Following the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the coverage of 64-year-old gunman Stephen Paddock was everywhere. Reporters were digging into his personal life, trying to understand the life of the man who took the lives of 58 people. Soon after news outlets began running stories on Paddock, the debate arose as to whether or not his actions should be defined as terrorism.
The Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as actions which “intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.” Even now, over a week after the shooting which took the lives of 58 people, there has been no evidence to support the idea that Paddock carried out the shooting with some sort of political agenda. Even though the actions of Paddock can be called many things, evil, unnecessary, despicable, the one thing we cannot call him, until evidence proves otherwise, is a terrorist.
Being able to call Stephen Paddock a terrorist would assign some sort of rhyme or reason to what he did, and not being able to do so, only leaves us with more questions. Not being able to call Paddock a terrorist keeps us from being able to separate him from our community.
By defining him as such there’s an imaginary line being drawn by the word, qualifying him as some sort of “other”. The fact of the matter is that we have no evidence to support the labeling of Paddock as a domestic terrorist, not yet.
No suicide letter was left, no mysterious tape has been found, nobody of legitimacy has been able to step up and say give an answer. It’s human nature to want explanation. Not having one for the actions of Paddock is, and will continue to frustrate the American public.
If at some point we are given of reasoning behind why he did what he did, and that includes proof that his motives were in fact to, “influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government,” then we will have every right to call him a domestic terrorist.
Even then there is sure to be some opposition about the label. Some people will argue with it and adamantly refuse to call him as such. The media will cover the topic and dance around the word, referring to him as something like “64-year-old retiree”. There will be some excuse as to why they’re refraining from calling him a terrorist, but actually it will have to do with the fact that he was a white, upper middle-class man. There would be some way, some loophole found, which would exempt him from being called a terroist, simply because he is a white man.
We all know that the word “terrorist”, unfortunately holds a stereotypical connotation. We would be lying to ourselves if we said that the first thing we thought of when we heard the word “terrorist” is a white man from the U.S. But just because someone who commits an act such as this happens to be a white man, doesn’t make him exempt from being a terrorist.
It would make things a bit easier, and make more sense, for us to be able to call Paddock a terrorist. Until we are given evidence which proves him to be however, we cannot justly assign that to his name. We must also be sure that if the evidence supports us to do so, we must not allow previous standing biases and stereotypes from rightfully using the term along with Paddock’s name.