Once again, a gunman has killed people for political reasons. Once again, he is described in the mainstream media using words and phrases such as: deranged, mentally disturbed, homicidal, gunman, shooter, criminal, murderer, and lone wolf. He may have been all of that, but one key descriptive word is conspicuously missing from most of the commentary: terrorist. Killing people who don't believe what you believe in order to further your political aims is, indeed, one of the definitions of terrorism. If the suspect involved had recently arrived here from Syria (or anywhere else in the Middle East, really), would the news networks be so cautious about calling him a "terrorist"? I seriously doubt it. In fact, if that were the case, he'd likely be quickly labelled an "Islamic terrorist."
There's an ongoing debate about the phrase "Islamic terrorism" (or "radical Islam" or similar phrasings), where conservatives insist that if politicians (specifically President Obama) would merely use the correct phrase to describe things, it will somehow bestow magical benefits. "Did you hear President Obama today?" the jihadists would incredulously say to each other, "He actually used the term 'radical Islamists' to describe us! We must have won the battle of ideas, so there's just no point in fighting on anymore. Here's my AK-47, I'm going back to my home village to grow olives." Although ridiculous, this is precisely what some Republicans seem to believe. Snark aside, however, they do have a valid semantic point to make when it comes to using "Islamic terrorism." Islamists who commit acts of terror in the name of religion are indeed Islamic terrorists. But to be consistent, correct terminology is needed for other acts of terror as well.
What do we do, for instance, when killers are bent on terrorizing people through their own particular interpretation of Christianity? Call for the doctor, apparently, because these people are always reported to be in a "questionable mental state." The same questioning of sanity is never done when the shooting rampage is by a Muslim, however. They're pure evil, while Christians who kill are merely mentally disturbed.
Some members of the press are even astonished when the term "domestic terrorism" is used. Here is the transcript of a telling segment of this week's Meet The Press, by way of example. Chuck Todd brought up the subject of the Colorado shootings late in the program, and tried to steer the conversation towards a discussion of Democrats and gun control. To his credit, right-wing commentator Hugh Hewitt turned the discussion in a different direction.
HUGH HEWITT: You know Chuck, you said to Mr. Trump, "Words matter when you're running for president." In 2012, a domestic terrorist, Floyd Corkins, attacked the Family Research Council because they were against same-sex marriage. It was a terrorist attack. This was another terrorist attack. Words do matter. But they can't back people away from these issues.
CHUCK TODD: Shouldn't we be describing -- It's interesting you say that. These are domestic terror attacks?
JOE MCQUAID: Absolutely.
HEWITT: Yes. Absolutely.
TODD: And we should be using that language?
EUGENE ROBINSON: Absolutely. We should be. And you're right, just like that earlier incident and this incident. They're both domestic terrorism incidents. And we need to use that word, you know. It's a scary word for a lot of people. But that's what it is. It's violence to achieve political lengths.
HEWITT: And a lot of crazy people out there are impacted by rhetoric, and so when you...
TODD: Well, that's what I'm thinking here. I'm, like, wondering. It's like, we call it this. But you're right. I mean, the mentally disturbed are the ones that are looking to create a rationalization for themselves.
MCQUAID: Well, what was the impact in the 1970s when the rate of domestic terrorism in this country was far from what it is now, much, much higher with bombings? And these were people with political ends. They weren't terror....
HEWITT: Well, the rhetoric of the SD [sic -- probably meant "SDS"] did have an impact on Weathermen. And they did kill people. And that's why rhetoric matters. But at the same time, we can't sanitize an issue. I will talk about the Planned Parenthood practices. They were selling baby parts. I will be happy to engage people. But I think we do have to recognize there are disturbed people on both ends of the spectrum who can be impacted by this language.
If you actually watch this segment, it is pretty clear that the concept of using the term "domestic terrorism" in this instance is a downright astonishing one to Chuck Todd. He's not alone -- most in the media shy away from using the term in their reporting, although there are some notable exceptions. And, again, kudos to the two conservative people on the panel for bringing it up and agreeing with each other. They may have changed the minds of two more liberal newsmen, Todd and Eugene Robinson. If they have, and if the two start using the term in their coverage, then that is a step forward.
Of course, as Hewitt points out, "domestic terrorism" is a fairly catch-all term. It encompasses the Weather Underground and other violent radicals on the Left from long ago as well as people who shoot up black churches or Black Lives Matter rallies or Planned Parenthood facilities. All it does is differentiate between domestic and international terrorism, really.
There are far more descriptive phrases available. The first division is usually into "left-wing" and "right-wing terrorism." Since terrorism is at its heart political, this is a natural point of departure. But even this easy pigeonholing is rarely used. A recent study shows that, since 9/11, there have been almost twice as many deaths from right-wing terrorism as from Islamic terrorism on American soil. Others put the number even higher ("You Are More Than 7 Times As Likely To Be Killed By A Right-Wing Extremist Than By Muslim Terrorists"). Even these stories soft-pedal their terminology, though. Here are the first two paragraphs from the New York Times reporting about that recent study:
In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.
But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. 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.
Note that bent-over-backwards list, rather than simply using the correct phrase. The other headline uses "Right-Wing Extremist" rather than the proper label of "Right-Wing Terrorist." The Times doesn't even come close with "other non-Muslim extremists." The only time the news media allows itself to use even "domestic terrorism" is when they're reporting on someone else using the label, as if it is some wild or far-out accusation ("Pastor Calls Gunman A 'Domestic Terrorist' During Colorado Memorial").
Mainstream media outlets are squeamish about even using the label "domestic terrorist." They're extra-squeamish about informing their viewers and readers that these events are "right-wing terrorism." And one assumes they would go into a catatonic crouch before ever using the most-accurate phrase possible for some of these attacks: "Christian terrorism."
What would the news say if a bunch of Muslims -- some dressed in camouflage -- showed up outside a church with automatic rifles and signs denouncing Christianity? When Christians do the same thing to a mosque in Texas, it elicits little more than a yawn, however (take a look at some of the photos accompanying that article to see whether those worshippers should have feared for their lives).
Another breaking story happening right now is that of a man who shot a Moroccan taxi driver in Pittsburgh. His passenger started asking whether he was a "Pakistani guy" and about "the terror group ISIS," before moving on to mocking Mohammed. When the passenger was delivered to his house, he told the driver he had to get money from inside his house, and then returned with a rifle, which he used to shoot at the taxi as it sped away. The driver was shot in the back, but survived. The news report about the incident ran in today's Washington Post and even though the shooting happened on Thanksgiving night, the police are still "piecing together what happened" -- and no mention was made of an arrest. Or, of course, a motive.
If the allegations are true, this is nothing short of religious terrorism. It boils down to an act of violence over which god to worship, after all. If the shooter was Christian, then the proper name for it is "Christian terrorism." But I'd bet good money that that phrase will never be used by the media covering the story.
The conservatives who decried the Obama administration for classifying what happened at Fort Hood as "workplace violence" were correct, I should mention (in the interests of fairness). It was not workplace violence, it was Islamic terrorism. So was the Boston marathon bombing. When the perpetrator of terrorism is mainly motivated by religious views, then it is by definition religious terrorism. Naming the religion is simply being honest.
But by the same measurement, when the perpetrator of terrorism is mainly motivated by his or her own religious views -- say, about abortion -- then it is by definition Christian terrorism. All the killings of abortion clinic doctors and other employees are nothing short of Christian terrorism. All the facts are not in about the current shooting, again, to be fair. But it's already been leaked that the terrorist used some anti-abortion language after his arrest, so it's probably a safe bet that the Colorado attack was also Christian terrorism.
All terrorism is evil. All terrorists, by most definitions, are mentally deranged. It is simply not sane to want to kill those who worship or think differently than you because you think it would please your deity. Attacks on Planned Parenthood (and there have been a lot more of them than most of the mainstream media has noticed, of late) are domestic terrorism. They are also right-wing terrorism and religious terrorism. But the most-descriptive label is the one that the American media are simply never going to use (at least, if their vapors over even saying "domestic terrorism" are any indication). When Christians kill because of their religious beliefs, then it is by definition Christian terrorism -- whether the news media (or the public) wants to admit it or not.
Chris Weigant blogs at:
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