Brown Dickhead murders 49 people in Orlando. Media calls him a terrorist.
White Dickhead murders schoolchildren in Massachusetts. No one calls him a terrorist; instead he’s mentally unstable.
Why?, goes to the cry. Why do we treat the brown man as a terrorist and the white kid as simply someone with mental health issues? Is it racism? Is it actually a complex issue? Maybe it’s something that should be looked at on a case by case basis. Nah, nuance and intelligence have no place in these discussions. Better to bleat away in hopes that cries of “racism” and “bigotry” will trump dialogue.
It helps to think of terrorism as a variant of a Hate Crime. This is always fun for me because The Right are hesitant to label things Hate Crimes and The Left don’t want to use the word terrorism. But the principles behind both are similar. They aren’t the exact same but there’s a bond.
Terrorism has a goal of more than just the initial crime itself; it carries with it a desire to create a lasting impact felt by a large group of people. If I kill my mother because I’m bored that’s murder. There’s nothing else to it. It doesn’t send a message to mothers everywhere to be afraid of their sons.
If I kill my mother because I’m part of an organization called “Sons Who Kill Their Moms” (SWKTM – we’re growing) then that’s closer to terrorism. My action is no longer one seen in isolation but is instead part of a larger movement. This is only further enhanced if it turns out that one of my fellow SWKTM buddies helped me get the knife I used as I gutted her like a pig.
Terrorism requires an ideology driving the action. Orlando Dickhead flat out says, “This is for ISIS. I love you ISIS. I want to punish the west for its wicked ways.” (I’m paraphrasing but close enough.) He didn’t pick any random group of people to kill, he wasn’t walking around with a gun and snapped all of the sudden. He cased the joint (probably a few too many times, if you get my drift)(he’s a gay) and planned to kill those people for a specific reason.
Oh, he’s fucked in the head, for sure, but despite however many loose screws he had, he wanted to not only kill, not only kill for a specific larger reason, but to also send a message with his killing.
Contrast this with the Monster in Massachusetts who murdered a bunch of kindergarteners. The police publicly declared that there was no known motive for the Sandy Hook evil. There was no intent to send a message to the world at large. The effects of his actions may very well have created greater fear amongst parents for their children at school but there isn’t really a political movement based on trying to not educate 7 year olds. There aren’t Homeschooling Extremists, as far as I know.
It’s the identification with a larger group that makes one a terrorist. It isn’t enough that said person just doesn’t like a certain group of people, he has to be acting in conjunction (officially or no) with a third party and their stated beliefs. Further, terrorism must be directed at civilians. Attacks on military targets may result in the loss of life, but the military exists to get shot at and to shoot back. If a group goes after military targets, who are in a military encampment, that’s an act of traditional war, not terrorism.
The horrible killings in Charleston. A white man walks into a black church and murders 9 people for the simple reason that they were black. That’s it. He said later he hoped to spark a race war with his actions. He’s a modern day Charles Manson. He was charged with and then convicted of hate crimes.
The hate crime is the kissing cousin of terrorism. Hate crimes are on the books because society decided that purposely killing certain groups of people because they are in that group is worthy of more scrutiny because said act can create a lasting impression on the attacked group. The crime is a means of communication.
Should someone label that asshole as a terrorist, I wouldn’t have much of an issue with that whatsoever. The only thing preventing him from being a terrorist on the level of Orlando is that while he had a message, and an ideology behind his actions, there wasn’t a specific group he was tied to. “Racists” is very generic. The guy didn’t even pledge himself to the KKK. Some reports note that he’d been in contact with white supremacist groups but that they had not encouraged his actions. (I’m sure they weren’t exactly unhappy with what he’d done though.)
The difference is subtle, though there. All terrorism is a hate crime; not all hate crimes are terrorism.
I’ll try an analogy. Two people driving two separate cars. Both purposely drive into a bar full of transgendered minorities only because said bar has black trans folk. Terrorism has a GPS device specifically directing the driver to that location; the hate crime is without that GPS. And the regular, run of the mill, mentally unstable murderer (we have a third car now) didn’t even realize who was in the bar he just saw people and wanted to kill them.
We focus on terrorism moreso than these other actions because there’s a sense that terrorism is preventable. It’s a form of guerrilla warfare and as such there’s almost a belief (or really a hope) that should we address the root issues driving terrorists that we can eliminate those horrible actions.
Look at Northern Ireland, which for decades was enveloped in terrorism. And there was never a question that it wasn’t terrorism (despite what your racist uncle who doesn’t understand things and believes in “freedom for the Irish” might have said). Now that the situation in N. Ireland has been settled, more or less, the terrorism is gone. There aren’t daily bombings because there isn’t a strong movement to encourage them. ISIS, Islamic Radicals, etc… are still an ongoing movement. Over time, the hope must be that their thought process can be discarded to the ash heap of history, like so many other useless doctrines.
It’s difficult to say the same for a man who murders children for no reason. He has no manifesto to debunk. He has no motivations. His car is GPS-less and the windshield so caked in mud he can’t even see what he hit, he’s just happy he hit someone.
The massacre of a black church falls somewhere in the middle. The Western World, in all countries, has made tremendous strides towards making racism uncommon. That it was highly unusual for a black church to be targeted says a lot. 100 years ago, that might’ve been a random weekend. I won’t pretend that we’ll erase racism, because naivete does no good, but we have surely snuffed the inferno down to a flame.
With a little luck, and an unwavering commitment, hopefully we can lessen these killings in the future. It won’t be easy and it won’t be simple, but nothing worth doing is ever easy or simple. However, before we can make these daily threats of fear a chapter in a history textbook, we must first be willing to define thy enemy. There is no virtue in ignoring the truth and no vice in bringing it to light.
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Well written article. Thanks for adding articles to this site that give us things to think about.