Lone wolves are the face of domestic terrorism

In February of this year, a horrific series of events broke out in Chapel Hill as a man shot three Muslims to death and the whole affair was neatly excused as a ‘dispute over parking.’ As occurs nearly every time a minority is shot to death in the United States, there was a convenient explanation for the whole thing, one that did not involve the words ‘hate crime’ or ‘domestic terrorism’ despite the fact that these things clearly describe what’s going on here. Minorities in the United States are living in a state of siege in a country that hates them and exonerates their killers.

The United States is having convulsions of domestic terrorism that are incredibly broad in their scope, and they’re being completely ignored. Foreign wars take precedence, officials are besotted with ISIS and various iterations of other militant groups overseas, and few domestic law enforcement agencies are concerned with the uptick in domestic terrorism; perhaps in part because some of them are doing the terrorising, and they don’t want to get up close and personal with that fact.

Oddly enough, at around the same time that the Chapel Hill shootings claimed the lives of Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, the Southern Poverty Law Center put out an extensive report on ‘lone wolves’ in domestic terrorism. They found that a growing number of people responsible for acts of domestic terror are acting on their own or with the assistance of one or two co-conspirators, creating very isolated incidents that are difficult to predict and stop — many of these individuals aren’t even part of organised groups or collectives, which makes them even harder to identify.

The lone wolf archetype is not just a stereotype in the world of domestic terror. The killer in Chapel Hill was a single man acting on his own — and, of course, everyone assured everyone around that he was not the man they knew, he’d never do a thing like that, he certainly didn’t hate Muslims, they just happened to be in the way of his gun when he was firing it, etc etc. The same excuses come up when other men kill minorities that they were clearly stalking in targeted shootings that had nothing to do with circumstances (‘he was defending himself!’) and everything to do with the identities of the victims.

Two other things are notable about lone wolf terrorism in the United States, and both of them contribute to the lack of action on the issue, so it’s important to identify and discuss them. The first, of course, is that domestic terrorism in the US almost always involves white, middle-aged, male conservatives. In fact, one might suggest that there’s pretty persuasive argument for profiling such individuals as potential terrorists and flagging them for attention to ensure that they’re closely monitored. They should definitely be kept on watch when they move into new communities and enter airports, and they should probably be on ban lists for new weapons, or should at least be required to undergo increased waiting periods. While this may pose a hardship to white, middle-aged, male conservatives who aren’t terrorists, it’s a cross they’ll have to bear, so to speak.

The other notable thing is that when it can’t be written off to some neat, obvious explanation — i.e. when it involves people who are not minorities and the public is screaming for answers — domestic terrorism is attributed to mental illness. Almost unfailingly, the same men who are excused when they murder minorities are assumed to be mentally ill when they kill innocent white people, like children going to school or people attending a movie or women going around being women. This isn’t a coincidence.

As long as domestic terror in the US continues to be classified as either excused, the result of mental illness, or so completely uninteresting that it’s swept under the carpet (see: the assassination of Dr. Tiller), it’s going to be a problem that will keep growing in the US. The SPLC found that law enforcement agencies are directing their energies in the wrong direction if their goal is to identify and stop domestic terror, and that until lone wolves are addressed, the US will continue to face terrorist attacks on its own soil. Such terrorists have a number of advantages over their more organised, high-profile counterparts, including the ability to fly under the radar; when a secret lies with only one person, it’s much easier to contain.

That makes the United States a rather terrifying place to live, if you think about it, because terrorists really could be around every corner, just not in the sense that law enforcement wants you to think when they’re promoting yet another abridgment of civil liberties. This isn’t something that can be easily solved with surveillance and other law enforcement handwaving. It requires facing up to domestic terrorism, correctly identifying it when it does happen, and putting a stop to excusing it away as justified or the act of a madman or any number of other things — as long as white perpetrators of violent crimes aren’t treated like the terrorists they are, the United States will have a terrorism problem. And as long as they aren’t described as what they are, their fellow lone wolves will be able to rest in confidence that they in turn won’t be identified and held accountable for their actions.

Image: Fighting wolves, Tambako the Jaguar, Flickr