I had every intention of being my usual goofy self in this week’s column, and going after trolls once more.
Then Sunday morning happened. And as usual, conclusions were jumped to, and unthinking comments were made.
This isn’t the first time. When there’s an attack of any kind, the truth sometimes gets lost under all the fear.
When Oklahoma City happened, I saw it in all the initial speculation—mistaken, of course—over who had perpetrated such an awful crime.
When the shootings at Westside Middle School occurred, I sat in the newsroom unsure of whether a friend’s son was OK because the first reports I heard didn’t name the school other than to say that it was in Jonesboro. It wasn’t his school, thankfully, but the teacher killed had been my biology lab partner in college, so my relief was short-lived. Even days later, misinformation was rampant.
When there was a bombing at the Boston Marathon, I saw it in the unthinking tweets by politicians and the mistaken IDs—of people who had absolutely nothing to do with the bombing—by crowdsourcing groups on Reddit and 4Chan.
On Sunday, fellow blogger Zorba of Politicians Are Poody Heads wondered if authorities would be inclined to so quickly call it terrorism if Omar Mateen had been a white Baptist rather than a Muslim (American born and raised, by the way) of Afghan descent. While I wouldn’t go as far as Zorba on the subject of guns, he has a point on terrorism.
No matter the weapon used or the ethnicity of the perpetrators, if the intent of such an action is to cause terror, it’s terrorism. Orlando, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Fort Hood, Oklahoma City, Boston Marathon—all terrorism. Sadly, some would see only three of those attacks as terrorism, all because of the Muslim component.
Terrorism comes in all flavors, and in the U.S., we’re far more susceptible to the homegrown variety than that enacted or directed by foreign powers. All terrorism is to be feared, but domestic terrorism is more insidious in that you must admit that anyone—even family, friends and neighbors—is capable of committing it, and for myriad reasons.
Neighbors of Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. knew him for his vitriol, but until April 13, 2014, he’d always limited it to words. On that day, he killed three people at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kan. Bruce Pardo, who had been described as lovable and goofy, had no criminal record or history of violence, and had been an electrical engineer. But on Dec. 24, 2008, dressed as Santa, he killed his ex-wife and eight others in an attack he planned for six months.
The FBI’s definitions of international and domestic terrorism differ only in location. The key elements are that they “involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law; [and] appear intended (1) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (2) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (3) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
Seems that by that definition, all of the above attacks certainly qualify.
The Washington Post reported in January that 2015, according to the Anti-Defamation League, was the deadliest year for domestic extremism in two decades, with at least 52 deaths. With at least 49 victims in Orlando over the weekend, I think it’s safe to say that 2016 has already surpassed that, and the year’s not even half over.
Whoever wreaks terror on whatever group for any reason must be dealt with, as should the policies that let it happen.
We can’t foresee or stop every attack, but we can look at ourselves closely and honestly. We’ve let hate fester and allowed anger rather than facts to direct our actions.
It doesn’t really help when we have public figures with no authority making pronouncements, such as saying the president should resign if his Sunday remarks didn’t include the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism” (even though he mentioned, multiple times, terrorist acts by extremists who had perverted Islam). Because obviously that certain public figure knew all there was to know about Orlando just hours after it happened.
The truth is this: If we spend all our time looking for the foreign boogeyman, we’ll miss the warning signs of more deadly menaces right here. Yes, Omar Mateen was Muslim, but we have no definitive proof yet (it’s early, remember) that ISIS directed his attack.
What we do know is that the FBI had placed him on a watch list in 2013 and 2014, but nothing really came of it and he was removed from the list. He passed multiple security checks for his job as a security guard licensed to carry concealed weapons, and records show he bought at least two of his guns legally. And yes, he reportedly professed allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, but indications thus far are that he was a lone wolf, possibly inspired by ISIS … or homophobia … or hatred of techno dance music.
The last time I wrote about terrorism (I believe it was after Paris), the Washington Times’ Wesley Pruden decided he should castigate me for noting that not only radical Islamists commit terrorism, but that Americans such as the Unabomber, Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph do as well.
Uh … yeah … and? Somehow I think his intended taking-me-to-the-woodshed moment fell short. I wasn’t aware that urging caution and a sense of perspective was a bad thing. Because submitting to sloppy, reactionary thinking always works so well, doesn’t it?
The point is that our enemies are terrorists of all stripes—people who have perverted their religion or their politics so that killing others is acceptable in pursuit of their goals. And that could be anyone.
If we can’t admit that the boy next door is just as capable of terroristic acts as the boy from the Middle East, our problems are worse than we imagine.