At a time when the most serious obsession among many of his college peers is the forthcoming Civil War football game, Oregon State University dropout Mohamed Osman Mohamud was planning to strike a blow in his own private religious war by bombing last Friday's Christmas tree lighting ceremony, attended by some 20,000 in downtown Portland.
This episode is a particular wake-up call for the Pacific Northwest. We like to think we are far away - geographically, at least - from the horrific events of the past decade.
Of course, violent fanatics, like serial killers, are equal opportunity visitors. Just as the most ardent segregationists made no distinction between lynching African-American activists or firebombing blameless church choir singers, today's jihadists don't check anyone's political affiliation before pressing the ignition code on their cell-phone triggering devices.
If the main lesson in this is that all America is under threat, there also are some false directions we must avoid in our response.
Firstly, it is stupid, criminal and shockingly un-American that the Corvallis Islamic center that Mohamud sometimes attended was the target of arsonists Sunday. Islam is not our enemy. The vast majority of American Muslims are deeply troubled by Mohamud's actions. It does nothing but play into the fanatics' hands if we allow our commitment to freedom of religion to be compromised.
Secondly, should we be careful about who we allow to come here? Certainly. But should we cut off immigration or specifically bar Somalis, Muslims or any other ethnicity or religion? Certainly not. There are good, valuable potential U.S. citizens everywhere. Our openness and hospitality define us. We must not allow fear to change America from being the land of opportunity.
In coming weeks and months, there will be endless psychoanalysis of Mohamud's broken home life and his conversion to militant Islam after his parents split in 2009. Were teenage grandiosity and daddy-anger merely posing as something bigger?
Accidents avoided, crimes prevented and catastrophes foregone are seldom appreciated. The thorough detective work by the FBI and its deft handling of Mohamud - including offering him several opportunities to turn aside - is a level of professionalism America sorely needs at a time when it is fashionable to berate all aspects of government.
For many Americans, there is duplicity in someone who became an American citizen and chose to further his education at a public university and then made such an enormous U-turn. The vast majority of people who leave their homeland and forge a new life in America are delighted to prosper amid the world's greatest freedoms, especially speech and worship. They are able to better themselves through the economic opportunities here and enjoy the choice in lifestyle, landscape and recreation that native-born residents sometimes take for granted.
How baffling that a young man who chose to become an American citizen, further his education and whose Somali family embraced these aspects of American life and attained considerable success here should turn on his adopted country with such homicidal vengeance.
Mohamud's still innocent until a court finds otherwise, but it's good to have him off the street.