Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Double Standard for "Self-Radicalized Lone-Wolf Terrorists"

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Double Standard for "Self-Radicalized Lone-Wolf Terrorists"

Article excerpt

Federal officials are now investigating the San Bernardino massacre as an "act of terrorism" rather than just workplace violence.

But when Dylann Roof allegedly shot nine persons dead at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015, there was strong resistance on the part of officials to speaking of that as terrorism.

Likewise, alleged Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Dear was not called a terrorist by politicians on the right despite his clearly political goals.

What is the difference between these three?

Tashfeen Malik, Roof and Dear became radicals through their own reading and research rather than from having obvious organizational links. All three seem to be, in the official parlance, "lone wolves" who "self-radicalized."

One part of terrorism is apparently conceived of in official U.S. discourse on these things as organizational. It is early days in the investigation of Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, but while Malik may have made a hasty Facebook declaration of loyalty to Da'ish (ISIS, ISIL) commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi during her horrid shooting spree, so far it does not appear that there was any element of command and control in either the case of Roof or of Malik/Farook.

Does it matter what the target is? Timothy McVeigh blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma City to target the federal government, given his white supremacist ideology. Dear targeted Planned Parenthood in an obvious attempt to change public policy. Since Malik and her husband just shot up a meal for employees at a center for taking care of challenged folks, rather than choosing some more significant target with actual political implications, can their action be seen at the moment as primarily terroristic? Back in the 1990s the phrase "going postal" emerged from a rash of incidents of workplace rage and violence (there were 20 instances of such violence between 1986 and 1997, in which employees shot down more than 40 individuals). They look much more like they went postal than that they were trying to bring down the federal government.

Does organization matter? In counter-terrorism, you always seek to disrupt the enemy's command and control abilities. The San Bernardino killers, as things now stand, did not partake of any formal structure within Da'ish that day. …

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