“Lone wolf vs. Terrorist:” Lessons from Las Vegas


Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Zara Iqbal

59 dead, 527 injured. TIME called the shooting “the deadliest in modern U.S. history.” The perpetrator? A 64-year-old white man. Keeping in mind that he’s white, headlines and featured images presumably would feature Stephen Paddock in a comprehensible light.

People were disappointed, but not surprised, to see articles released dedicated to the man’s life prior to the shooting. The articles stated that he liked hunting and country music, as if anyone wanted to read up on the backstory of an individual who killed plenty of people.

This response greatly contrasts with another horrific shooting that occurred in America — the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting in June of 2016. The shooter’s name was Omar Mateen, and he killed 49, and injured 68. There was an immediate disgusted response towards him, which, of course, is the appropriate reaction. One thing was different, however, between this reaction and the one of the recent shooting. Mateen didn’t get articles written on how he liked to spend his free time, or what type of music he listened to.

This is a recurring theme the media shows by humanizing the acts of a white shooter. The trend itself is sickening. It’s astonishing how one is able to civilize the murders of a large sum of people by writing articles about favorite past-times as an excuse to “find motivation of the killing.”  

Paddock was quickly labeled a lone wolf, whereas Mateen was labeled a terrorist. White privilege proves itself through acts of mass murder. It’s glaringly evident that calling Paddock a lone wolf or mentally ill is wrong: everyone who shoots at a large group of people with the intention of killing or hurting someone is already mentally ill, no matter what race they are. Calling a person of color a terrorist instead of just mentally ill, or calling a white person just mentally ill instead of a terrorist, suddenly insinuates that the individual is not at fault, but the entire race is at fault. Officials continue to claim they are calling the terrorist a lone wolf because no one knows their true motives. On the other hand, non-whites are being called terrorists, not because of prior research of motivation, but solely because of the color of their skin.  

This causes people to group every person from certain ethnic groups and associate them with the person who performed the mass murder. But, naturally, because Paddock is white, there’s no reason to associate him with the rest of white society.

President Donald Trump expressed his “warmest condolences and sympathies” after the incident, saying nothing about how the shooter was a terrorist. However, when the bombing in a London station occurred earlier in the month, Trump quickly called the attackers “loser terrorists,” presumably with the assumption that they were Muslim, even before their identities were revealed. Regardless, the Muslim ban was probably the last thing that came to Trump’s mind as he saw the face of a white man flash across his screen instead of a person of color, which is probably what he expected.

Granted, there are a couple perspectives on the word itself. Terrorism, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, is the unlawful use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion. On the other hand, under Nevada law, the “Act of terrorism” means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to: (a) Cause great bodily harm or death to the general population; or (b) Cause substantial destruction, contamination or impairment of: (1) Any building or infrastructure, communications, transportation, utilities or services; or (2) Any natural resource or the environment.

People can call the Las Vegas shooting an act of terrorism, or deliberately ignore the law and use the dictionary definition to call it an act of a mentally ill individual. For those who choose the latter, it’s simply not possible for a white man to be a terrorist, because the word terrorism are carefully placed alongside headlines along side names of African American or Arab origin. But it honestly doesn’t matter. Society continues to show distinctly different reactions to the same events that concern a person’s race, proving that race will always be a problem in the U.S. that goes beyond just the word “terrorist.”