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If You're Not Calling Stephen Paddock a Terrorist, Read the Law

Debris strewn across the scene of the massacre at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip. (John Locher / AP)

In the wake of the deadliest shooting in U.S. history, authorities remain reluctant to call sniper Stephen Paddock a terrorist.

Shortly after 10 p.m. Sunday,  the 64-year-old Nevada real estate developer opened fire from his 32nd-floor hotel room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, killing 58 and wounding over 500 among the 22,000 gathered for the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival, happening across the street. In the end, he would be the 59th fatality, killed by his own hand.

Police blew open Paddock’s hotel room door to find him dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. They also found at least 10 suitcases filled with 23 rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammo.

A subsequent search of his home 80 miles away in Mesquite, Nev., turned up 19 more firearms, but no motive. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, but investigators have found no evidence connecting the group to the mass killing.

Before the blood on the pavement was dry, media outlets had already labeled Paddock a “lone wolf,” which many read as code for “white.” When Muslims and people of color commit acts of violence, they often are labeled as terrorists. But white mass murderers Dylann Roof, who shot nine in a South Carolina church, and James Holmes, who killed 12 in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, are frequently designated “disturbed individuals” or “lone wolves.”

According to Nevada law, Paddock is in fact a terrorist.

NRS 202.4415 “Act of terrorism” defined:

1. “Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to:
(a) Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or
(b) Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of:
(1) Any building or infrastructure, communications, transportation, utilities or services; or
(2) Any natural resource or the environment.

2. As used in this section, “coercion” does not include an act of civil disobedience.

Statistics show that the greatest threats of violence to the United States emanate not from countries listed in President Trump’s travel ban but from American citizens. In his first speech to Congress, Trump claimed “the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside our country.” But multiple murders in San Bernardino, Calif., Orlando, Fla., Fort Hood, Texas, and Boston were committed wholly or in part by U.S. citizens, most of them born here.

Writing for The Intercept, Shaun King had this to say:

“This morning, Trump tweeted, “My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!” That’s fine, but Trump doesn’t even seem angry. It’s peculiar that he didn’t call the shooter a “son of a bitch,” like he did the NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem. He didn’t create an insulting nickname for Paddock or make an immediate push for a policy proposal.

Compare that to how Trump treats incidents where he believes the assailants are Muslims. After a bomb exploded in the London subway, Trump tweeted that the attackers were “loser terrorists” — before British authorities had even named a suspect. He went on to immediately use the attack to push his Muslim ban.

We must ask ourselves: Why do certain acts of violence absolutely incense Trump and his base while others only elicit warm thoughts and prayers? This is the deadliest mass shooting in American history! Where is the outrage? Where are the policy proposals?”

The label “terrorist” often winds up stigmatizing an entire ethnic minority, whereas “lone wolf” isolates the perpetrator from the white majority. Therefore, it smells suspiciously racist to label Paddock anything other than terrorist. In fact, in the 10 months since Trump took office, far more people have been killed by white men than by Muslim terrorists in the United States. Jennifer Williams of Vox compiled the following list of high-profile crimes:

● Sunday night, a 64-year-old white man from Nevada opened fire on a crowd of more than 22,000 people at a country music festival in Las Vegas, killing more than 50 and wounding more than 500.

● In August, a 20-year-old white Nazi sympathizer from Ohio sped his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, killing a woman and injuring at least 19 others.

● In June, a 66-year-old white man from Illinois shot at Republican Congress members during an early morning baseball practice, severely wounding several people including Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House of Representatives Majority Whip.

● In March 2017, a 28-year-old white man from Baltimore traveled to New York City with the explicit aim of killing black men. He stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death and was charged with terrorism by New York state authorities.

● In May, a 35-year-old white man from Oregon named Jeremy Joseph Christian began harassing Muslim teenagers on a train in Portland, telling them “We need Americans here!” Two men interceded; Christian then stabbed and killed them both.

After the Las Vegas attack, instead of calling for stricter gun control measures, right-wing pundit Bill O’Reilly, who usually expresses outrage at non-white shooters, on his blog called the tragedy the “price of freedom.” Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones went even further, blaming the attack on “deep state Democrats and their Islamic allies.”

The satirical newspaper The Onion offered a surprisingly cogent take on policymakers’ lack of a meaningful response with a headline that read: “Americans Hopeful This Will Be Last Mass Shooting Before They Stop On Their Own For No Reason.”

The article humorously reflects the hope that we have seen the last of such tragedies despite inaction. But with lawmakers offering only double standards on race and gun control, it’s no laughing matter.

Jordan Riefe
After studying Mandarin in post-Mao China, Jordan got into the film business as a camera assistant working with directors like...
Jordan Riefe

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