Best: How can a me-first terrorist be made into a hero?

Allen Best
Big Pivots

A confounding aspect of the climate change challenge has been disagreements about the most basic of facts, namely human complicity. We had the same fact-based problem with the last presidential election. Then there’s what happened in Granby, the Colorado mountain town that continues to be at the center of alternative realities.

Allen Best

Granby lies between Winter Park, the ski area, and Grand Lake, the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. It has changed little since I lived there 40 years ago. It has tried to be a resort town, but the DNA is different. It’s a commercial and services center. The mayor when I lived there was Dick Thompson, who owned an excavating business and showed up at town board meetings in a blue work shirt wearing suspenders to hold up his jeans.

Th sky was blue the morning of June 4, 2004, the day of the bulldozer attack. The Fraser River, nearing the peak spring runoff, rushed to join the Colorado River. At the newspaper office, Patrick Brower was mapping out the next week’s issue of the Sky-Hi News.

Brower, like many people in Granby, a town then of 1,500, wore several hats. Walking down Agate Avenue, the main street, you were likely to encounter town trustees and sewer board members in different roles as store managers and accountants. Brower was the newspaper’s publisher but also its editor and a reporter. He attended many meetings of the town board. A relatively minor issue of several years before had been a land-use dispute on the town’s industrial fringe, where a concrete batch plant was permitted on property adjacent to a muffler shop.

That afternoon, Brower heard somebody had gone crazy in a bulldozer on the town’s edge. The Komatsu was like no bulldozer seen before, the driver encased in concrete save for two rifle barrels and clearly bent on destruction. It first attacked the batch plant, then it rumbled up the road to attack Mountain Parks Electric, followed by the town hall and library.

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People had been advised to stay indoors because the bulldozer operator — whoever it was — had shot at police and the batch-plant operator. Children had fled the library only a minute before the giant Komatsu crashed into the building.

At the newspaper office, Brower was trying to figure who the terrorist was. He was standing in the front of the office when the blade caved in the building’s two-story front. Bricks and concrete blocks fell like shattered glass. He ran out the back, the bulldozer roaring at his heels. He didn’t trip. Had he done so, he says, he would have died.

The bulldozer also ripped into the home of the former mayor. His widow had been sleeping until shortly before. Then came an attempt to create an explosion of propane tanks. Finally, the bulldozer overheated and got stuck in the Gambles store basement. The terrorist shot himself with a handgun. He was the owner of the muffler shop who thought he deserved special treatment. All of his victims played into that grudge-based narrative.

The strange thing was that almost immediately others made him into a martyr, a hero, the underdog getting back at a government elite. That’s laughable on the surface. I stress that the mayor when I lived there dug trenches. Nobody was wealthy. If anybody had a Ph.D., they certainly did not announce it.

Admirers of this terrorist pointed out that he killed nobody. It was a matter of luck. Dozens could have easily died from gunfire, explosions, or — like the children in the library — crushed by bulldozer treads.

Several years ago, Brower wrote a book about this. It’s called “Killdozer.” He lays out the facts. Facts don’t matter to many people. They want to believe in a little guy battling a big, bad government until he finally snapped.

Facts do matter, but so do broader truths that we agree upon, as David Brooks observed in a 2021 column. “It is a moral framework from which to see the world,” he explained.

Cooperation, not conflict, defines every successful community I have known. Violence achieved nothing for the terrorist in Granby, nor did it achieve anything on Jan. 6 in Washington D.C. Communities large and small are built on cooperation that dwarf narrow, short-term interests. Happily, American leaders have come together in bipartisan agreement in how to resist Russian aggression in the Ukraine.

Climate change poses a broader, more difficult and dangerous challenge. From my perspective in Colorado, sometimes I can be optimistic. I see bold policies, great courage and a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

Other days, I see narrow me-first grievances and entitlement hold sway. I’m still mystified how people can look at the facts and reconfigure this petty terrorist into a hero.

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