‘Lone wolf ’ shoot­ers part of same pack

Truro Daily News - - OPINION -

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.

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