Last week a white man shot dead 59 people who were attending a country music show in Las Vegas from the window of his hotel room at the Mandalay Bay hotel/casino. Already people have started putting his action down to undiagnosed mental health problems or Asperger’s syndrome, something which happens every time a white person carries out a mass shooting which wasn’t obviously linked to a domestic dispute (which many such shootings are, and they often go unreported beyond the local media, if at all) or a workplace dispute. The complaints about “ableism” in this context are fairly well-founded as most people who are mentally ill, let alone those who are autistic, are not aggressive at all, let alone murderers. But another routine objection is that the term ‘terrorism’ was not used to describe his actions and that this term is reserved for actions committed by members of minorities or non-white people, particularly Muslims. This claim is not well-grounded, and founded on a sense of victimhood.
What even is terrorism? We all know it when we see it but how do we define it? I believe it is important to use a dictionary definition as this reflects common understanding, rather than an official definition which could have been concocted for political ends so as to make ‘terrorists’ of people who really are not, particularly acts deemed to be ‘subversive’ but which do not involve violence against individuals or the intimidation of the general public; there have been attempts to include the likes of fox-hunt saboteurs and stunts which cause only disruption rather than destruction in terrorism. To cite a recent example, the FBI classified a group of animal rights activists who ‘rescued’ two piglets from a farm as terrorists, because the official definition of terrorism includes ‘violence’ against property. The standard definitions of terrorism include a political motive: that the action is intended to advance a cause or force a government to do something (or stop doing something) and that it be the work of non-state actors or undercover government agents.
Generally speaking, when a white man carries out a mass shooting, it is assumed that there is no political motive because there have been so many which simply have none: American mass shooters are typically losers with grudges, as are the smaller number of spree killers in other countries — smaller because most of these other countries do not allow citizens to keep firearms without stringent licensing checks, much less automatic ones, still less carry them in public, and in the UK and Australia in particular, these restrictions followed earlier massacres (Dunblane and Port Arthur, respectively). A few of them have bizarre political ideas (as with the mass killers at Montréal, Utoya in Norway and Sagamihara) but often these are covers for personal inadequacies. In this case, despite speculation about mental illness and autism, the police still do not know what his motive was, but it is known that he was a problem gambler whose wagers at Las Vegas’s casinos had increased considerably recently — which, frankly, is the first thing I thought of when I heard of a shooting in Vegas with a white perpetrator: that he’d lost a fortune (possibly most of his worldly wealth, including whatever is paying the bills for his home in the retirement complex) and decided to take it out on innocent people.
It’s quite valid to criticise the way such men are often portrayed as quiet, caring souls before they massacred 59 people (much as are men who murder their wives and/or children, for example) and the way Black men killed summarily by the police are often portrayed as in some way linked to crime when they had been doing nothing wrong at the time, or the way laws are framed and police resources used to combat an insignificant domestic Muslim terrorist threat (inflated by entrapping groups of men into non-existent plots) while the law allows anyone with an axe to grind to get hold of weapons which have no purpose in the hands of civilians besides mass murder. But I wouldn’t dignify acts like the Las Vegas massacre by calling it terrorism, because there is no cause or sense of justice or injustice behind them, except sometimes the ‘injustice’ of the attacker not being able to get laid. They are just the meaningless destructive acts of losers and inadequates.
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