Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Alleged Florida school shooter, Nikolas Cruz is described in the inevitable avalanche of news clips, press reports and news features as “troubled,” “a loner,” ‘hostile,” and “no clue he was dangerous.” His defense attorneys piled on to this litany of descriptive cop-outs by calling him “brain damaged,” “emotionally traumatized,” and the topper, “a broken child (He’s 19, that’s hardly a child). Then Trump jumped in with the by now stock characterizations reserved for white mass killers, as “mentally disturbed,” “bad and erratic behavior,” and with what’s hardly the revelation of the ages “a big problem.”
As always, the two words that are glaringly and embarrassingly missing in labeling Cruz, are “domestic’ and “terrorist.” Cruz’s targets and the killings are, by any definition, the lethal combination of politics and raw terrorism. It’s by now well-established that these shooters in nearly every case are not Muslims. Between 2008 and 2012, according to FBI reports, only about six percent of domestic terrorism suspects were Muslim,
The encased profile of a mass killer is that he’s a he, a staunch gun nut, politically disgruntled, and a young white male. Cruz added a couple of other tweaks to the stock profile. He was enthralled by white supremacist groups, sported a Trumpian, “Made in America” cap, and liked to prance and pose with guns. But it was the white supremacist tweak that upped the domestic terror ante.
The Charlottesville, Virginia rampage by assorted white nationalist groups last August, should have sounded loud the alarm bell that white nationalist and white supremacist groups have touched the delusional and loose wires in the heads of a more than a few impressionable, distraught, alienated, and unhinged, young white males. They have easy access to the big killer guns, and stocks of ammo. They are not routinely profiled by police. So, they can take pictures with guns, parade with guns publicly, and blast away at rifle ranges or at training sites. They have no fear of exposure or arrest.
Despite that, studies have found that the overwhelming majority of those labeled domestic terrorists on network TV news shows were Muslim.
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 in June 2015. Then President Obama branded the massacre an act of terror. He was pretty much a lone voice on that score. Nearly all major media outlets, GOP leaders that commented on it, and the FBI, refused to brand the shooter, Dylann Roof, a terrorist or call his act an act of domestic terrorism.
This 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.
There’s simply no political incentive to call alleged shooters such as Cruz “domestic terrorists.” This crashes hard against the official narrative that made-in- America terrorists and terrorism constitute minimal or no real threat to life and property here. This danger supposedly only comes from a foreign group, Muslim of course.
That’s only part of the blind eye toward homegrown terrorism. The long often bloody history of America is littered with groups that have imposed a kind of white frontier vigilantism on Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other pariah groups. For much of this history, they have committed violence with impunity, and with a wink and nod from officials, judges, and police agencies. They in effect rewrote the definition of what terrorism is, and, isn’t.
The rise of white nationalist groups and the hideous reports of their penetration into the armed forces and some police departments, has made it even harder to finger them as the same major threats to national security as is routinely true of Muslims from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran. Then when you have baby-faced school boys such as Roof or Cruz, and the litany of other white kid looking shooters, this make it impossible for the media and the public to rail against them as major threats to the nation’s peace. They simply look too much like the kid next door, the kid at a local school, or church, in white suburban communities. It would be too painful an exercise to turn the mirror inward and admit that that kid who many merely wrote off as an eccentric, a loner, or just a plain odd ball, could easily turn into a mass killer.
This is why Trump so easily lashed out at those around Cruz and blamed them for not recognizing the signs and blowing the help whistle on him. This is just another form of see no evil, hear no evil about men such as Cruz. It virtually assures that there will be more of them with the usual duck for cover write off of them as” troubled” young men.
They are that. But they are also domestic terrorists. And the absolute refusal to call them anything but that, invites more of the very carnage that the nation claims to be shocked by.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His forthcoming book, Forty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts (Middle Passage Press). 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.