‘Lone Wolf,’ ‘Self-Radicalized’: Islamophobic Buzzwords never applied to White Terrorists

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Did a self-radicalized lone wolf white terrorist kill three young Muslim students in cold blood in Chapel Hill? It is a kind of a stupid question, but its stupidity is just more apparent when asked of someone with an English last name. What does self-radicalized or lone wolf even mean?

Craig Hicks constantly shared anti-Muslim and anti-Christian links on social media and proclaimed to believers, ““I have every right to insult a religion that goes out of its way to insult, to judge, and to condemn me as an inadequate human being — which your religion does with self-righteous gusto…” I think we may conclude that he didn’t like Muslims, and one of the victims told her father that before her death. While he may have been provoked to his rage by a parking incident and while he clearly is one egg short of an omelette, the “new atheist” discourse of believers as oppressive and coercive per se is part of his problem.

“Terrorism” has been racialized in the American press and law enforcement community, marked as having to do with Muslims but almost never used to refer to people of northern European background. A few years ago, when a police spokesman said that “We have concluded that event was not terrorism,” likely what he meant is that no Muslims were involved or that no cell or organization was.

Racializing dissent has an old genealogy in American politics. In the early twentieth century, Jewish-American immigrants were suspected of socialism and Italian-Americans of anarchism. In the Red Scare of 1917-1920, workers who joined labor actions were falsely accused of Communism and were targeted for mob violence, especially if they had “foreign names.” African-Americans who had come north to work in factories during the war, filling a domestic labor shortage, were likewise tagged as subversive. Somehow persons of English ancestry with names like Worthington — even if they were blue collar workers– were not assumed to be Communists or foreign agents or radicals. Russian-Americans were deported. In Illinois after the war, a mob attacked Italian-Americans and razed their homes.

Today it is Muslim-Americans who have been stereotyped as radicals, although the vast majority of them are actually pillars of the establishment and they are better off educationally and financially than the average American. But how to characterize Muslim individuals who committed violence, who were unconnected to any radical network and who were clearly simply mentally ill? Initially Islamophobic diction wasn’t deployed in their regard. But over time, those promoting bigotry managed to make it respectable to sweep even these often mentally fragile individuals up into “terrorism.” The buzzwords used were “lone wolf” and “self-radicalized.”

Terrorism as it was defined in the Federal code in the 1990s made some sense. It was a non-state group that committed violence against civilians for political purposes. The modern democratic state is supposed to have a monopoly on violence (police, army) and people are supposed to seek to influence politics non-violently, by organizing in parties and contesting elections. A group that appointed itself (and was elected by no one) to carry out violence to achieve political goals is a danger to democratic society, usurping the role of the state illegitimately.

But to characterize one unbalanced individual, unconnected to a cell or network, who hits out at a few individuals or a soft target, as a “terrorist” makes little sense. It makes no sense at all except if the word “terrorist” is deprived of its legal meaning, as above, and simply used to denote “Muslim who commits violence for other than purely criminal reasons.” Thus, an official applied the term ‘terrorism’ to jihadi Zale Thompson’s attack on four NY policemen with an axe. Note that the 1990s Federal code would have excluded that attack, horrible as it was, because it was not civilians who were targeted and Thompson was not a group. It also isn’t clear what political goal was furthered. As Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan argued, that was a criminal act. Otherwise, expanding terrorism to cover such one-off acts has the effect of terrorizing society by keeping it on its toes and making it haunted by crackpots.

Moreover, the T-word is almost never applied to ‘lone wolf,’ ‘self-radicalized’ white people who go berserk their neighbors. I wrote last spring,

we had the horrible day-before-Passover attack on two Jewish community facilities outside Kansas City, KS allegedly committed by a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, which left 3 people dead. My heart goes out to the innocent victims of hate. I put “Kansas” and “terrorism” in a search of Google News and did not get a single hit on this incident, which tells me that no US news services are describing it that way. Heck, the LA Times said authorities are cautioning that it is too soon even to call the shootings a “hate crime.” Since the shooter is said to have shouted “Heil Hitler,” I’m going to go out on a limb and say it was a hate crime. And I’m also pretty sure it was a form of terrorism.

Likewise, if you search for Wade Michael Page, the white supremacist who shot down Sikhs, “and terrorism,” you only get opinion pages and blogs, not MSM sites.

But a where a lone gunman committing a hate crime is a Muslim, there’s a demand to use the T-word. Moreover, there is the peculiar American practice of laying collective guilt on all Muslims for what any one wacko amongst them does. White people get a pass on having violent and destructive wackos among them.

Let’s retire the ‘war on terror’ (terrorism is a tactic) and the diction of the ‘lone wolf’ and ‘self-radicalized.’ Society has a few criminals and deviants. When they break the law they become criminals and they should be brought to justice. Obsessing about “terrorists” out there somewhere, and implicitly racializing the phenomenon, is a good way to lose what liberties we still have left.

Related video:

CNN: “Was the Chapel Hill triple murder a hate crime?”

24 Responses

  1. Dr. Cole: I believe this racist dichotomy goes back much, much further than the early 20th century. It seems that the fighters in the “Indian wars” and slaveholders are the foundation of what has become the US military and the entire attitude that pervades our society since the 1600s. The media perpetuate this attitude and it will take a concerted effort to change the racism that is foundational for US society. Several rationalizations about the extermination of 90% of the resident indigenous population have been posited (e.g., Indians fought each other; disease killed them off), but many are finally speaking the truth about what is nothing other than genocide. And when we can clearly trace about 60% of today’s existing US wealth to the unpaid labor of the African slaves, the foundation of the culture becomes clear. We have a long, long way to go to eliminate US exceptionalism, the very same trait that makes white terrorists “troubled young men” and “lone wolves.”

  2. ‘Lone Wolf,’ ‘Self-Radicalized’: Islamophobic Buzzwords never applied to White Terrorists

    Technically, I did hear and read these terms applied to men like Anders Breivik or Maxime Brunerie (the failed would-be assassin of Jacques Chirac)… in French media.

  3. God rest their souls. They sounded like wonderful, kind people. Telling is the lack of media reporting – if this had been a member of another group it would’ve been front page, head line, front and center. No one systematically executes people over a parking space.

    • “No one systematically executes people over a parking space.”

      Not in any sane society, but this is America after all.

  4. By the way, is anyone drawing parallels between Kayla Mueller and Rachel Corrie, two young idealist American women who both died in the Middle East in the pursuit of peace?

  5. Double standards for whites is nothing new. One example of countless: “Lynching and Jeff Davis Highway: Exclusive: Many parts of the South, including Arlington, Virginia, just outside the U.S. capital, still honor Confederate President Jefferson Davis by attaching his name to important roadways. But a recent study on lynching puts the motive for honoring that white supremacist in a sickening new light,” writes Robert Parry. – link to consortiumnews.com

    • Robert Parry writes about the 1920s but doesn’t mention the KKK. The decade of the 1920s was their high water mark. The movement sparked huge rallies and even parades in Washington D.C. After WWI ended, immigration from Eastern Europe surged resulting in a counter movement among white, protestant Christians in this country. This is the main reason the KKK became so big. The pictures of KKK members in uniform marching down Pennsylvania Ave. is mind boggling.

      Back then, conservatives thought immigrants from Eastern Europe were like immigrants from Latin America today. Both groups are swarthy, dark skinned Catholics. Before John Kennedy was elected president in 1960, being a Catholic was a big no no in the HOMELAND.

  6. It really was horrific and has sent chills in the community. For some reason it sounds like the authorities are hesitant to call it a hate crime too…

  7. In response to the headline:
    Yes they are
    “If you’re too busy working (so you can provide your family with all the things American society demands for the appearance of social conformity) to be intimately involved in your child’s education, your child MIGHT turn out to be a terrorist…”

    See ‘B’ in DHS checklist ““Countering Violent Extremism: A Guide for Practitioners and Analysts,” link to auntieimperial.tumblr.com

    [Begin screed]

    Just because the media doesn’t use that buzzword describing White Terrorists means less than squat. Most of the FEW people on the planet who own 99% of the media we read ARE WHITE AND RIGHT WING so it would seem in their interest NOT to mention the issue.

    But the ROTF thing about all this is they did promote and sensationalize ‘white terror’ when the Weatherunderground, and other LEFT revolutionary groups in the US were operational.

    Listen ‘contributor’ The US government and the power elite they represent ARE in abject fear of their own people.

    Especially their disenfranchised… The homeless, the ‘mentally ill’, the huge number of unemployed, the MASSIVE number of POC incarcerated in the American Penal Colony, etc, and they have been for a loong time. Perhaps since the inception of the United States.

    Note that one Constitutional Convention delegates requested that a land redistribution occur to make all people in the country ‘property owners’ to defuse the potential for a revolt, and since that OBVIOUSLY didn’t happen it seems to have culminated in most major cities covertly, surreptitiously profiling, their ‘street people’ after 9-11 and the development of a fully militarized form of policing on US streets.

    [End Screed]

  8. So…..was Timothy McVeigh a “terrorist”? He’s an excellent example of a white ex-marine who performed a “terrorist” act….and against the US government too! No Muslims in sight here.

    • On August 1, 1966,Charles Whitman, an ex-marine was the first white terrorist to commit mass murder.

  9. Who owns the media and decided it was not worth reporting, anyways? Everyone had to learn about the incident on Twitter… like while in the Middle East during Arab Spring.

  10. For what it’s worth, the individuals in Canada who went on Islamist inspired killing sprees have been pretty much described as “self-radicalized lone wolf white terrorist”.

    It’s just a new variation on the theme that we now see Anti-Theists, with some seriously religious zeal, packing the same kind of heat.

    link to ipolitics.ca

  11. I’m reminded of the anarchists at the start of the 1900s. But they were often also ‘self-radicalized’ and would commit ‘propaganda of the deed’ with bombings and assassinations. I’m comfortable labeling them terrorists.
    If a nut snaps and kills a few people, then it is a random act of insanity.
    When someone feeds on the undercurrent of an ideology that has vocal proponents advocating violence, and the person goes out and acts on that, they are obviously sick and deranged – but I think fair to call them a terrorist as well.
    If it comes out that he killed them because of a hatred of Muslims after feeding on internet propaganda, I’d say he should absolutely be labeled a terrorist. Just like any other ‘lone-wolf’ that said they wanted to inflict death and chaos in service of a twisted ideology.
    But right now, he’s claiming he killed them over parking. So jury is still out.

  12. Meanwhile next door in South Carolina they are priming the kids to be pro-gun: “SC bill aims to prove state gun-friendly through NRA curriculum in schools: South Carolina proposes Second Amendment course in public schools, in what many see as welcome to gun industry” – link to america.aljazeera.com

  13. As I recall, the term “lone wolf” was popularized in the 1990’s–i.e. after the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents–with reference to white supremacists, and may in fact have been coined by them (cf. “leaderless resistance” and Phineas priest”). The concept, as opposed to the term, is far older.

  14. “I think we may conclude that he didn’t like Muslims”

    False, we can only conclude that he didn’t like Islam as a religion, nor did he like Christianity. There is a difference between criticising an ideology and hating a group of people. There is evidence of the former, I have to yet see the evidence for the latter.

    • For what’s it worth, according to the father of the female victims, when the male victim (his son-in-law) moved in the neighbourhood, there wasn’t a problem. When the female victims with their head scarves came by, the animosity started. The daughter said she believed he didn’t like them because of that, being visible Muslims.

      It can be a fine line sometimes in hating an ideology and the ‘ideologues’, and yes, some atheists can get nasty towards the practitioners, no different than the religious far right.

  15. As an Arab-American I feel disgusted and very hurt by what happened to those young beautiful Arabs.I have been an atheist all my life , but still do not understand how Charlie hebdo insulting, Dawkins’/ Krauss/Mahler’s total vilification of Muslims , of the arabic language, of our customs,of the way we dress or look can in any way diminish the devastating effects of the mainly Saudi Clerics violent interpretation of a Bronze age fairy tale.
    Let alone the American initiated and continuing criminal wars against Irak, Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan…..Get off our backs!

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