Scouring media reports in the face of terror attacks perpetrated by Arabs or Muslims, and attacks by white people and Christians, and you’d be forgiven for thinking there was some qualitative difference between the two. Attacks by ethnic minorities or Muslims are universally branded as terrorist attacks in both initial breaking news reports and opinion pieces, sometimes before even the most basic facts are known, whereas terror attacks by white Christians, especially in the U.S., do not receive the same treatment in language nor attitude, neither in initial reports or reflections down the line.
This has been quite apparent for critics of the mainstream media for some time, but it has been again brought to light during recent terror attacks both home and abroad, namely the terror attack in Charleston by white supremacist Dylann Roof, and the subsequent arson attacks against churches across the U.S.
Even the UK’s left-leaning Guardian referred to Roof as a “troubled kid” in an opinion piece, entitled “Dylann Roof: far right denies links and disowns ‘act of purposeful evil’“, and turned to Kirk Lyons, a lawyer for Confederate revisionists, KKK members and Holocaust deniers, for some insight. In a new nadir for investigative journalism, the piece uncritically published Lyons’ view that Roof is “just one of those kids our generation has a bad habit of turning out”. The piece does acknowledge that racist extremists pose a much greater threat to the U.S. than ISIS or al-Qaeda, despite those groups receiving much more media attention, but that is little recompense in the face of quoting a lawyer for the KKK, after a terrorist attack against an African-American church.
In all, The Guardian’s mainstay opinion piece about the Charleston terror attack presented the views of three white supremacist organizations in order to paint a picture of why Dylann Roof massacred nine black churchgoers. Problematic at best, deliberately misguided at worst.
Media reports elsewhere were scant in their criticism, and omitted the word “terror”. The Mirror blamed unrequited love. The Clarion-Ledger blamed mental illness. The Independent blamed internet forums. Fox News blamed drugs. The Daily Mail blamed an inferiority complex. The New York Daily News blamed an abusive father. But nowhere did the word “terrorism” appear.
Similar things can be said of the aforementioned opinion peace that appeared in The Guardian, which pondered the possibility that Roof was a “deeply disturbed individual” who “did not give any indication of a broader political agenda”. This is possibly the media machine’s worst characteristic: Claiming that we don’t have all the facts and we can’t possibly know the motivation, even when the facts and the motivation clearly presented themselves the moment gunshots were heard.
In the past, Dylann Roof repeatedly expressed segregationist and racist sentiments with friends and on the internet. He posed with the Confederate flag, and posed with Rhodesian and apartheid South African imagery. He also allegedly ran a website called The Last Rhodesian, where he claimed “N*ggers are stupid and violent”, among other racist diatribes. Moments before Roof opened fire on the Charleston churchgoers, he said “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go”.
Terrorism is defined as “the unofficial or unauthorized use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. This is surely present in Roof’s hateful website, his final comments before committing the massacre, and the massacre itself. Roof wished to turn the tide on what he saw was a fight that black people were winning against whites, perhaps a homage to Charles Manson’s wishes for a race war.
(Even when the media correctly points out acts of terror, it seems reserved for Muslims)
Why is this small word, terrorism, so notably absent? Why does it matter, if we have a host of other words such as massacre, butchery, genocide, and so on? Because it reinforces this false idea that only Muslims and ethnic minorities are capable of terrorism. The racist and Islamophobic underlying assumption in media reports at times like this is that terrorism by Muslims or ethnic minorities is self-explanatory, while terrorism by whites and Christians must be explained away and rationalized into oblivion.
In the event of a car bombing in Aleppo or a suicide bombing in Riyadh, no news stories appear that deal with why the perpetrator did it. No investigation into “troubled homes” or drug use ever appears, because the silent, reflex-like assumption is that Muslims hate our freedoms, wish to see the downfall of the West, yadda yadda yadda. Perhaps some do, but terrorist attacks rarely occur in a vacuum.
Dylann Roof’s terror attack was made possible by decades of racial hatred in the U.S. It was made possible by Confederate groups, white supremacy groups, and a Republican party that constantly dances close to racists and bigots of all stripes. Similarly, the terror attacks of al-Qaeda and ISIS are made possible by decades of U.S. foreign policy and Saudi funding, which promote instability in the region by turning neighbour against neighbour. The situation in Iraq before the bogus, illegal war may have been awful, but the aftermath is pure anarchy and chaos, possibly creating a generation of new militants and perpetrators of violence.
In short, it is not a broken home, drug use, or an unrequited love that makes a person commit a terror attack. It is an ideology, and it is those who enable that ideology. It is time to recognize terrorism for what it is, and recognize the pre-conditions that make it so possible and so prevalent. Unless we tackle the gross history of white supremacy in the U.S., we will never rid ourselves of the Dylann Roofs and the Charles Mansons of the world. Similarly, unless we drastically reassess our foreign policy goals, we will never rid ourselves of the Osama Bin Ladens and the Khalid Sheikh Mohammeds of this world.
Above all, in the event of a white supremacist terror attack, do not ask a KKK lawyer for his opinion. Just don’t.