Wednesday morning, there was a terrorist attack at a Virginia baseball field. That’s a pretty simple sentence, but so far I haven’t seen a whole lot of media reports which start by so clearly identifying what just took place. But the word cannot be shied away from in this fashion, because what just took place was indeed terrorism. The only other possible term would be “guerrilla warfare against the United States,” but that doesn’t really seem to fit a lone individual.
Members of the United States government were shot at, with the clear intent to kill them (thankfully, as of this writing the only person who is reported dead is the shooter). If we were currently facing a rebellious movement in the country (such as the guerrilla warfare the Irish Republican Army waged on Britain) then a case could be made that members of the government are military targets. But there is no guerrilla warfare currently being waged, so that argument is not even possible. This was a lone-wolf attack, plain and simple.
It was an attack launched by a terrorist. It was the use of violence to further political goals, which is a pretty functional definition of the term. The gunman reportedly worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign and asked if the ball team practicing was made up of Republicans or Democrats. If it had been a Democratic team, perhaps the outcome would have been different. Or perhaps not. The gunman is dead, so he won’t be offering up any sort of explanation for his violent behavior, one way or another. But, as reported, it is impossible not to call the gunman a terrorist.
What I found sad and ironic was that only a few days ago, the United States Navy christened the U.S.S. Gabrielle Giffords, a ship named for the victim of a previous incident of a deranged person shooting a member of Congress. That gunman acted from different political motives (Giffords is a Democrat), but it was also terrorism. There is violence of this sort from both sides of the aisle, we’d all do well to remember now. The U.S.S. Gabrielle Giffords was so named to remind us, and perhaps in a few years we’ll also have the U.S.S. Steve Scalise to remind us of Wednesday’s attack.
Of course, this incident will spark another round of the gun control debate, but I don’t expect much to change as a result. If Sandy Hook and the attack on Gabrielle Giffords couldn’t spur Congress to act, this incident likely won’t either.
The only possible result would only come about if the shooter had been declared incompetent to manage his own finances. I say this not because I have any proof that this is true (there hasn’t been a hint of it in the media), but because of what Congress did a few months ago:
President Trump signed a measure into law Tuesday that rescinds an Obama-era rule aimed at blocking gun sales to certain mentally ill people.
The GOP-majority Senate passed the bill by a 57-43 margin earlier this month, following a House vote to overturn the rule.
The Obama administration policy “would have required the Social Security Administration to report the records of some mentally ill beneficiaries to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System,” as The Two-Way has reported. “Those who have been deemed mentally incapable of managing their financial affairs ― roughly 75,000 people ― would have been affected by the rule.”
If Wednesday’s shooter falls into that category (which, to be clear, nobody has yet even suggested), then perhaps Republicans in Congress might revisit the issue. Perhaps not, though.
As many have pointed out over the past decade or so, this is really the “new normal.” When a person takes it into their heads to kill ― whether discriminately or indiscriminately ― we get a new tragedy. The pace of these tragedies seems to have increased, but their regularity is now sadly a part of the American fabric.
But such shootings fall into multiple categories. Shooters sometimes vent their rage on specific and personal targets (such as a boss or spouse) and anyone else in their near vicinity. Sometimes the targets don’t even matter, when a shooter is so irrational that they are merely drawn to the act of killing lots of people at random. Other times, however, the shooter has a political purpose. These are acts of political terrorism.
It does not matter what the gunman’s views are. It does not matter if they are anti-abortion or religiously-motivated or act out of a misguided sense of partisanship. In the end, it’s all terrorism. It doesn’t matter whether the targets are doctors who perform abortions, or members of the U.S. military, or members of Congress. It’s all terrorism.
The mainstream news media gets confused over this, but they really shouldn’t. “Terrorism” is supposed to mean (by their definition, going on when they use the term) international terrorism, usually Muslim. Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. So is the Islamic State. Lone-wolf terrorist attacks in America are usually also identified correctly, when Islam is the motivating factor. Sometimes the term “domestic terrorism” is used, but in different ways. But homegrown politically-motivated acts of violence somehow cause the media to shy away from the terrorism label for some inexplicable reason.
Make no mistake about it, though, what happened Wednesday was an act of terrorism. So was shooting Gabby Giffords. So was the Oklahoma City bombing. All such acts of terrorism should be denounced in no uncertain terms by American politicians without regard to the partisan views of the terrorist. Bernie Sanders has already forcefully done so. Republicans did so as well, after the Giffords shooting. This is the correct response ― universal and unequivocal rejection of terrorism to further any political ideology.
For whatever it is worth, I add my own voice to this chorus. Shooting people who don’t agree with you politically is wrong and abhorrent. It has no place in our society, or in our politics. I say this today about someone who reportedly supported the same presidential candidate I did last year, and I would say this (and have said it) for any supporter of any other politician without regard to party. Threats, violence, and deadly force cannot be tolerated in politics in any way, shape, or form. Because to do so is to support terrorism. Period.
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