It’s Time to Talk About What’s Radicalizing White Male Terrorists

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Do Better is an op-ed column by writer Lincoln Anthony Blades, debunking fallacies regarding the politics of race, culture, and society – because if we all knew better, we’d do better.

Since September 11, 2001, preventing terrorism in the United States has become one of the main concerns of citizens, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies. Leaders believe that battling “terror” isn’t just done by waging war on jihadists themselves, but also on their ideology. When an attack whose perpetrator is affiliated with Islam occurs on American soil, the nation collectively recoils in horror at the audacious attack, mourns for those we’ve lost, and then subsequently doubles down on rooting out any semblance of pro-extremist thought in our society.

When the assailant is identified, intelligence agencies conduct a thorough investigation into the subject’s known terror ties. These ties are provided to outlets that, in real time, condemn the violent extremism that animated the subject. When bad actors align themselves with extremist Islamic ideology, information about those who propagate this dangerous dogma is eagerly consumed because we deem it essential – not to just know what happened, but everything and every person that may have influenced what happened. Yet when it comes to domestic terrorism carried out by white men, such thorough accounting lacks.

On April 30, America found itself in a terrifying and simultaneously familiar place: mourning the loss of life after a mass shooting. Monique Clark, a 35-year-old mother of three daughters, was killed after a gunman opened fire at guests at a poolside party inside an apartment complex. In addition to Clark, six other people – mostly black and Latinx – were injured in the shooting spree by a 49-year-old white male named Peter Selis. In the wake of the attack, witnesses and victims attested that race was a prominent factor in the shooting. Yet San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said just one day after the shooting that there was “zero information” that race contributed to the attack. (Navy Lt. j.g. Lauren Chapman, one of the attendees of the party, said she felt “heartbreak” at the police’s dismissal of this motive, which witnesses say was a major factor.) The shooting received such little immediate coverage that people took to social media to blast major networks and politicians for their lack of reporting, and terror context.

America has been reticent to label white male mass shooters as domestic terrorists, and there’s a hesitation from politicians, law enforcement agencies, and society as a whole, to investigate what animates the brutal actions of these attackers, who are mostly white and male, and whose actions are often rationalized. “There were over 300 mass shootings [in which four or more people were injured] in the United States in 2015, and less than 1 percent of them were committed by Muslims,” Arsalan Iftikhar, a U.S. human rights lawyer and author, said in an interview last year. “But it was the one committed by Muslims in San Bernardino that was immediately labeled an act of terrorism,'” he said, referring to the December 2015 shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, wherein Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik killed 14 people and injured 22 others after declaring allegiance to the Islamic State.

After the San Bernardino shooting, Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio all jumped at the opportunity to declare that America was at “war.” Then candidate, and current president, Donald Trump took the rhetoric a step further by calling for a broad-sweeping ban on Muslims entering the United States. But, five days earlier, a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was targeted by a white male devout Christian, and there was no degree of rage expressed by those same Republican presidential candidates or the accompanying hyperbolic war proclamations. In fact, the shooter, Robert Dear, was referred to as a “gentle loner” by The New York Times.