What’s Stopping Media From Calling Las Vegas Killer a “Terrorist”? His Whiteness

Zenobia Jeffries | ( Yes! Magazine) | – –

Like other mass shooters before him, Stephen Paddock has the benefit of White privilege even in the most vicious of circumstances.

Just when we think the national mood cannot get any lower after a weekend of the U.S. president taunting the mayor of Puerto Rico following the devastating hurricane season, we woke up Monday morning to 58 people dead (so far) and hundreds injured in a mass shooting in Las Vegas.

It’s still too soon to have answers to our collective and resounding “WHY?!” Media outlets have simply identified the 64-year-old White man who killed those people as a “lone gunman.”

As I read about the carnage left by Stephen Paddock (authorities have said he killed himself before capture), the lives lost and the loved ones of those slaughtered left to mourn, I am focused on the biggest thing missing in news reports. His race, a detail given in any account of a killing, particularly a mass killing, by a person of color. Other than his age and name, no other description of Paddock was given. First thing this morning, CBS, NBC, and CNN didn’t even have photos of Paddock. Yet, photos of his “female companion”—a woman of color who authorities have said had nothing to do with the massacre accompanied the reports.

By now we all know what Paddock looks like—although many of us knew when there was no mention of race. We also know that, like Dylan Roof, Sean Christopher Urbanski, Jeremy Christian, and others, Paddock has the benefit of White privilege even in the most vicious of circumstances.

The last reported “deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history” was June 2016 at a LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The shooter was Omar Mateen. His name alone suggests he’s not a White male. But news outlets went further to separate Mateen by calling him “American-born.” This would make him a U.S. citizen—an American, yes? But “Isis sympathizer,” “possible act of Islamic terrorism,” and “Islamic terrorist” permeated headlines and news stories.

Why don’t mainstream media outlets call out White “terrorists,” too? Because they can’t connect any political affiliation outside of the U.S.? That’s too conveniently narrow of a definition. To use qualifiers that enable us to call only nonwhites “terrorists” who commit “acts of terrorism” must no longer be acceptable.

Paddock rained unprovoked and deadly terror from his hotel window on thousands of unexpected people enjoying a concert. He is a terrorist. A White one.

His whiteness protects him from the same scrutiny that would be applied to any person of color. That is racist.

Dylan Roof went into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and prayed with a group of African American churchgoers before gunning them down. Dylan Roof is a terrorist. A White one.

Jeremy Christian stabbed three men, killing two, on a Portland train after verbally assaulting two young women of color, one who identified as Muslim. Jeremy Christian is a terrorist. A White one.

So while the Stephen Paddock story is not obviously—or explicitly—about race, it’s still a story about race. No, Paddock did not target one racial group, so, we can’t call him a racist or say this was an act of racism. Yet his whiteness protects him from the same scrutiny that would be applied to any person of color. That is racist.

Why blame the media? What is the media’s role in all this?

Again, I turn to the Kerner Report. This report is named after its author, former Illinois Gov. Otto Kerner who led a commission selected by President Lyndon B. Johnson to investigate the uprisings that occurred throughout 1967, to determine what happened and why, and to provide recommendations to prevent them from recurring. In considering the history of racism in this country, it said: “By and large, news organizations have failed to communicate to both their Black and White audiences a sense of the problems America faces and the sources of potential solutions. The media report and write from the standpoint of a White man’s world.”

This “White press … reflects the biases, the paternalism, and the indifference of White America. This may be understandable, but is not excusable of an institution that has the mission to inform and educate the whole of our society.”

Awareness is out there, and it’s growing. I see it, and appreciate all the social media posts that have called out mainstream media for this type of irresponsible reporting that contributes to structures and systems of racism. If we do not hold these people, White or not, accountable for acts of terrorism—say it—any movement toward reconciliation among people of all races and cultural backgrounds will amount to absolutely nothing.

So, let us stop reading about excuses for White killers and mitigating labels like “lone gunmen.” They may be White, but they are terrorists.

This article was funded in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation.

Zenobia Jeffries is an associate editor at YES! She covers racial justice.

Via Yes! Magazine


Related video added by Juan Cole:

CBC: “Reporting on Las Vegas shooting (The Investigators with Diana Swain)”

15 Responses

  1. How far the worm as turned. A killer with no obvious political agenda whatever their skin colour (like that matters) is a terrorist? the Unabomber was a terrorist, Paddock, at this stage, seems not to be. To try and conflate race, political motive and outright mentally ill (or at the least deeply disturbed) killer together distracts from meaningful dialogue. To lean heavily on the race issue only proves how weak this argument is.

    • Agreed. Until/unless there’s a motive, you can’t decide whether this guy is a terrorist.

      Remember the song “I don’t like Mondays”? That was about a girl who shot classmates, and her only motive was the title of the song. That’s not terrorism.

    • Race is definitely one of the issues in this particular homicidal psychotic episode. No Hispanic or Muslim nor person of color could amass the ARSENAL of KILLING MACHINES purchased by the deranged WHITE drunken golfer assassin without being noticed.

      To assert otherwise is counter-productive.

  2. The word terrorist has come to mean a person fighting against us for a cause. The word has the further advantage of allowing us to not ask about his cause or, even more dangerously, to question our own cause. Using the term “terrorist” means that there is dangerous knowledge there and to not dig further.

    If on those rare occasions where a terrorist is asked “why” we hear things like “fighting against oppression”, “opposing foreign military invasions”, and “revenge for killing my people”. There is very little religious fanaticism: “God told me to do it”. We may find that by learning the “why” we understand and become sympathetic.

    It is a lovely bit of circular reasoning that allows us maintain the imperium.

    Thus, Stephen Paddock is not a terrorist by today’s definition of the word.

  3. The importance here is not some psychotic drunken impotent golfer with “daddy issues” and delusions of grandeur.

    What is important is the fact that virtually anyone who is a white man can accumulate an arsenal of KILLING MACHINES without drawing attention to their efforts.

    Anything else is merely DIVERSION.

  4. I slightly disagree in this case, though I absolutely agree about other cases where the Whites who committed violence clearly were attempting to coerce society thereby in a certain ideological direction, which is my definition of terrorism. The sheer blankness of Paddock, as opposed to the Oregon terrorists or Dylann Roof, is an interesting development. They were stochastic terrorists, who could figure out their marching orders without a chain of command. But Paddock just had a compulsion to slaughter a bunch of people, and apparently stalked concerts around the country to consider it before he finally went ahead and did it. That’s not an ideology, or a form of coercion; there’s nothing you could concede to him that would make him stop committing such acts.

    However, the growth of these pathologies may be related to political issues, because of the loss of connection to a shared humanity. And the politics that choose to sever those connections in order to proclaim a Master Race must be seen as a road to many more misanthropic horrors. When regimes founded on such principles come to power, they need people who have the mental makeup to do their dirty work, regardless of their prior politics. We don’t want to believe such a force of blank henchmen could exist among us, causing us to downgrade the threat of extremist rule. We should know better.

    • Paddock likely fits the mold of Charles Whitman, an ex-marine with no criminal record who studied engineering at University of Texas who killed over a dozen innocent strangers during a sniping rampage. The Connolly Commission linked his actions to possibly result from a brain tumor located during an autopsy.

      More recently, Jason Dalton, the Kalamazoo Uber shooter, had no known political leanings or criminal record when he shot to death six people unexpectedly.

      These shooters are purely motivated by psychopathology. Their personal cases are as tragic as their victims.

  5. Jim Cataldo

    I don’t actually agree on this one. I think to be a terrorist, you have to have a political motive. And so far, there is no political motive for this tragedy.

  6. You have to have some sort of a cause to be a terrorist. At this point they have not found a cause. It looks like he was just plain crazy but if they find something then he will be called a terrorist

  7. To be meaningful, words must not be too broad. Legally and in most current dictionaries, “terrorism” is the use of violence to further or achieve a political or sometimes religious end by instilling fear.

    An individual or group of individuals can be “terrorized” by things that are not “terrorism”, such as a wild animal or an escaped criminal at large.

    It is true, however, that “genuine” white terrorists are sometimes not labeled as “terrorists”.

    Paddock was a “mass murderer” but does not seem to have had any political agenda. Therefore, he was not a “terrorist”.

  8. It’s hard to call it terrorism until you know what the motivation is. Also, law enforcement and Homeland Security have strict definitions as to what acts can be called acts of terrorism and at this time the actions in LV do not meet the critera. That definition does not include skin color or religion. Also, various non-whites have engaged in violent acts with multiple deaths and were not called terrorist attacks for the same reason. Hassan comes to mind as an example which was defined as workplace violence rather than terrorism despite considerable public pressure and lawsuits.

    Feel free to campaign to change legal definition. It does matter in terms of charging, sentencing and insurance claims but it isn’t about being white. Insisting that it is about skin color is misleading and only highlights the author’s own prejudice and lack of research on the subject. I am sure this website can serve its readers better.

    • Sorry. Everything you wrote is a diversion. A deranged white drunken golfer got his hands on an ARSENAL of KILLING MACHINES without being noticed. That is the FACT and the ISSUE.

      Everything else is idle chatter noise.

  9. the title to the article is a very good question. Haven’t seen the word terrorist associated with him from the Canadian media either. The guy is a terrorists, plan and simple. Yes, he most likely isn’t being “named” as such because he is not only white but rich and those boys just don’t do such things. It probably the reason every one keeps saying they don’t have a motive. Since when does bad shit crazy need a reason. Oh, right when you’re white. There appears to be a certain amount of effort also being put out to describe the shooter as perhaps mentally ill. The guy wasn’t mentally ill. He was just bad shit crazy. There is a difference.

    The shooter, in my opinion, is some one who has been in this mind set for along time. Perhaps as long ago as Timothy McVey and his bombing of the Federal Building. We may see more of this in the next few years, older white men committing acts of terror and thus being terrorists. McVey acted out while young. the other men having stewed on it for most of their adult lives, now see it as a time to act.

    As some of us ask, is it safer in Baghdad or the U.S.A. Me, I’m not visiting either.

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