Last Sunday morning, a 29-year-old Chicago man rode his bicycle through a busy intersection in my neighborhood, against the traffic light, and was struck and killed by an SUV.
Since the only person who died was the bicycle rider, it will seem very odd that I'm going to call him a terrorist. Stay with me on this.
"Terrorism" is defined as "the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."
The crash last Sunday happened because about 40 bicyclists were participating in an unsanctioned race called "Tour Da Chicago." In such races, participants ride against traffic, deliberately defy traffic laws, and use their numbers to intimidate drivers into stopping or getting out of the way.
Here is what one of the organizers told a local TV station after the death:
"To blame the victim for dying such a tragic death I think is an injustice. It's an injustice that our culture is so embedded in auto use and the convenience of autos that we're willing to let our friends and loved ones be killed."
There you go.
Races such as "Tour Da Chicago" are related to a movement called Critical Mass, the only difference being that the Critical Mass riders aren't racing. The belief system behind them is the same. Cars are bad. Saving the earth is good. The ends justify the means. Have you heard of Earth First? They're an underground environmentalist group that sets fire to buildings that offend them, such as ski lodges in Colorado. Same mind-set.
I encountered a Critical Mass ride once here in Chicago, or maybe it was another one of these races, about a year ago. It was at night, on Montrose I think. I was driving, the car in front of me stopped suddenly, seemingly for no reason, and bikes appeared out of nowhere, just a few at first, then dozens more, riding against traffic. There were no accidents that I saw, but there certainly could have been. As others have reported, there was a lot of taunting and berating of motorists, some of it good natured, a lot of it not, which might easily have provoked violence.
Like a lot of people, I use both kinds of vehicle, so I had mixed feelings. The bicycle rider in me thought it looked like fun but I was in a car that night, so I became one of the bad guys.
All of us who survived our own youth know young people wouldn't do 90 percent of the things they do if they thought about the consequences. Reckless. Thoughtless. Endangering themselves and others. The risky behaviors usually involve alcohol, drugs, cars, sex. Why not bicycles?
Because kids do crazy things, most of the riders probably had only a vague understanding of the movement's ideological underpinnings, although the guy who died last week wasn't a kid, he was 29.
The ideology at work is a form of nihilist extremism. The only real difference between this and flying hijacked airplanes into buildings is one of degree. It comes from the same place. Now this extreme political movement has a new martyr.