Inside America's Latest Terrorism Museum

Here's a scenario likely to terrify visitors—including Democratic National Convention delegates—in Denver. You are walking down the 16th Street pedestrian mall on a bright summer day. Children are riding bicycles. Families are picnicking. Suddenly a huge fireball explodes, shaking the earth and scorching everyone its path. Sirens wail. Ambulances rush to the scene. America's worst nightmare—a domestic terrorist attack—has once again come to pass.

Thankfully, this event did not really happen. But you can experience a virtual version of the next terrorist bombing in the American heartland at one of Denver's oddest convention-week attractions: the country's newest museum devoted exclusively to terrorism. Opened Monday afternoon with a visit from Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, the Center for Empowered Living and Learning (The CELL) is a high-tech, multimedia, Technicolor exhibit devoted to educating the American public about the realities—and root causes—of terrorism. Located in a modern building next to the futuristic Denver Art Museum, the exhibit is designed to educate the general public about what its creators term "the most important global issue of our time."

The exhibit includes graphic film footage and interactive displays devoted to terrorist acts around the world, ranging from the PLO massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics to the Oklahoma City bombings, the July 7, 2005, attacks on London Transport, and of course 9/11. Analysis is offered by familiar faces such as Rudy Giuliani and Michael Chertoff—as well as more unusual choices, like a former Archbishop of Canterbury. Civil-liberties issues are not ignored, though they get relatively short shrift. (Ironically, the exhibit includes an observation from Rand Corporation expert Brian Jenkins who notes that the actual risk to an American of being killed in a terror attack is about one in a million, compared to one-in-7,000 or -8,000 chance of being killed in a car accident.) (Article continued below...)

Organizers of the exhibit say it is totally nonpartisan and has no political message. But it may not be an accident that the $7 million exhibit was conceived and funded by Lawrence Mizel, a wealthy Denver homebuilder and longtime Republican Party donor, who, according to federal records, is a maxed-out contributor to Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign. In an interview, Mizel told Terror Watch he was only trying to increase public awareness and understanding of a global problem.