dates, not Deglet Noors. Such was our casual desert kinship with the Middle East.

Next to San Bernardino and Redlands is Loma Linda, a town of medical facilities to which the shooting victims were taken. The people here are, like Dr. Ben Carson, Seventh-Day Adventists. Loma Linda was so devoted to Saturday as their Sabbath when I was young that its post office was closed Saturdays and open Sundays.

If you meet a petroleum engineer almost anywhere around the Persian Gulf, chances are that his or her college degree is from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which is near the Shrine Auditorium that looks like something out of the Arabian Nights.

Terrorism has two essential components. One is the terrorist who uses threats and violence to frighten others. The other is people who can be frightened, without whom terrorism would be impotent.

In our new book, We Have Seen The Future and It Looks Like Baltimore: American Dream Vs. Progressive Dream, Craig R. Smith and I analyze America’s growing vulnerability.

One source of vulnerability is centralization. If you put 10,000 people in a big box called the World Trade Center, or in a densely-populated city dependent on a handful of electrical and water sources, you create a tempting target.

Such centralization applies to government and society. As government grows bigger and more paternalistic, the people become smaller and more infantilized.

College students now demand “trigger warnings” of professors and “safe spaces” because they fear being exposed to any provocative idea that might traumatize them.

We appear increasingly to live in a society where millions never grow up, preferring to remain Peter Pan children sucking on the breast of government….dependents who never become independent or self-reliant.

A society with many millions constantly dependent on government to provide for their needs and wishes is a society highly vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

Trying to defeat terrorist by making government even more centralized multiplies our vulnerability to asymmetrical warfare, and transforms us into a less free, less secure society.

Our best defense, ironically, might be courage and urban sprawl, the same decentralization hated by big city tax collectors because it makes millions less vulnerable to them, too.

A Progressive state such as California, which makes it extremely difficult for citizens to carry a handgun for self defense, leaves citizens easy targets for terrorists who know that their victims will not be shooting back.

“Make yourselves sheep,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “and wolves will eat you.”

We are making ourselves sheep, a society of infants, and should not be surprised to see terrorist wolves preying on us.


Lowell Ponte is a retired Reader’s Digest Roving Editor and author or co-author of seven books. His writings have appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications.


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