‘Lone wolf ’ shooters part of same pack
What do we call Stephen Paddock? In the days that followed the horror in Las Vegas, we started learning about the man responsible for the rain of gunfire that killed 59 people and injured more than 500.
We learned, for example, that he had no criminal record. He was painted as a retired man who played the slots, kept to himself and sent cookies to his mother. His brother called him “kindly.” He didn’t appear to suffer from mental illness, nor did he appear to be affiliated with any political or religious groups.
Mr. Paddock has been called many things over the past few days: distraught, evil, lone wolf, average, normal. He has not been called a terrorist.
The latest worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history has opened up a debate — not just on gun safety, but on what is or is not terrorism. The public might consider a terrifying act an act of terror, but that doesn’t necessarily square with the U.S. government’s definition of terrorism, which is this: “Terrorism includes the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”
In other words, in order to formally charge someone with terrorism, establishing motive is necessary. Establishing motive can also be tricky. We don’t know Paddock’s motive, at least not yet.
But it’s wholly disingenuous to pretend that the word “terrorist” doesn’t have racial connotations, particularly in a post-9/11 world. It’s a word that has become synonymous with certain last names and dark skin colours – to the point that it’s become a racist slur. “Terrorist” also tends to be used with a lot more restraint, and a careful eye to formal definitions, if a shooter is a white American man. So, if Paddock is not a terrorist, what is he?
It’s tempting to think of him as an exception, an evil man who committed an unthinkable act. Trouble is, these kinds of mass shootings are not unthinkable. At this point, they aren’t even uncommon. It might be reassuring or comforting to think of mass shootings as an anomaly, but they aren’t.
The last “deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history” took place just 16 months ago, when Omar Mateen shot up a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., killing 49 people. And there will be more shootings – next week, next month, next year. To treat each like a horrifying and somehow surprising one-off will not keep people safer.
But men like Mr. Paddock aren’t uncommon, either. Since 1982, mass shootings in the U.S. have been disproportionately carried out by angry white American men toting weapons designed to kill lots of people – from Charleston, S.C., to Newtown, Conn., to Aurora, Colo., it’s overwhelmingly angry white men who are walking into churches, elementary schools and movie theatres and taking people’s lives. And yet, the prevalence of white male shooters is not treated like an epidemic. No, instead they are “lone wolves” who “don’t fit the profile.”
Amid the recent conversations about gun control and terrorism, a dialogue about gun culture and masculinity has emerged. And it’s necessary. We need to get to the roots of the problem. We need to talk about white male rage, and how it’s giving rise to groups such as the alt-right. We need to talk about the kind of culture that creates the Dylann Roofs and Adam Lanzas and, yes, the Stephen Paddocks of the word. We need to start acknowledging that all of these supposed lone wolves belong to the same pack.
Angry White Men may not be an organized, recognized terror group – but they are creating terror.