Five Times Western Media Failed to Call White Shooters Terrorists*
TeleSUR looks at the disturbing trend in which mainstream media fail to use the terror label for attacks unless they’re perpetrated by Muslims.
In the wake of the assassination of British member of parliament Jo Cox at the hands of Thomas Mair, both the conservative and liberal press have once again followed the same old trend of using different labels and language to describe attackers based on their race, religion and ethnicity.
To take just one example, The Guardian newspaper — often cited as a favourite among so-called “progressives” — published a story a day after the attack on June 17 with the headline: ”Suspect in Jo Cox’s killing described as quiet, polite and reserved.”
The article goes on to list how Mair’s family and friends spoke of a gentle and quiet man who they least expected to commit such a hideous crime.
“The picture that emerged of the man known as Tom or Tommy from those who knew him best was of a quiet and caring loner,” The Guardian wrote.
“His half brother, who is mixed race, claimed he had been volunteering at a school for children with disabilities for several years and had never expressed any racist views.”
This sort of language is rarely, if ever, used by mainstream media in the West to describe non-white attackers, who are quickly labelled terrorists. And if the words of families and friends are used, they’re usually taken out of context and twisted to serve a particular narrative and agenda.
This trend is not unique to Mair’s case. It has been a common occurrence for years by media in the United States and Europe. TeleSUR looks at five examples of when the same biased coverage was applied by the media.
- 2015 Charleston Shooting by Dylann Roof
On June 17, 2015, during a prayer service at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dylann Roof entered the church, locked its doors and started shooting at the people in it, mostly Black folk.
Roof killed nine African Americans, including senior pastor and state senator Clementa C. Pinckney, and injured one other person. He was later arrested after reports emerged that he was motivated by a longstanding hatred of Blacks and had told friends that he favoured segregation.
Later confessing he committed the shooting in the hope of igniting a race war, the media failed to focus on Roof’s history of bigotry and hate. Instead mental illness and inadequate mental health resources were the primary go-to explanations behind his horrifying actions.
Activist Deray McKesson noted in a tweet days after the incident that while discussing Roof’s motivations, an MSNBC anchor said: “‘We don’t know his mental condition.”
“That is the power of whiteness in America,” McKesson commented.
The Guardian also published a story describing how Roof had a history of drug abuse, further individualizing the narrative as one of subjective misfortune and poor decisions.
- 2011 Norway attacks by Anders Behring Breivik
On July 22, 2011, Norwegian national Anders Behring Breivik carried out two lone-wolf attacks, a bomb attack against the Regjeringskvartalet government complex in Oslo and later a shooting of 69 people at the Workers’ Youth League-run summer camp. The attacks claimed a total of 77 lives.
Several articles emerged following the incident demanding that he is not called a terrorist and that he was insane and mentally ill. “Anders Behring Breivik’s not a terrorist, he’s a mass-murderer,” one headline on The Guardian newspaper read in 2011.
The British Telegraph newspaper published an article with the headline: “Don’t call Anders Breivik a terrorist – he is a sad fantasist leading an army of one.”
Despite a Norwegian court charging Breivik with carrying out a “terrorist act”, the author argued that “To call Breivik ‘a terrorist’ is to give him exactly what he wants. The most appropriate response to this psychopathic narcissist is ridicule.”
Forensic psychiatrists examined Breivik before his trial and and he was eventually diagnosed as having narcissistic personality disorder.
But denying the political — and therefore terroristic — nature of the crime was really quite extraordinary, especially considering Breivik himself wrote (and plagiarized) a 1,518 page political manifesto titled “2083: A European Declaration of Independence” which called for a civilizational war against Muslims and migrants.
- 2012 Aurora shooting by James Eagan Holmes
On July 20, 2012 James Eagan Holmes carried out an attack against moviegoers at Century movie theatre in Aurora, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.
As is the case for most other white attackers, the media was quick to brand Holmes a mentally ill person who snapped and decided to kill people due to his condition. The Associated Press ran a news story with the headline: ”Doctor who found James Holmes sane says mental illness caused him to attack Colorado theatre.” Medical professionals in fact testified in court that holmes was sane.
Major media organizations ran stories on the attack and Holmes with comments from the FBI saying he had no significant criminal record, while local police said he had a speeding ticket from 2011, and no links to terrorism.
While we now know the attack had no political motive, the media’s collective response in immediately designating Holmes psychologically ill is a trope we have all become accustomed to.
- 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting by Adam Peter Lanza
On December 14, 2012, 20-years old Adam Peter Lanza stormed into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut where he shot 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members. As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.
Shortly after the incident, news outlets in the U.S. went on to portray Lanza as a “troubled and disturbed kid from a rich family” who was a “ticking bomb”. There was no mention of terrorism or him carrying out one of the most disturbing terror attacks in U.S. history.
A day after the attack, The New York Daily News published story with the headline: “Sandy Hook mass murderer Adam Lanza, 20, ‘deeply disturbed kid’,” in which the newspaper went on to push for a mentally ill and unstable man who was pushed over the edge and committed a troubled yet almost understandable crime against innocent children.
Fox News also digged into Lanza’s past, pushing the mentally ill narrative as it revealed that the attacker had been diagnosed with psychiatric conditions which could explain his actions. Again no mention of terror or terrorism.
While many have argued the shooter did not commit terrorism because he lacked a political motive, the argument has long since been debunked. In fact Lanza, like other shooters, posted a political screed to a website shortly before the incident.
“It goes without saying that an AK-47 and enough ammunition could do more good than a thousand ‘teachers,’ if one is truly interested in reforming the system. In short time the children will be brainwashed, pumped full of Xanax and told to conform, until they have been turned into the oppressors,” Lanza had written ahead of his attack according to MSNBC.
- 2007 Virginia Tech shooting by Seung-Hui Cho
On April 16, 2007, on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, shot and killed 32 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks, approximately two hours apart, before committing suicide.
The Incident gained international coverage and partially ignited a national debate in the U.S. about gun laws. However, the focus of both the authorities and the media was fixed on the issue of mental health.
CNN, Fox News and other major media outlets in the U.S. quickly filed requests for medical records of the shooter and further pursued the mental health angle as it was revealed that Cho had been diagnosed with several mental illnesses in the past.
A few days after the attack, video games also became part of the conversation. NBC News published a column with the headline: “Were video games to blame for massacre?”. However, the words terror and terrorism were never introduced into the conversation, even when there was uncertainty regarding Cho’s motives.