In the Face of White Terror

BY: JENNA CALDWELL

Photo via Unsplash

Photo via Unsplash

Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, shot into a crowd of 22,000 concert-goers in Las Vegas on Sunday night. The attack left 58 people dead and more than 400 injured. By definition, to terrorize is to “to fill or overcome with terror,” “to dominate or coerce by intimidation” and “to produce widespread fear by acts of violence, as bombings.” By definition, Paddock is a domestic terrorist.

However, as USA Today would report, Paddock is a “lone wolf” with “no known connection to terrorism.”

According to Nevada law, a terrorist is "a person who intentionally commits, causes, aids, furthers or conceals an act of terrorism or attempts to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism". Despite this,  police investigating have said they are not treating the incident as an act of terrorism.

Does the media’s labeling of terroristic acts committed by white men as a simple “gunman” or a “troubled man” impact their investigation, charges and sentencing? While the answer to this may be unclear, the media’s labeling does have an impact on our social narrative of who can and cannot be a terrorist.

In 2015, Dylan Roof, 23, of Columbia, South Carolina, opened fire in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, killing nine people. Dylan Roof is a domestic terrorist. If you looked to major media outlets, it was next to impossible to find the word “terrorism” used in their coverage. Instead, he was humanized through his “mental illness,” referred to as sick, a hopeless victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources.

In 2012, James Holmes, 29, murdered 12 people and attempted to murder 70 others inside of a movie theater screening of “The Dark Night” in Aurora, Colorado. Why wasn’t he labeled a domestic terrorist? According to the Dean’s Report, it’s because he wasn’t Muslim. “If James Holmes had instead been named Jalal and was Muslim, the response by the media and most Americans would be different. The presumption would be that he’s a terrorist.”

White terrorists Timothy McVeigh, Benjamin Matthew Williams, James Tyler Williams, Benjamin Nathaniel Smith, Buford Furrow, Mark Stroman, Steven Bixby, Joshua Cartwright, Jeremy Joseph Christian, James Fields Jr. are the few of a list that stretches on and on.

Because white men have been given a get-out-of-being-labeled-a-terrorist free card, there is a perceived social narrative that terrorists are those who reside in the Middle East, those that resemble the faces of the many we have jailed in Guantanamo Bay, those who have consequently suffered under the presidential travel ban dubbed the “Muslim Ban.”  Residents of the seven countries singled out by the Trump administration have killed zero people in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and 2015. Zero.

Stephen Paddock, Dylan Roof and James Holmes are terrorists. Nothing more, nothing less. Do not allow their white privilege to extend to the their irrefutable acts of violence or the disregard for the lives of their victims.