"Um... Donald, you spelt 'terrorism' wrong!" pop star Rihanna slammed President Trump as he called the El Paso attack an "act of cowardice" on Twitter and fell shy of calling it an act of terror. When the US President called the gruesome attacks a "mental illness problem" and an act of cowardice, the US Justice Department, on the other hand, is treating the El Paso mass shooting as "domestic terrorism" and exploring a hate crime connection with it.
So the two major mass shootings within hours on Sunday that have shaken the United States, in Texas and Ohio, killing 29 people, are not acts of terrorism. They are, either a cowardice act, a mental health issue, or at best an act of "domestic terrorism". The US politicians and media condemned the tragedies, but they seem to have fallen short of terminologies to define the type of the crime.
The US definitions of terrorism, hate crimes and domestic terrorism are very confusing. For instance, after 2017 New York City truck attack, the Trump administration described the perpetrator Sayfullo Habibullaevich Saipov as an "enemy combatant". President Trump ordered an "extreme vetting program" following the "act of terror". In the same year in February when an armed man attacked soldiers near the Louvre in Paris, Donald Trump immediately termed the attacker an "Islamic terrorist" on a Twitter post.
On the other hand, think of the mass shootings in California, Texas or Ohio, they are either mental health issues or hate crimes at the most. While the terminological debate fumes over the El Paso shooter, the Dayton shooter who killed eight people 'six of whom were black' seems to have evaded the limelight because his 'motives have not been found yet'. Don't forget to notice that the shooter was a white young man and his victims were black people.
In terms of reactions and applications of laws, however, the United States apparently deals with these crimes through different approaches depending on the colour, ethnicity and religious background of the perpetrators. When the criminal is white; they talk about mental illness or domestic terrorism at best. But in case the criminal is nonwhite or a Muslim to be specific, the White House, at the very onset, considers him an "enemy combatant" and the crime is dubbed a "terrorist act".
The University of Alabama recently published a report that "found clear evidence that terrorist attacks perpetrated by Muslims receive drastically more media coverage than attacks by non-Muslims." According to the report, the 136 terrorist acts that occurred between 2006 and 2015 in the US, "Muslims were linked to only 12.5 percent of them but received more than half the news coverage".
To consider a crime a "terrorist act", there must be a political motivation behind it, as ISIS and Al Qaeda do have, to threaten a particular government with certain objectives. These acts usually have international connections. On that ground, demarcations among hate crimes, domestic terrorism and terrorism are valid and important. But these categorizations among the terminologies, however, cannot excuse the duplicity of US reactions depending on the skin colour and religion of the criminals.
21-year-old Patrick Crusius, the El Paso shooter, posted an alleged "manifesto" to the anonymous message board 8chan prior to the vicious attack at the Walmart store. In his so-called manifesto, Crusius openly described his crusade against Hispanic immigrants "invasion" of Texas and his support of the Christchurch shooter.
Patrick Crusius's attack thus is highly politically motivated and his ideas are part of international white supremacists' propaganda. But still, President Trump sees a 'mentally ill' guy in Crusius and the Justice Department treats it as domestic terrorism, exploring a hate crime connection to it.
Patrick Crusius must be a very lucky terrorist who gets labelled a mentally ill person by the US President even after killing 20 innocent people prompted by his bigoted political motivations. But this duplicity in policies is not benefiting the United States.
The US policies, as Rihanna said, are like "building a wall to keep terrorists in America". The US President's bigoted political views justly reflect the aspects of a country where "it's easier to get an AK-47 than a VISA".
Mary McCord, a legal scholar at Georgetown University Law Center, told Buzzfeed news the way the United States is failing to respond to these bigots is creating a "moral equivalency" problem. "Americans tend to equate terrorism with Islamic extremism, and, in today's polarized environment, with Muslims. But they don't tend to associate white supremacist violence with terrorism and they should. You can't prevent what you don't understand," Mary McCord said.
Premeditated or systematic complexities in calling a spade a spade, the US duplicity in response and in reaction to the terrorism perpetrated by white supremacists will reinforce the alt-rights and neo-Nazis. The sooner White House gets rid of this mental illness and hate crime theories for the white terrorists, the better