A Terrorist by No Other Name

Identifying terrorism by its correct name is the first step in combatting the crime itself.
October 13, 2017
11 mins read

On the night of October 1, 2017, fifty-eight (fifty-nine including the killer’s suicide) people were murdered abruptly at the Route 91 country music festival. According to many news outlets, over 500 people were injured as bullets rained from the 32nd floor of the Mandala Bay Hotel. On this Sunday night, as music blared through the sin city streets, terror engulfed the unsuspecting partygoers. Las Vegas, a city known for its happiness and glowing late night lights, suddenly fell black.

The shooter altered the lives of so many families and friends that night. With heavy hearts, America has tried to put itself back together, but with mass shootings happening so frequently, it is hard to have time to grieve before the next atrocity strikes. Domestic terrorism is very much real and very much alive, and the media and political leaders have developed a terrible problem of allowing these shooters to go unlabeled. The man who shot into that crowd on that Sunday night is a terrorist, and being a white man living on American Soil does not deny him of that name.

As the death toll surpassed that of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, according to USA Today, the Las Vegas shooting has been named the worst mass shooting of the country in this century. When the news broke, media outlets began research into the how, why, where, when and, of course, the who of the attack. Immediately information began to flood in about the victims, the first responders and the shooter. As we have seen in past mass shootings, as the killer is identified, the news shifts its focus to the background of the shooter’s life before the incident, namely the terror.

There has been an unsettling pattern of humanizing most of these shooters, primarily those of male, Caucasian background. For example, when the Boston Bombing occurred, pictures of men of color with the words “TERRORISTS” in caption appeared repeatedly on the cover of newspapers and television screens. So why is it that we know about the Las Vegas shooters hobbies, but we don’t know any details into the 9/11 attackers’ childhood? Why is that when one of country’s own Caucasian, male citizens kills dozens of people, we say we are shocked and we never saw it coming? We never say that when terror rains in from other countries, and we certainly didn’t humanize the Pulse Nightclub shooter the way we did for the killer in Las Vegas. Once the pictures surfaced and the rumors of a connection to ISIS began, the word terrorist was attached at the end of his name.

According to research provided by Mother Jones, Statista: The Statistics portal, as well as Newsweek, with Politfact and CNN reiterating these statistics, white males are responsible for over half of the mass shootings that have taken place in the United States. But few of these white males, if any at all, have ever had the word “terrorist” attached to their name. When a young adult white male walked into a church and killed nine black people out of nothing but sheer hate, we were told of his past, his family, his demeanor and his mental health status. When white men shoot into crowded movie theaters and in the classrooms of first graders, their behavior is explained by their “lone wolf” status, their troublesome childhood, their possible mental health issues and the things they enjoyed doing on the weekends; their description may sound more like an obituary than reporting on a mass homicide.

Media follows their significant others, their friends and the people who sold them the guns (legally), and question if they “saw it coming.” TMZ recently received backlash over a claim that the Las Vegas shooter did not “fit the traditional shooter profile,” as if shooting large numbers of people isn’t the only profile quality a mass shooter needs to fit. This pattern of allowing white males to become humanized and borderline glorified has become a way of allowing their actions to be excused.

This is what these shooters want. They want you to say their name and put their pictures all over the country. These shooters want to be remembered and to cause pain and be recognized. They gain attention from their shooting, which encourages them to plan for their moment in the spotlight, whether they are dead or alive. Allowing them to have a background, profile and story, is not only drawing attention away from the victims and prevention tactics, it is also giving copycats a reason to continue such horrid behavior.

With gun control and violent entertainment (rightfully) at the forefront of the conversations, we forget to educate ourselves on domestic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is still terrorism and should neither be sugar-coated nor minimized. According to NPR, the domestic terrorism label is broad and does not have a federal charge. As far as federal charges for terrorism, the killer must be related to one of the few groups that are part of the official list of foreign terrorist groups. Yes, federal charges for terrorism are reserved for foreign groups only. These killings performed by white Americans for hateful, vengeful reasons are still acts of terrorism, just as those committed by minorities. If people of color were the face of over half of the mass shootings, there would be a more unanimous outcry for a stricter solution.

It is no secret that guns are treated in vastly different ways from bombs and other weapons. These crimes are committed in large majority by white men with legally purchased automatic weapons, not radical suicide bombers or politically angered minorities. The leaders of terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda are no different from the men who shoot up churches, schools and concerts. These mass shootings are taking just as many lives, if not more, than “foreign terrorism” occurring in the U.S.

Furthermore, these mass shootings are racking up death tolls in the double digits within a matter of minutes. When terrorism happens on another country’s own soil, it is always called terrorism. Only in America can you see such blatant racism and complete disregard for these heinous acts. This is not solely a mental health issue. This has nothing to do with how the shooter spent his Saturdays. This is not about a description. This is not a matter of whether his friends and family saw it coming. If people saw it coming, they would (hopefully) have done something about it.

Political leaders, media outlets and even ISIS itself attempt to find some link to a known foreign terrorists group, as if to say there is no way a sane, white man would have acted like this on his own account. All this is as if to say that there is no way the white man would have used his legally obtained firearm to harm others. But would this be the case if he was a minority? Would society really care about the who and why if this man was a minority? Minorities’ mug shots are posted large enough to take up the entire screen. Mugshots of people who are stealing baby food appear larger in comparison to white men who have killed dozens of people. Photos paint negative pictures of innocent, unarmed minority children that have been killed in comparison to the fun, family photos we see of white male mass shooters.

It is time, America. We must stop rationalizing and stop pretending. We must not make any more excuses for any killer, especially not the white men that are so often the perpetrators. Do not glorify what these men have done. Do not humanize them. Terrorism has no race, no gender and no profile to fit. Terrorism isn’t only terrorism when the perpetrators are foreign and brown. Stop saying their names. Stop giving background and allowing them to go down in history. Stop making this easy. Stop normalizing the killings of innocent people. This is terrorism. Terrorism is an act, not a face.

Brandi Loving, St. Mary's University

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Brandi Loving

St. Mary's University

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