The two terms that were conspicuously missing in the reams of news clips, press reports, and news features to describe John Russell Houser, the alleged shooter in the near mass killing at a Lafayette, Louisiana movie theater, were "thug" and "terrorist." First let's look at what's known about Houser. He was a middle-aged white male. He had a Tea Party nation web page. click here was a registered Republican, He loved to call and rant on right wing talk shows against women, abortion, liberal Democrats, and anything else that smacked of a supposed liberal agenda. He had easy access to guns. And he was so mentally disturbed that his own family tried to have him put away. click here|htmlws-main-bb|dl1|sec1_lnk2&pLid=-999652294
This last point didn't cancel out the other known facts about Houser. But this made it even more likely that he would never be called one of the two terms that are exclusively reserved for young black males and Muslims. The issue of what's in a label and who gets automatically tagged with a label based solely not on their act but who commits the act crept into major debate after the riots in Baltimore in April following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. The rioters, mostly young blacks, were instantly reviled with the usual appellations as thugs, hooligans, and gangsters. It didn't matter how many shots of the Baltimore rioters were transposed against scenes of young whites burning autos, battling police, and trashing stores following the loss of their home team in a sports championship game or series in several cities .The rioters were young whites, and it was the rare commentator who dared utter the word "thug" about them or their actions. click here|htmlws-main-bb|dl1|sec1_lnk2&pLid=-999652294
The issue of who gets called what following a violent outburst exploded into even greater national debate following the massacre at the Charleston AME Church in June. President Obama in his eulogy of Charleston AME minister, Clementa Pinckney, branded the massacre an act of terror. Yet, nearly all major media outlets, GOP leaders that commented on it, and the FBI, absolutely refused to brand the shooter, Dylann Roof, a terrorist or call his act an act of domestic terrorism. click here
The refusal to call Roof, and now Houser, a "thug" or "terrorist" is far from an arcane quibble over terms and definitions, or even 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. Take terrorism, FBI Director, James B. Comey, was blunt when pressed as to why he refused to brand Roof a terrorist, "Terrorism is an act done or threatened to in order to try to influence a public body or the citizenry, so it's more of a political act and then, again, based on what I know so far, I don't see it as a political act." click here But this begs the issue. In his so called manifesto, Roof by his own admission made it clear that his target was blacks and he targeted them to sow fear and terror and start a racial conflagration.
Houser did not just spout babble delusionary rants about being pursued by demons, goblins, and gargoyles. His rants were very deliberate and pointed at specific groups that he saw as threats to the right-wing's stock definition of the American way. No one knows why he chose to shoot up a theater. But when you combine his hate filled naming of groups, the easy access to guns, and whatever demons were in his head, the horrid consequence was a terror act as sure as if he had mapped out a bomb attack on a local Democratic Party headquarters.
The announcement that the Justice Department will prosecute Roof on federal hate crime charges doesn't fully render the debate over who gets labeled what a moot point. His alleged crime fits every definition of what a hate crime is in law and public policy. However, there's little doubt that if Roof had been Muslim and had shot up a Protestant church, he would have been branded a terrorist and the Justice Department would have been under relentless national pressure to bring terrorism charges against him. The act would have been a textbook legal fit of the FBI's definition of domestic terrorism which says it must be an act "dangerous to human life," and "to intimidate or coerce a civilian population." click here same definition could just as easily apply to Houser's acts. But he is dead and the state and federal charges against Roof are now set in concrete. In both cases, the narrative in the public's mind was set long before either wreaked havoc with their deadly acts. They are not thugs and terrorists. But are deeply disturbed, mentally challenged, drifters and loners, who if anything were in dire need of mental treatment and care, and a part of the blame for them not getting it is somehow hoisted on to society as its failing.
Government agencies, much of the media and the broad swatch of the public so far doggedly refuse to shed its ingrained mindset that terror and thug acts can only be committed by a foreign group, namely Muslim, and young blacks. This confuses, disarms, and puts even more Americans in harm's way from the nation's real home grown thugs and terrorists.