The two words that were glaringly missing in the reams of news clips, press reports and news features on alleged Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Clinic killer, Robert Lewis Dear, were "domestic" and "terrorist." His target, the clinic and his victims, were deliberately and calculatedly chosen. Attorney General Loretta Lynch promptly labeled the shooting a "crime against women receiving healthcare services at Planned Parenthood." And he allegedly made rambling utterances about "more baby parts."
The shootings came against the backdrop of a months-long vicious, vile and relentless attack campaign vilifying Planned Parenthood by Republicans in efforts to gut, or outright eliminate, all funding for Planned Parenthood programs and services. The targets and the killings were, by any definition, the lethal combination of politics and raw terrorism. In almost every case, the perpetrators of these murderous acts are non-Muslim. According to FBI reports between 2008 and 2012, about six percent of domestic terrorism suspects were Muslim, or about one in 17. Dear fit the profile, to a tee, of just who is likely to commit a domestic terror act: namely a staunch gun advocate, politically disgruntled, white male.
Yet, a University of Illinois study found that the overwhelming majority of those labeled domestic terrorists on network TV news shows were Muslim.
While President Obama, and Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, quickly blasted the Colorado Springs mayhem, not one of the GOP presidential contenders condemned the shootings. The closest any of them got included tepid statements from Sen. Ted Cruz, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush expressing sympathy for the victims.
The issue of who gets called a domestic terrorist following a violent outburst exploded into national debate following the massacre at the Charleston AME Church last June. Obama branded the massacre an act of terror. Yet, nearly all major media outlets, and GOP leaders that commented on it, and the FBI, absolutely refused to brand the shooter, Dylann Roof, a terrorist or call his act an act of domestic terrorism.
The refusal to call Roof, and now Dear, a "terrorist" is far from an arcane quibble over terms and definitions, or even over the race and gender of the shooters. It strikes to the heart of how many Americans have been reflexively conditioned to see thuggery and terrorism. They see it through the narrow, warped prism of who commits the acts, rather than the horrific acts and their consequences.
FBI Director James B. Comey was blunt when pressed as to why he refused to brand Roof a terrorist: "Terrorism is an act done or threatened to in order to try to influence a public body or the citizenry, so it's more of a political act and then, again, based on what I know so far, I don't see it as a political act."
But this begs the issue. In his so-called manifesto, Roof, by his own admission, made it clear that his target was blacks and that he targeted them to sow fear and terror and start a racial conflagration.
Likewise Dear's reference to "baby parts" was very deliberate and pointed at specific groups that he saw as threats to the right-wing's stock definition of the American way. When you combine a hate-filled shooter's naming of groups, the easy access to guns and whatever demons are in his head, the horrid consequence is a terror act as sure as if he had mapped out a bomb attack on local Democratic Party headquarters.
The Justice Department did hint that it is exploring a domestic terrorism case against Dear. But the huge caveat is that Dear will be prosecuted in state court. And there is absolutely no guarantee that state prosecutors will treat Dear's act as anything other than a straight murder case. His alleged crime fits every definition of what a hate crime is in law and public policy. However, there's little doubt that if he had been Muslim and had shot up a Protestant church, he would have been branded a terrorist and the Justice Department would have been under relentless national pressure to bring terrorism charges against him. The act would have been a textbook legal fit of the FBI's definition of domestic terrorism which says it must be an act "dangerous to human life," that serves to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population."
The same definition could just as easily apply to Dear's acts. The narrative in the public's mind about Dear was set long before he wreaked havoc with his deadly act. He is a deeply disturbed, mentally challenged drifter and loner, who, if anything, is in dire need of mental treatment and care, and a part of the blame for him not getting it is somehow hoisted on to society as its failing.
Government agencies, much of the media and the broad swatch of the public so far doggedly refuse to shed its ingrained mindset that terror acts can only be committed by a foreign group, almost always Muslim. This confuses, disarms and puts even more Americans in harm's way from the nation's real home-grown terrorists, who are likely to look, think and act like Dear.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is Trump and the GOP: Race Baiting to the White House (Amazon Kindle).
He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network