NBC’s Today Show national investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen has a bit of explaining to do after airing a hit piece this morning on the binary target industry, specifically focused on industry leader, Tannerite.
Let’s look at the smear, as it was presented both online and in print.
First, the video.
Now let’s unpack the equally inflammatory print story.
Jennifer Plank-Greer of Kokomo, Indiana, was visiting a home in Celina, Ohio, on May 6, 2012, when she started recording cellphone video of a man about to fire a rifle at a target in the backyard. Plank-Greer was 150 feet away as the man fired at his target, a refrigerator containing just 2 pounds of exploding targets, a product openly for sale at some of the country’s biggest stores.
The refrigerator exploded, sending shrapnel flying in all directions. A metal fragment struck Plank-Greer’s right hand, nearly severing it at the wrist. “In a blink of an eye … it was gone,” she said. She says she was unaware the refrigerator contained exploding targets.
There’s a great deal of stupidity that took place in the events that caused Jennifer Plank-Greer’s injuries. The man who fired the shot used four times the recommended maximum amount of target mixture, and shot at it from half the safe distance for the recommended 1/2lb target amount. He compounded his error by placing the mixture inside of a container (the refrigerator), all but ensuring that there would be considerable shrapnel as the result of his shot.
It is very fortunate that Jennifer Plank-Greer survived the idiocy of her friend, but the incident wasn’t the fault of Tannerite, as even Plank-Greer was forced to admit in her lawsuit when her lawyers dropped Tannerite as a defendant. A company named H2 Targets made the binary explosive used in that Celina, Ohio, incident. That didn’t keep NBC or investigative correspondent Jeff Rossen from asserting that Tannerite was to blame in a shallow guilt-by-association smear.
Let’s move further into Rossen’s unethical account.
H2Targets and Tannerite both make exploding targets whose key ingredient is ammonium nitrate, the same substance used in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people and injured more than 680 others in 1995 and in IEDs (improvised explosive devices) used against U.S. troops in Afghanistan. In 2013, the FBI issued an intelligence bulletin warning that exploding targets have “potential use as explosives in IEDs by criminals and extremists.”
You know what else relies heavily on ammonium nitrate?
Nearly every vegetable you eat.
The primary use for ammonium nitrate is as an stable inexpensive, water-soluble high-nitrogen fertilizer to increase plant growth and increase crop yields. Without ammonium nitrate, you’d be paying a lot more for all your vegetables (from arugula to zucchini) and for grain products, such as breads.
This “same substance” is a shelf-stable and inflammable oxidizer, every bit as dangerous to handle and transport as sand from the beach.
Even when mixed with powdered aluminum, it poses no threat of easily going off. You can expose it to an electrical charge, and it will not detonate. You can try to ignite it with a match or a torch, or smash it with a hammer. It will not detonate. You can shoot it will a .22 rifle or 9mm +P hollowpoint from a pistol, and it will not go off. The minimum threshold to consistently detonate a Tannerite is a FMJ bullet moving at a bare minimum of 2,000 feet-per-second.
Rossen’s comment about “basically holding a bomb in my hands” in the beginning at the beginning of his segment is dangerously close to being on outright lie.
Rossen’s attempt to tie Tannerite to the Oklahoma city bombing is just as duplicitous.
The igniting charge in the Murrah building bomb was composed of 350 pounds (160 kg) of Tovex Gel, a pre-packaged professional explosive stolen from a rock quarry. This commercial explosive then set off two of other kinds of explosives in barrles using nitromethane and a small amount of diesel fuel in addition to an ammonium nitrate oxidizer.
There is very little resemblance between the incredibly stable binary target mixture used by Tannerite that can only be set off by a high velocity centerfire rifle bullet, and the devil’s brew made by the Oklahoma City terrorists. The shelf-stable, inflammable ammonium nitrate used by farmers around the world is the only link.
Yet today Tannerite can be legally purchased at most sporting goods stores. Gun enthusiasts buy it for target practice because it explodes when you shoot it, letting you know you’ve made the shot.
TODAY national investigative correpsondent Jeff Rossen went shopping at one store and bought 40 pounds of it — enough to blow up a house — with no questions asked. And potential terrorists don’t even have to show up at a store to buy Tannerite. A Rossen Reports producer bought the same amount, 40 pounds, online. A week later it was delivered to a doorstep in bulk.
Tannerite is purchased readily and it’s component chemicals transported by every shipping company because the two chemicals are incredibly stable. They are packaged separately, and are only mixed on-site prior to use. Even when mixed into it’s final target form, Tannerite is incredibly stable. You can throw it, drop it, or hit it with a train, and it will not go off. Attempt to set it off with a lighter or a burning cannon fuse, and it simply will not detonate.
It’s legal to ship and legal to buy, because it is safe when used as directed by reasonably intelligent human beings.
Rossen could just as easily buy 40 gallons of gasoline as he could could buy 40 gallons of Tannerite, and presumably does to fuel his personal vehicle. Gasoline is far more flammable, far more unstable, and has been tied to far more illegal use than Tannerite. Should we outlaw gasoline without a permit and a background check every time you want to fill up your vehicle?
Speaking of gasoline, it is worth noting that in several of the explosions attributed to Tannerite and other binary explosives in the NBC report, there are tremendous fireballs. This is quite interesting, as the Tannerite mixture actually consumes oxygen, preventing fireballs.
This strongly suggests that another flammable substance—such as gasoline—was added to get these resulting fireballs shown in the videos selected for Rossen’s segment. It’s a good thing that NBC News doesn’t have a reputation for rigging fiery explosions to dramatize their hyperbole-filled reports.
Despite claims from a “expert” Travis Bond (whom we can’t seem to find, and for whom Rossen won’t provide the credentials) and the ever-present “outlaw everything” whining of Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Tannerite simply isn’t useful for improvised explosives. It requires that a shooter of a centerfire rifle be within several hundred yards of the target, and capable of making a precision shot under incredibly stressful conditions. That is not a risk even the dumbest and most desperate terrorist is willing to make when there are much easier and more reliable options using much more dangerous substances, such as common fuels and solvents.
Rossem’s report is filled with hyperbole, gross misrepresentations, guilt by association, false appeals to authority, and obviously augmented explosions have been used to create a wonderful propaganda video.
Unfortunately, what he created isn’t journalism.
This isn’t news, and appears to be more accurately described as a work of fiction.