Though many of us are still grieving from the tragedy in Boston, and trying to make sense of such a senseless act of terror, some simply can’t help themselves from bypassing the inspiring stories of heroism, togetherness and community, in favor of ginning up hatred and fear over the crass political implications of a horror only a few days old, and with no suspects.
David Sirota in a Salon post unimaginably headlined “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber Is a White American,” was unapologetic in his effort to move the conversation away from grief and on to politics, presumptuously using the collective “we.”
“As we now move into the official Political Aftermath period of the Boston bombing — the period that will determine the long-term legislative fallout of the atrocity — the dynamics of privilege will undoubtedly influence the nation’s collective reaction to the attacks.”
Never mind that “we” have not moved on to politics quite yet, whose privilege he’s speaking of is alluded to in the headline – the white man’s.
Whether in the context of mass shootings or terrorist attacks, Sirota writes, “such privilege means white non-Islamic terrorists are typically portrayed not as representative of whole groups or ideologies, but as ‘lone wolf’ threats to be dealt with as isolated law enforcement matters. Meanwhile, non-white or developing-world terrorism suspects are often reflexively portrayed as representative of larger conspiracies, ideologies and religions that must be dealt with as systemic threats — the kind potentially requiring everything from law enforcement action to military operations to civil liberties legislation to foreign policy shifts.”
That may sound like intelligent rhetoric but most people with even an elementary understanding of mass movements and terrorism would read the above and say, “huh?”
The thesis – white, non-Islamic men are treated as lone wolves and non-white Islamic men are treated as part of a collective ideology – seems so uncontroversial as to be comically banal.
What common ideological thread ties “white non-Islamic” men together? Their whiteness? Their non-Islamic-ness? Their maleness? Is that really a place for the FBI to start when trying to prevent another bombing?
Conversely, the Ft. Hood shooter, Nidal Hassan, the underwear bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and the 9/11 hijackers were, in fact, ideologically linked by Islamic Extremism and jihad. Those political and theological connections, their shared motivations, give the FBI and CIA a tremendous amount of usable information to work off of in solving and preventing future attacks. Where they lived, where they trained, who in Al Qaeda they communicated with, what kinds of materials they used in their attacks, who funded them – all unite these men under an umbrella that true “lone wolves” do not share.
Let’s go deeper.
Take a look at three of the most controversial (and successful) bombers in recent American history, Ted Kaczynski , Timothy McVeigh, and Eric Robert Rudolph.
Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was a luddite and an atheist, revolting against modern society’s “industrial-technological system” and “leftists,” who he claimed “hate[d] science and rationality.”
McVeigh, who bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, said his was revenge for the federal government’s handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge. He was a lapsed Catholic who himself professed that science was his religion.
Eric Rudolph, the man responsible for the Atlanta Olympics bombings and three others, claimed he was fighting against abortion and the “homosexual agenda.” Though he was raised devoutly Christian, in letters from prison he said he preferred Nietzsche to the Bible.
What’s the tie that binds these men together? How would Sirota neatly sum up their motives? Would he have all the white men arrested? Or is he ascribing certain political identities to lunatics and criminals in an effort to create an ideological unity that doesn’t exist?
Sirota links to a post on a website called “Crooks and Liars,” in which the kinds of lone wolf incidents that he would very much like to be treated as ideologically representative events are outlined.
It’s nearly impossible to string a thread through them all that would tie them into a single, unifying ideological group. There are some neo-Nazis, some white supremacists, some anti-abortion nuts, a couple guys who didn’t want to pay their taxes, another who were hoping to extort a bank and solve their financial difficulties, and a few who didn’t like the president. I don’t have to tell you that Obama is not the first president to be a target of assassination attempts.
But for Sirota to lump all of these criminals and lunatics into a single category that then the FBI would treat like jihadis, isn’t merely asinine, it’s impossible. This puts anyone who is pro-life (half the country), anyone who’s ever failed to pay their taxes or complained about paying their taxes (most of the country), anyone who robs a bank, doesn’t like the president, and is white into their list of potential suspects. I have a feeling the FBI is not impressed by Sirota’s insight.
But the most offensive part of Sirota’s exercise, which is hardly a novel one, is how lazy it is.
A mass murderer’s motivations only matter if they’re useful in preventing other attacks. Does anyone give a damn “why” Jared Loughner says he killed 6 people in Tucson? Or “why” James Holmes says he killed 20 people in an Aurora movie theater? Or what excuse Adam Lanza may have invented in his sick mind for killing 20 children in Newtown? Are their “justifications” rational or meaningful? Will they lead us to the next shooter?
On the other hand, of course, the why for Hassan, Abdulmutallab, Shahzad, etc is crucial. It tells us where there may be more like them.
As for the Crooks and Liars list, which implies (overtly) that the unifying ideology behind all these individual incidents is right wing extremism, motive is also meaningless.
Just because they say it, doesn’t make it so. Even if they all explicitly blamed their politics for their actions, conservatism doesn’t espouse violence. The pro-life movement doesn’t espouse violence. The Tea Party doesn’t espouse violence. That a few nuts exacted violence under the banner of right-wing politics doesn’t mean the feeling is mutual.
If a nut from the left bombed a crowded city square, and said he did it in the name of President Obama, you’d say that was ludicrous, that President Obama wouldn’t have wanted him to do that. But somehow when nuts claiming to be from the right do it, the movement is responsible for inciting it?
Was liberalism, then, responsible for encouraging Floyd Corkins (who was not white, incidentally) to bring a gun into the Family Research Council building in an attempt to kill staffers for their opposition to gay rights?
Was liberalism responsible for encouraging a group of black bloc anarchists to target the 2008 Republican National Convention with Molotov cocktails?
Was liberalism to blame when Naomi Klein openly called for violence at the 2004 Republican National Convention in protest of the Iraq War?
Is liberalism behind the bomb sent to Republican Sheriff Joe Arpaio? Or the envelope of Ricin sent to Republican Senator Roger Wicker?
Was liberalism behind the vandalism of Mormon temples across California in the wake of the Prop 8 legislative battle?
What about Daniel McGowan, James Lee, Tre Arrow, Jeff Luers, Eric McDavid, Marie Mason, all eco-terrorists arrested within the past 10 years for charges ranging from conspiracy to use explosives to damage government property to arson and domestic terrorism. Never heard of them? I’m not surprised.
Liberalism is immune from implication in these incidents, but conservatism is to blame for all the others.
The simple answer to Sirota’s inane question is that being a white man is not an overarching ideology. Even being a conservative white man doesn’t give law enforcement much to go on. He may want to implicate the whole of the conservative movement for waging some kind of “political jihad,” but that doesn’t mean he gets to.
Americans, earnestly struggling to deal with terrorism and mass shootings, deserve better than this. And certainly, 48 hours after the attack, Boston deserves better than this.