Mass Shootings

Before Calling People Racist or Politically Correct, Let's Remember That Law Enforcement Has Conflicting Definitions of the Word 'Terrorism'

Reluctance to use the T-word after mass killings can be routinely found whether perpetrators are white or brown.


I was still getting up to speed on this morning's awful news from Las Vegas when the first of many Twitter fights erupted in my feed, beginning with this pair of tweets from Slate's Jamelle Bouie:

This prompted The Week's Damon Linker to reply, "Amazing how when you assume everything is about race, suddenly everything is about race," and we were off to the proverbial races. Glenn Greenwald, for instance, tweeted: "Everyone knows (even if won't admit it) that in the early stages of mass shooting, 'no signs of terrorism' means: 'shooter isn't Muslim.'"

||| Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

This is emphatically not true.

"Is this a terrorist incident? We do not know," David Bowdich, assistant director of the FBI's Los Angeles field office, said after Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik had been killed in a shootout with police following their murder of 14 people in San Bernardino nearly two years ago. "Have you noticed the government still is not calling this terrorism?" Rush Limbaugh scoffed at the time.

So before falling once again into a rut of ritualized response, it's worth examining what different people mean at different times by the word terrorism. Start with July 4, 2002.

||| FBI

Back then, when America's nerves were still raw to the bleeding point after 9/11, a 41-year-old Egyptian national and Irvine resident named Hesham Mohamed Hadayet took two guns and a hunting knife to LAX, and opened fire at the ticket counter of the Israeli airline El Al, killing two and wounding four. Prior to targeting Israelis on America's Independence Day, Hadayet, who U.S. immigration officials knew had been arrested back in Egypt for association with an Islamist group, had reportedly expressed anger at a neighbor for flying an American flag after Sept. 11, and also decorated his front door with a "Read the Koran" bumper sticker.

Despite all this information being known by the morning of July 5, then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that day, "There is no evidence, no indication at this time that this is a terrorist." This echoed comments from L.A. Mayor James Hahn ("We have no reason to believe that this was a terrorist activity"), the office of Gov. Gray Davis ("isolated incident"), and several law enforcement officials.

At the time, I was apoplectic about what I felt was a paternalistic condescension toward the public's ability to handle the truth during a moment of crisis (note that the act was judged to be terrorism months later by the FBI and Dept. of Justice). But with the passage of years and the dreary compilation of subsequent murderous acts, it has become obvious that, especially during moments of intense crisis, the law enforcement definition of "terrorism" has little in common with the dictionary description of "The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims."

For instance, look at the Telegraph piece Bouie linked to support his initial "ruled out terrorism" claim:

When asked by a reporter if it was an act of terrorism, Sheriff [Joseph] Lombardo said: "No, not at this point. We believe it was a local individual. He resides here locally."

"I'm not at liberty to give you his place of residence yet, because it's an ongoing investigation, we don't know what his belief system was at this time. … Right now we believe he is the sole aggressor at this point and the scene is static."

Sole aggressor, local individual, unknown belief system. As in the cases of Farook and Hadayet, an official during the initial moment of investigative confusion, local panic and national grief seems to be defining "terrorism" as "an act coordinated with a probably overseas-based terrorist organization." Such a definition would rule out any number of attacks we easily recognize now as terroristic, from Timothy McVeigh's Oklahoma City truck bombing to possibly even Nidal Hasan's murder of 13 people in Fort Hood.

So why are authorities frequently slow to use the T-word? When you set aside the intense emotions surrounding racism and political correctness, an easy set of answers lurks in plain sight: They don't want people to freak out about still being under attack. Motives as yet aren't crystal clear. They are still investigating a matter that may very well be classified as terrorism—maybe involving those links to outside groups—later on.

The disputed meaning of terrorism, is, at this late date, sadly not new. Nor, almost as sadly, is the tendency to interpret the resulting paradoxes as evidence of the opposing side's worst possible faith.

NEXT: Police Violence at Catalonia Vote Reveals Thuggish Nature of Government

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  1. What does classifying an attack as terrorism actually accomplish? It seems like surviving attackers can be tried and convicted on any number of assault/murder/etc charges.

    1. Perhaps it kicks in secret rules so it can be investigated without warrants, or such.

      1. I think you might be on to something. It allows people to scream that we are at war and the normal rules don’t apply.

        In any case, until we understand the motivations (if we ever do) of the man, it’s impossible to say. He could just be some deranged person who wanted to take as many people as he could with him when his time came.

        1. We ARE at war. If we are to stop Islamic evil I must speed up development of the de-islamification ray. Once it’s working, we can deploy scaled up versions on orbital platforms and change the Islamic hordes back 8nto normal humans who won’t be inclined to blow shit up or shoot everyone for no reason.

          1. Sounds like a better idea than trampling everyone’s rights in the name of security, at least.

            1. I’m making over $7k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life.

              This is what I do…

          2. will it work for the Christian Terrorists too, or do we need a different de-Christianification ray? Christian Terrorists like Eric Rudolph and Robert Dear seem rather inclined to blow shit up and shoot people for no reason too…..

    2. “TERRISMST” scares people into giving politicians a lot more power and media outlets a lot more consumers than “some psycho with a gun/knife/bomb/truck” does.

    3. the dictionary description of “The unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.”

      Unlawful, eh? As in, not approved by a State? May I suggest a shorter definition of terrorism?:
      Political means performed by an agency not recognized by other States as one of their own.

    4. If it’s not terrorism then it’s harder for them to erode civil liberties.

    5. So it takes the police practice of killing-then-cuffing to its logical next step by targeting straggling survivors. Neat and tidy. Beauregard Sessions will claim it was his idea.

  2. Essentially, by the definition currently in common currency, a white person cannot be a terrorist.

    That was my first thought as well.

    1. Timothy McVeigh hardest hit

      1. Not a single person denies he was a terrorist. Also, the Tsarnaev brothers were Caucasian. They were Muslims, but they were white by most peoples’ standards today. They were literally from Caucasus.

        1. But they were swarthy enough to be considered non-white Caucasians.

        2. I honestly believe some peo0le think Islam is an ethnicity, not a religion. Of course, asi always say “idiots abound”.

    2. Well, only white people can be racist so there’s that.

      1. Well, according to that crazy bitch Rachel Dolezal, race is a choice. So what if a racist who hates blacks chooses to be black? Then what?

  3. Making a definitive statement about terrorism is impossible until the guy’s motives are determined. If he did it just because he wanted to kill a bunch of people, and not for any political or religious reason, then it isn’t terrorism.

    To go off a few examples all involving white guys – the Aurora shooter and the Sandy Hook shooter weren’t terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Roof were. The motivations of the latter two fit the definition of terrorism, not so for the first two.

  4. “Have you noticed the government still is not calling this terrorism?” Rush Limbaugh scoffed at the time.

    Fatboy is a well known race baiter – the equivalent of Al Sharpton except on the other side.

    1. White Al Sharpton is a good description of Rush Limbaugh.

      1. Rush’s speaking patterns aren’t as enjoyable though.

        1. Rush has made it painfully clear over the years that he doesn’t really give a shit about anything except revenue. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it should be mentioned loudly and often that he does his show for profit, and doesn’t really give a particular fuck one way or the other.

          Kind of like Al Gore and Climate Change, he doesn’t believe the shit he spouts.

  5. Words have defined meaning. SJWs hardest hit.

  6. Why are you on Twitter, again?

      1. What is your Twitter handle again, Crusty?

          1. Crusty picked that because was very excited about the one he bought off of eBay the day before.

            1. It was barely used!

            2. Few men ride the Sybian and live to tell the tale.

          2. You sound a lot taller on the internet.

  7. McVeigh’s acts were to “avenge” Ruby Ridge and Waco. He was nut job who got caught because he was driving a car that had no plates. Why? Because he denied the legitimacy of the government that issued license plates.

    Under the old definition of terrorism – violence to achieve political ends – it’s questionable whether he was a terrorist or merely a mass murderer. I said “merely” because the word “terrorism” achieves more political ends than actual terrorist acts. Cry “TERRORISM!” and let slip the dogs of tyranny.

    1. “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
      ? Benjamin Franklin

      1. Unfortunately for us, Franklin was damn fine prophet.

  8. WWWebster’s definitions of terror include “violent or destructive acts (such as bombing) committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands” and they define terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion”

    So unless done truly incompetently, terrorism should be recognizable because the terrorist is *trying* to scare people into doing what the terrorist wants.

    So if some guy (apparently a heavy gambler and son of an FBI most wanted fugitive, according to early reports), goes and shoots a bunch of people without bothering to explain it to the public, and without the target having any particular symbolic significance, let’s just say it’s not terrorism until we get evidence that it was a would-be terrorist who bungled the message.

    Whatever makes terrorism objective, not a mind-reading exercise, is a good thing.

    By the way, RIP the Las Vegas victims.

    1. And of course

      (a) there are terrorists who aren’t Muslim and

      (b) there are Muslims who aren’t terrorists

      but the big terrorist movements nowadays seem to involve Muslim extremists, all of whom seem to hate Americans and want to kill us, so thinking “Muslim” when we hear about a mass atrocity is perfectly understandable, at least as a gut reaction – so long as the gut reaction is open to being modified by evidence.

      1. Islamo-terrorists hate Western culture – not just America.

        1. Nice correction of something I didn’t say.

        2. What they really hate is the imperialist attitude with which ‘the west’ has treated Muslim countries since the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in WW1. Oddly enough, people generally resent being treated as children, and having their natural resources literally sucked out from underneath them by foreigners and their quisling puppets (like Shah Pahlavi…)

          Why is there no ‘Kurdistan’? Because the UK didn’t want there to be, and they were the ones drawing the lines.

          Does might make right, or not?

      2. Before Islam started monopolizing everyone’s attention, most terrorism was committed by communist and radgreen dipshits, ie, mostly middle- and upper-class white, so the whole race argument is pretty ludicrous anyway.

    2. Yeah, the bodies are probably not even cold yet, and everyone is already polishing their ego bishop with a narrative that bolsters the moat and walls of their worldview castle, their disquisitions the sounds of the drawbridge being pulled up. 24 hours to mourn and respect the victims, reflect on the tragedy, process tour feelings? Nigga, please. 24 minutes is too much to ask.

      1. “Polishing their ego bishop with a narrative that bolsters the moat and walls of their worldview castle”

        That euphemism is a bit overwrought

        1. He’s been saving it up for the right occasion.

  9. I think terrorism has a pretty solid definition: committing acts of violence towards political ends and/or to change the behavior of a population through inciting fear.

    1. Exactly, thus if they don’t bother making clear to us what they want, assume it’s a nut or a very bad person who decided to do a random atrocity for personal reasons.

      If we use that definition, it should soon become apparent in *most* cases if it is or isn’t terrorism – like I said, the exceptions would be would-be terrorists too incompetent to communicate their threats to the public, making their terrorism pointless as terrorism.

    1. same guy, given some context…..they-want/

      1. I don’t know if that makes it any better.

        SO white people all want the same thing? No members of other groups turn to violence when they don’t get what they want? I don’t know how to begin making sense of that mess.

    2. That is a pretty damn hot-take.

    3. Well, duh. It’s always the white supremacist patriarchy.

  10. Last I heard, ISIS claimed responsibility and Paddock had apparently recently converted and become radicalized. So how is he suddenly not a terrorist simply by virtue of his being non-Middle Eastern? That’s dumb.

    For one thing, not every Muslim, radical or otherwise, is of Middle Eastern or even Asian ethnicity. Ever hear of Bosnia? Or Chechnya? Or Albania? And you can find converts to every religion, radicalized or not.

    No question Paddock was a lunatic, but that hardly makes him unique. Not too long ago there was a kid in Canada who attacked the House of Parliament in Ottawa. The kid was apparently a paranoid schizophrenic white kid who became a radicalized Muslim supporting ISIS. It’s not exactly a big surprise that their group would attract wackos of every ethnic background like a pile of dung attracts flies.

    1. ISIS claimed responsibility and Paddock had apparently recently converted and become radicalized. So how is he suddenly not a terrorist

      i think because ISIS claims responsibility for things they have nothing to do with all the time…. and there’s actually no evidence the guy ever ‘converted’.

      i’m open to being corrected if you have any actual source that is something other than “ISIS said some shit on jihadi-facebook”

    2. Yeah, I’m going to give it a few days before I believe anything other than “crazy dude shoots a lot of people”. Claiming responsibility for something is easy.

  11. Las Vegas massacre has “hallmarks of being scripted by deep state Democrats and their Islamic allies”

    Alex Jones

    1. You realize you’re giving him ad revenue by going there, right?

    2. I’m impressed Hallmark makes a card for that.

      1. Mass shootings are just another plot by the greeting card industry, like Grandparents’ Day.

    3. If “it takes one to know one,” Alex Jones is probably the christian best qualified to understand the thought processes of paranoid Saracen berserker amoks–at least until Robert Dear gets out of the slammer.

  12. All fine and good, but you know that, had the shooter’s name been Mohammad instead of Stephen, Trump’s first tweet would have contained the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” instead of “warmest condolences”. (Not that the latter isn’t weird in its own way.) You should know this, anyway, because that’s what he has done in the past. That the people on the ground investigating these crimes are more prudent and thoughtful than the guy in the White House is a bug, not a feature.

    1. Personally, in times like these the President should shut the fuck up because what the hell does he know? Nothing. You’d have better information coming from the State Governor, or even better yet the Mayor. Consider who those ground forces actually report to.

      Trump is uniquely able to avoid all that shit and just keep his mouth shut because he’s going to be castigated either way; so why not do the right thing? Because he’s Trump. That’s why.

      1. Presidents speaking about tragedy was started many presidents ago.

        The woke people need to hear their government tell them what to think and do.

    2. had the shooter’s name been Mohammad instead of Stephen, Trump’s first tweet would have contained the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”

      and you think this is something to (hypothetically) complain about?

      the standard m.o. of the media is to claim “motives unclear” even when the perp shrieks “Allah hu Akbar”. I cant remember which incident it was recently, but the police said, “there were no statements on social media, therefore its not terror”. maybe it was the failed London bombing.

      but the reason Trump (or anyone) would capitalize by jumping the gun and calling it terror before the cops do is because a large part of the public sees the media repeatedly trying to pretend that Islam isn’t really the main source of terror attacks. sometimes in offensively-stupid ways. Trump makes hay from it not because he’s some bigot desperate to inflame the public, but because he knows he can be seen as ‘saying things the media won’t’. That’s not a context he invented, its just one he venally exploits.

      1. It is factually the case that Islam isn’t the main source of terror attacks.
        The majority of terrorist deaths in the US after 9-11 have come from non-Islamic extremists.

        “Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.” ( 2015/06/25/us/ tally-of-attacks-in-us-challenges- perceptions-of-top- terror-threat.html)

        If you have a problem with facts, then you’re anti-science.
        You’re not anti-science, are you?

  13. One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

    When nobody credible claims that a murderer is a freedom fighter, he’s not a terrorist. He just a murderer or, in this case, a mass murderer.

    And, no, ISIS is not credible.

  14. “Everyone knows (even if won’t admit it) that in the early stages of mass shooting, ‘no signs of terrorism’ means: ‘shooter isn’t Muslim.'”

    This is emphatically not true.

    I was thinking that.

  15. Or maybe he was just batshit crazy. That still happens, you know.
    No political agenda apparent or documented, no terrorism.
    Details may change that once actual verified named sources come out with factual quotes. (But I doubt it)

  16. Calling someone a racist is worse than being called a “C-word” but it takes a real “C-word” to call someone a racist just because they voted for Trump and don’t agree with you.
    Who’s the real “racist”?

    1. The real racist is the one who uses dog-whistles like ‘urban’ and ‘thug’ to hide their racist agenda of treating THEM BLACK PEOPLE as subhuman and undeserving of equal rights under the law.
      The real racist is the one who believes that George Zimmerman acted honorably, and was correctly treated by the law.
      The real racist is the one who believes that Philando Castile deserved to be murdered for carrying a weapon while black. The real racists are the ones who deny that there’s such a thing as being pulled over for ‘driving while black’.
      The real racist is the one who supports drug-testing welfare applicants, even though they know that it’s wasteful and stupid, just to ‘stick it’ to “them lazy welfare bums” who, if you scratch a little, are all presumed to be black inner city dwellers, not elderly rural white people as is actually the case.
      The real racist is the one who decries black people protesting during the sacred tradition of FOOTBALL, while ignoring what it is they’re protesting ABOUT.

  17. Terrorism does not have to be Islamic, but it does have to be political. Unless I’m missing something, there’s no evidence so far that this guy wanted to push a particular ideological cause.

  18. The fair thing to do is institute a War On passenger jets, tall buildings, motor vehicles, power plants, and all guns except police flintlock and matchlock black-powder firearms that existed in 1790. Once the ban-everything Luddites have been killed off trying to enforce those prohibitions, the world, I’ll wager, will fast become safe for freedom, technology, progress and engineering.

    1. You left out pitchforks and torches.

  19. ‘Terrorism’ is any criminal act which is unambiguously intended to ‘send a threatening signal’ to an identifiable group.

    Thus, painting ‘killroy was here’ on someone else’s property is a simple act of vandalism, while painting ‘Jews leave or die’ is an act of terrorism.

    Thus, the murders committed by the likes of Eric Rudolph, Jim Kopp, Scott Roeder, and Robert Dear were all terrorism. They were intended to scare people into refraining from seeking or providing abortion services.

    The lynching of Emmett Till was terrorism, as was the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, as were the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. These criminal acts were intended to scare black people into surrendering their civil rights to ‘tradition’.

    But the murders committed by Stephen Paddock were not. He shot people indiscriminately, and there was no unambiguous ‘message’ that he was trying to send – at least, not that we know of.

  20. From the Nevada laws:


    NRS?202.441??Definitions.??As used in NRS 202.441 to 202.449, inclusive, unless the context otherwise requires, the words and terms defined in NRS 202.4415 to 202.4445, inclusive, have the meanings ascribed to them in those sections.
    (Added to NRS by 1999, 3; A 2003, 2949; 2007, 996)

    NRS?202.4415??”Act of terrorism” defined.
    1.??”Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to:
    (a)?Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or
    (b)?Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of:
    (1)?Any building or infrastructure, communications, transportation, utilities or services; or
    (2)?Any natural resource or the environment.
    2.??As used in this section, “coercion” does not include an act of civil disobedience.
    (Added to NRS by 2003, 2947)

    Yup, you all bending over backwards to deny that this was terrorism are racists.

  21. Before Calling People Racist or Politically Correct, Let’s Remember That Law Enforcement Has Conflicting Definitions of the Word ‘Terrorism’ – Hit & Run : Reason.comis the best post by imo for pc Please visit imo app imo app snaptube for pc snaptube app

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