When the word terrorism is used in media reporting, there is an image that forms to our minds eye. It has three elements:
Since the attack of September 11 most incidents that are tied to terrorism fit that mold. These have replaced the Red Brigades in the Europe of the 1970s; the Irish Republican Army; the American Weathermen of the 1970s, or the Simbianese Army. The two last ones were portrayed as far left terrorist groups in newspaper reporting.
Incidentally, neither of the last two groups is well known these days. The memory of what they did has faded. For that matter, so has the memory of The Order, a far right Neonazi group that robbed banks and killed people in the 1980s. The word terrorism was not applied to them in media reporting either. Nor were they convicted under terrorism statues. None of the charges included even a hint of terrorism. Perhaps it was easier for the Courts to prove conspiracy under RICO. But I suspect there was a cultural resistance to admit that we have a problem. Terrorism is something that happens over there, and it never involves radical right wing groups.
While The Order was neutralized, and its members remain in federal prison, their ideology, toxic as it is, is not gone. Far right movement members have changed how they present it though. Long gone are Neonazis wearing uniforms, steel toe boots and in a few cases helmets and tattoos, marching around town in what passes for close order drill. These days most have lost the typical wardrobe we expect and changed it for white polo shirts and khakis, like we saw in Charlottesville last year. However, the ideology remains. They still desire, at the very least, to create a white Ethno-state, away from what they call mud people. It happens to be anybody not them. Some still advocate for ethnic cleansing and saw President Donald Trump as the last white hope.
This is not accidental. There has been a lot of rebranding to present a cleaner, more acceptable, *more mainstream* image. It is part of a long term effort to make a toxic ideology acceptable, one that was rejected after World War Two. It just never went away, and in our current populist moment it is attractive once again.
When the media refuses to broach the question, is this incident possibly terrorism? Was this an act committed by a possibly radicalized white American they help to mainstream the ideology. If the perpetrator is white, we are told every time that they are obviously mentally ill, lone wolves or have other problems. Oh and if young, they are almost always presented as mere children that are victims of bad parenting or bullies. When they are older, they still try to justify it.
For the record. Bad parenting, social rejection and other problems may be part of the puzzle, why was this person radicalized? Why did they embrace a radical ideology? In some cases, the parents have already embraced parts of a far right ideology, if not all.
At no point does anybody ask in media reporting, what are the underlying politics of this attacker? They do not matter.
If the attacker is black, or brown, questions of race and religion are immediately asked. Was this person a member of ISIS, or Al Qaida, and did they pledge allegiance before the attack? We learn these details soon after the media confirms them. And if you are on social media, well before we have those details confirmed in any responsible way, they are floating like a bad fog. Sometimes, like the Parkland shooting, those rumors are not just wrong, but way off. However, when those rumors do not pan out, the far right transformed this into a false flag. The shooter may have been a fellow traveler. This was a claim made, and later walked back, by a far right group.
The latest of these shootings is the Waffle House shooting in Tennessee. Travis Reinking, 29, was well known to authorities, including the Secret Service. He came to their radar screen when he visited the White House, and declared himself a Sovereign Citizen, which is a far right radical ideology that rejects the government. According to the Washington Post:
Last summer, Reinking was arrested outside the White House after he tried to cross a security barrier, declaring himself a “sovereign citizen” who wanted to speak with President Trump. The incident put Reinking under the scrutiny of the Secret Service and the FBI, as well as state and local police in Illinois, where he lived at the time.
In August, state and local authorities seized his guns and gave them to his father, Jeffrey Reinking, who agreed to keep the firearms secure and away from Travis, officials said. Since Sunday’s shooting, the father has told police that he eventually gave the guns back to his son.
There are two things that the media has yet to ask. (Full disclosure, at least the media I have consumed.) What was the motive? Was this a political act? Does this shooting qualify as terrorism under the U.S. Criminal Code? Here is the current definition of terrorism in American law, since it is relevant:
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives” (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85).
Some of these questions may not have answers, yet. After all, this man requested a lawyer and has refused to tell much to authorities. This is a good legal move on his part, and reveals that the other usual excuse given in media reporting should be put to bed. Yes, he may very well hear voices in his head, but he knows enough to know he did something wrong. Legally he knows what he did. Menta health is a convenient, go to, excuse. It short circuits the discussion on the politics behind the shooting. This is what it is designed to do.
And to make this worst, the court was willing to give him a $500,000 bond per murder count. It was rescinded after the public outcry. Mind you, if he was brown or black, bond would not be even in the horizon. It was an example, textbook as they come, of white privilege. Which is the other reason none is asking about the possible politics behind this shooting.
So it is time. We need to ask what radicalized this man, taking him down the path of a far right radical ideology that rejects the exact government, and the same courts that were willing to give him bond? This could have been an act of passion. It is possible. But we need to ask what are the underlying politics. We also need to ask, as much as we resist, was this a terrorist attack? The age of internal, far right, radicalized terrorism is here. We must stop dancing around it.
Incidentally, during the same day, as a manhunt in Tennessee was happening, we had what looks like an internal, far right, misogynistic attack in Canada. The perpetrator used a van. Before we knew much, and he was taken alive, CNN speculated this was at least an ISIS inspired attack. After the reality came out, the world has learned this was done by an Incel. The term was new to many Americans. It is a far right ideology, part of that universe, and also deserves that we ask, was this also a terrorist attack?
I expect to see more of these attacks, as radicalized, white young men increasingly adopt tactics that work.