Alleged Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz is described in the inevitable avalanche of press reports as “troubled,” “a loner,” ‘hostile,” and “no clue he was dangerous.”
His defense attorneys piled on to this litany of descriptive cop-outs by calling him “brain damaged,” “emotionally traumatized” and the topper, “a broken child.” (He’s 19, that’s hardly a child).
Then President Donald Trump jumped in with the by-now stock characterizations reserved for white mass killers as “mentally disturbed,” “bad and erratic behavior” and with what’s hardly the revelation of the ages, “a big problem.”
As always, the two words that are glaringly and embarrassingly missing in labeling Cruz are “domestic” and “terrorist.” Cruz’s targets and the killings are, by any definition, the lethal combination of politics and raw terrorism.
It’s by now well established that these shooters in nearly every case are not Muslims. Between 2008 and 2012, according to FBI reports, only about six percent of domestic terrorism suspects were Muslim,
The encased profile of a mass killer is that he’s a he, a staunch gun nut, politically disgruntled and a young white male. Cruz added a couple of other tweaks to the stock profile.
He was enthralled by white supremacist groups, sported a Trumpian “Made in America” cap and liked to prance and pose with guns. But it was the white supremacist tweak that upped the domestic terror ante.
The Charlottesville, Virginia, rampage by assorted white nationalist groups last August should have sounded the alarm bell that white nationalist and white supremacist groups have touched the delusional and loose wires in the heads of more than a few impressionable, distraught, alienated and unhinged young white males.
They have easy access to big killer guns and stocks of ammo. They are not routinely profiled by police, so they can take pictures with guns, parade with guns publicly and blast away at rifle ranges or at training sites. They have no fear of exposure or arrest.
Despite that, studies have found that the overwhelming majority of those labeled domestic terrorists on network TV news shows were Muslim.
The issue of who gets called a domestic terrorist following a violent outburst exploded into national debate following the massacre at the Charleston AME Church in June 2015. Then-President Barack Obama branded the massacre an act of terror. He was pretty much a lone voice on that score.
Nearly all major media outlets, Republican leaders that commented on it, and the FBI, refused to brand the shooter, Dylann Roof, a terrorist or call his act an act of domestic terrorism.
That is far from an arcane quibble over terms and definitions, or even over the race and gender of the shooters. It strikes to the heart of how many Americans have been reflexively conditioned to see thuggery and terrorism.
They see it through the narrow, warped prism of who commits the acts rather than the horrific acts and their consequences.
There is simply no political incentive to call alleged shooters such as Cruz “domestic terrorists.” This crashes hard against the official narrative that made-in-America terrorists and terrorism constitute minimal or no real threat to life and property here. This danger supposedly only comes from a foreign group: Muslims of course.
That’s only part of the blind eye toward home-grown terrorism. The long, often bloody history of America is littered with groups that have imposed a kind of white frontier vigilantism on blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other groups.
For much of this history, they have committed violence with impunity and with a wink and a nod from officials, judges and police agencies. They, in effect, rewrote the definition of what terrorism is and isn’t.
The rise of white nationalist groups and the hideous reports of their penetration into the armed forces and some police departments has made it even harder to finger them as the same major threats to national security as is routinely true of Muslims from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Iran.
Then, when you have baby-faced school boys such as Roof or Cruz, it makes it impossible for the media and the public to rail against them as major threats to the nation’s peace. They simply look too much like the kid next door, the kid at a local school or church in white suburban communities.
It would be too painful an exercise to turn the mirror inward and admit that that kid who many merely wrote off as an eccentric, a loner, or just a plain odd ball, could easily turn into a mass killer.
That is why Trump so easily lashed out at those around Cruz and blamed them for not recognizing the signs and blowing the help whistle on him.
It is just another form of see no evil, hear no evil about men such as Cruz. It virtually assures that there will be more of them with the usual duck-for-cover write off of them as “troubled” young men.
They are that, but they are also domestic terrorists. And the absolute refusal to call them anything but that invites more of the very carnage that the nation claims to be shocked by.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is “Forty Years Later: Why the Murder of Dr. King Still Hurts” (Middle Passage Press). He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.