How we continue to be blind-sided by not shining a much-needed spotlight on far-right terror.
By Siddiq Bazarwala
It is hard to imagine the terrifying experience of being caught up in an act of terror.
Surely at the time, you worry less about the socio-political motivations of the perpetrator and instead find yourself terrified, panicking to find cover as far away as possible, that is only if you haven’t already fallen victim to the terrorists’ hail of bullets, explosive device or knife attack.
Such is perhaps the gruesome and just as equally, understated gravity of what being in such a terrifying scenario might be like.
Post-tragedy however, the lens with which such events are viewed by law enforcement authorities and reported by the mainstream media rely less on the fatality rate and more on the belief system of the perpetrator.
If the act of violence is committed by a Muslim, little or no time is wasted before it is reported as an act of terror however if a white male is involved, the word terrorism is most sparingly used, even when the terrifying effects of such type of violence on the victims is exactly the same.
On October 1, retired accountant Stephen Paddock indiscriminately opened fire on an open-air country music festival from his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Hotel Las Vegas killing at least 59 people and injuring over 500 in what has now become the deadliest mass shooting in US history. However law enforcement authorities have yet to call it an act of terror. Instead the police are examining whether Paddock had “mental issues” despite recovering 23 guns in his hotel room, along with 10 suitcases full of armoury, as well as over 19 firearms and explosives at his Nevada home.
A few short hours earlier across the Atlantic on the same day, a man of North African descent, armed with a knife stabbed and killed two women outside the bustling central Saint-Charles station, in the southern French city of Marseille. Within minutes of being shot and killed by a French soldier, this incident was reported as a terror attack, as it rightly must have been nothing short of terrifying for the commuters at the time.
In June 2016, when American-born Omar Mateen, went on a shooting rampage killing 56 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando Florida, this too, was without delay labeled an act of terror especially since he had only minutes earlier pledged allegiance to ISIS (a group condemned by vast majority of Muslims worldwide) before committing his grotesque act of violence.
However less than 24 hours earlier, when James Howell was arrested in Santa Monica, southern California on his way to the LA gay pride parade, armed with firearms, three assault rifles, a five-gallon bucket with chemicals, a gas mask and ammunition, he was curiously charged the following month in court with no more than a misdemeanor count of the illegal possession of a loaded weapon in a vehicle.
In December 2014, when Haron Monis, an Iranian refugee in Australia with a history of mental health issues, armed with a shotgun entered Lindt Cafe in Sydney, Australia and held everyone hostage for over 16 hours, he was quickly labelled a terrorist. Monis was responsible for two deaths including one ricochet police bullet that was meant for Monis but killed a hostage instead.
Meanwhile at approximately the same time in a different time zone in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA, Bradley William Stone, an Iraq War veteran shot and killed his ex-wife and five of her relatives and yet was variantly called “a suspect”, “a gunman on the loose” and even “a Montgomery man” in press reports for weeks following the incident.
Just over two years later in January 2017, Dimitrious Gargasoulas, a Greek Christian drove his car into a crowded street in Melbourne, Australia killing six people including a three month old baby and injuring over 15 people, including a child. Yet despite the terrifying ordeal for those on the street at the time, he was charged with six counts of murder and 28 of attempted murder and there was no mention of the word “terror” in any of the news report when he was inarguably no more mentally disturbed than Monis clearly was.
The same parallels can be drawn with the Paris Orly airport shooter (a Muslim drug addict with an extensive criminal record) in March 2017 and the white 17-year old French teenager (incidentally, son of a far-right French politician) who went on a shooting rampage a few days apart, armed with a rifle, a revolver, a pistol and grenades, in the southern French town of Grasse.
One was immediately labelled a “terrorist act” while the other was “mentally disturbed”.
No prize for guessing which one was which, illustrating how the narrow lens that are used by the media and law enforcement authorities to label acts of violence leads to our reductive rationale behind our definition of terrorism, skewing the overall number and perception of “terrorist” incidents against Muslims, and thus overlooking the other real threat of far right white terror.
Three of four of the biggest mass killings over the last twenty years were carried out by far-right white individuals including Timothy McVeigh (Roman Catholic) killing 168 people in Oklahoma City in 1995, followed by Anders Breivik (a baptised Christian) killing 77 in Norway in 2011; and Stephen Paddock’s (atheist) Las Vegas Country Music Festival mass shooting in October 2017 killing at least 59 people – while the series of coordinated attacks across Paris by self-proclaimed Muslims in November 2015 led to the killings of 130 innocent civilians. Yet no one expects ordinary Christians or the Pope or atheists to condemn terrorism in the same way Muslims are expected to.
The point is, no matter how many public statements by political heavyweights are made from across the aisle against gun control in the United States after every mass shooting, very little if anything changes.
The only other way is to shine the spotlight including balanced media coverage and allocate sufficient financial resources in monitoring far right terror, instead of being caught flat-footed every time someone with mental issues exercises his second amendment.