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White Mass Shooters Are Not ‘Lone Wolves,’ and We Must Pay Attention

In America, white men are committing mass shootings, bombings and other acts of homegrown domestic terrorism, yet law enforcement refuse to brand these people as terrorists who are part of a larger movement. Rather, they are dismissed as “lone wolves” who did not act as part of a larger group. As the FBI investigates Black political activist groups such as Black Lives Matter, monitors their First Amendment activities and labels them “Black Identity Extremists,” white male terrorists are given a pass.

There is no single definition of terrorism. The following is the FBI definition of domestic terrorism: “Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.” The Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “The calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” U.S. law defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.”

White American terrorists are being radicalized, and the so-called lone wolves are actually a pack of wolves, according to Pacific Standard magazine. These white men are talking to each other, going to the same websites, reading the same stories, taking up arms and choosing the same targets for death. Racism, however, prevents decision makers and authorities from classifying them as terrorists. This, as white American men pose the greatest domestic terror threat, far more than Islamist, foreign or nonwhite sources. White supremacists accounted for 83 percent of extremist-related murders in the United States over the past decade, and these groups are infiltrating law enforcement.

Mark Anthony Conditt — the Austin bomber who targeted Black people with package bombs before detonating himself in an act of suicide when confronted by police — was involved in a white Christian survivalist group called Righteous Invasion of Truth, “a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids, created and named by the kids and their families, that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills, and water balloon fights,” as BuzzFeed reported. The White House has denied the bombings were acts of terrorism, and the Austin police initially said Conditt should be regarded as a  “very challenged young man” rather than a terrorist because he did not mention terrorism or hate in the video confession he had left. And yet, Conditt killed a Black man and a Black teen, injured a Latina woman and two other men, and had a list of future targets. Austin police eventually came around and declared him a terrorist. However, sympathetic news reports of the serial bomber, such as an article in The New York Times, described him as “very polite,” “quiet,” and a “nerd” with no criminal record, with people in his community unable to understand how this happened.

Dylann Storm Roof, who killed nine African-American parishioners in 2015 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, told his victims, “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.” The Southern Poverty Law Center  noted that in his manifesto — which was posted on his website and on the white supremacist site Stormfront — Roof mentioned the killing of Trayvon Martin as his inspiration to do a Google search on “black on White crime,” which led him to the Council of Conservative Citizens web page. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet,” Roof complained. “Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”

James Alex Fields, 20, killed one woman, Heather Heyer, 32, and injured 19 others when he drove his car into a crowd of antiracism protesters at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. He marched with members of alt-right group Vanguard America and wore the group’s insignia, though the group denied Fields was a member. The white supremacist group has actively pursued recruitment on college campuses.

Nikolas Cruz, 19, who killed 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, reportedly carved swastikas on his gun magazines, and on a private Instagram chatroom he expressed his hatred of “jews, ni**ers, immigrants.” Cruz also wrote about hating Black people and killing Mexicans for their skin color. A neo-Nazi group known as the Republic of New Florida claimed Cruz was one of their members before backtracking. Since he was taken into custody, the mass shooter has been deluged with an unprecedented amount of fan mail from grown men, women and girls, including sexually suggestive lingerie photos, cards and donations.

Jeremy Christian — who stabbed two men to death and injured a third at a Portland train station last year as they were protecting two Muslim teenage girls from his racist and Islamophobic rants — was filmed and photographed shouting “Die, Muslims!” and performed a Nazi salute at an alt-right “free speech” rally. Christian, 35, who has a long criminal history, also called Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh “a true patriot.”

SPLC made an accounting of 100 people murdered or injured by the “alt-right” in its report, “The Alt-Right is Killing People.” According to the civil rights organization, which tracks hate activity across the country, alt-right propaganda “is intentionally designed to foster feelings of grievance, injustice, and animosity, particularly against those considered threats to ‘western civilization’ — otherwise known as people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities.” SPLC also notes that the white nationalist movement “is giving a growing population of aggrieved young, white men a worldview that experts find is ripe for violence. The externalization of blame for one’s own disappointing circumstances in life — and particularly its offloading onto minority communities — is one of several indicators of mass violence.” White nationalism depends not only on racist propaganda, but also a toxic men’s rights movement, as neofascists use the movement’s websites as a recruiting tool to groom frustrated and angry white men who feel threatened by people of color and women.

SPLC also cited a 2014 paper from Dr. Eric Madfis, professor of criminal justice at the University of Washington and author of a 2014 paper on the intersectional identities of American mass murderers. Madfis found that a disproportionate number of mass murderers are young, white men who are heterosexual and middle class. These privileged white males — with a triple privilege of whiteness, masculinity and heterosexuality — are overrepresented among mass murderers and are least able to deal with life’s setbacks, including downward social mobility. He elaborated:

“Today’s typical mass murderer is not simply a white man with all the trappings of pride and privilege granted within the context of gender and race relations in the United States. His privileged white racial identity does not necessarily save him from the diminished socioeconomic status of downward mobility, nor does his privileged male gender guarantee the dominance of hegemonic masculinity over others. In fact, it is the very entitlements of his race and gender which make any subsequent life-course struggles and failures all the more unexpected, and thus all the more painful and humiliating.”

Law enforcement experts, lawmakers and activists have expressed a concern that the FBI has targeted Black Lives Matter and created a “Black Identity Extremist” category of terrorist out of whole cloth, while the Department of Homeland Security even wrote an entirely redacted “Race Paper” on Black activists. The methods used by federal agents to monitor innocent Black activists provide clues as to what they might do to pursue actual white domestic terrorists who are engaged in mass murder, for the sake of consistency. The question remains as to whether the government will use not only online surveillance, but physical surveillance and informants against white domestic terrorists.

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