FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

What’s in a Word? Terrorism in Las Vegas

‘We don’t know what his belief system was at this time.’
-Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo, Oct 2, 2017

Those gathered at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas were doing what revellers always do. But the script would not let them persist in their pleasures, to let them be, communing together before their figures of country music.

What instead transpired were shots, lethal sprays emanating from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel. This handiwork was carnage incarnate: 500 casualties, with 59 fatalities. The efforts of Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada were certainly one grotesque example of making America, not so much great again as ordinary. For one, they beat Omar Mateen’s exploits at the Orlando Pulse night club last year by resounding ten. (Never doubt the value of initiative.)

Thus began the merry go around about wording, explication, designation. The Nevada statute should have provided ample guidance to the authorities about what had transpired: ‘an act of terrorism means any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.’ Down pat, precise, unquestionable.

Las Vegas sheriff Joseph Lombardo preferred to demur from the statute. This is Trumpland, and relativised readings are permitted, adventurous plays in the world of the fake and real. For Lombardo, when pushed on the issue on whether this could be seen as an incident of terrorism, being a local counted. Paddock could not, ‘at this point’ be considered a terrorist; ‘we believe it is a local individual, he resides here locally.’ One can slaughter dozens and still not fall into the neat catchment area of the law on ‘terrorism’.

President Donald Trump was in an even more problematic pickle. It was Trump who insisted that banning individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries was not merely sensible but necessary to protect the United States from ‘Islamic terrorists’. Such incidents of mass terror suggested that he might be looking at the wrong settings.

His words, instead, seemed wooden, disapproving of an individual he otherwise might have admired. (The daring, the nerve!) ‘He brutally murdered more than 50 people and wounded hundreds more.’ There is no mention of Paddock’s background, merely that the shooter was caught with some speed. ‘It shows what true professionalism is all about.’

Trump refused to deviate from the task at hand, the printed words he had to read, unusual for him at the best of times. ‘This is a terrible day. We are all saddened and outraged. We’ll learn more. If any criminals are still at large, we’ll hunt them down.’

Then came the remarks of Jennifer Williams in Vox claiming that the white surge inspired by Trump, those narky, indignant wonders of a certain demographic, had done more than their fair share of killing.

Any history of such incidents is bound to be potted at best, but Williams sketches a few. March 2017 saw the death of Timothy Caughman at the hands of frenetic stabbing, for which the killer was charged with terrorism under New York law. In August, James Alex Fields, Jr. pushed the headlines by killing a woman and injuring some 19 others who participated in an anti-racist protest in Charlottesville. A few titbits from a grim harvest.

Making America Great Again is not merely an enthusiastic project but a deflecting code. The code resists anything that might soil solid flag-bearing credentials, and rules out the initiated as potential terrorists.

Killing and massacres are a terrible thing, but if done under the protection of the Second Amendment, it must surely lack the alien properties of foreign violence. One is killing behind the cloak of the law. If only the man from Mesquite had been a Muslim, then things would have been so much easier.

Shaun King of The Intercept makes the obvious though painful point. ‘Paddock, like the majority of mass shooters in this country, was a white American.’ Skin colour was a perversion of sorts, a type of exoneration, or at the very least mitigating privilege. ‘Whiteness, somehow, protects men from being labelled terrorists.’

It does, however, go deeper. The legal frame of reference is stunted in capturing domestic terrorism. Drafters are reluctant to net such figures. Randall Law’s Terrorism: A History (2009) suggests the need to consider terrorism more broadly. These might be state-directed. But the notion of the ‘American terrorist’ was more problematic, a tougher sell for the US citizen. Insanity is preferred by way of explanation.

‘The problem, of course, with the federal government, is there are multiple definitions of terrorism: from Homeland Security, FBI, governmental bodies that are in some sort of field overseas; the State Department has their own.’ But even in instances, as Nevada shows, where a statute is available, reluctance will froth and bubble.

An act extraneous to the country, inspired by a foreign source, is another matter. Empathy is harder; judgement more easily skewed. Besides, goes this line of reasoning, there is little difference in the outcome.

As FBI Director Chris Wray explained before Congress last month, such distinctions might not matter. The domestic terrorist might not be convicted under terrorism statutes, but that would hardly mean the individual would not be afforded full and appropriate punishment. ‘And so, even though you may not see them, from your end, as a domestic terrorism charge, they are very much domestic terrorism cases that are just being brought under other criminal offenses.’

This, is then, what survivors and those facing charges are left with: a different appropriation, a side-stepping classification that doesn’t rile the patriots or the protectors of the law. And, for that matter, derail the project of MAGA.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

Weekend Edition
June 14, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump’s Trade Threats are Really Cold War 2.0
Bruce E. Levine
Tom Paine, Christianity, and Modern Psychiatry
Jason Hirthler
Mainstream 101: Supporting Imperialism, Suppressing Socialism
T.J. Coles
How Much Do Humans Pollute? A Breakdown of Industrial, Vehicular and Household C02 Emissions
Andrew Levine
Whither The Trump Paradox?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of 10,000 Talkers, All With Broken Tongues
Pete Dolack
Look to U.S. Executive Suites, Not Beijing, For Why Production is Moved
Paul Street
It Can’t Happen Here: From Buzz Windrip and Doremus Jessup to Donald Trump and MSNBC
Rob Urie
Capitalism Versus Democracy
Richard Moser
The Climate Counter-Offensive: Secrecy, Deception and Disarming the Green New Deal
Naman Habtom-Desta
Up in the Air: the Fallacy of Aerial Campaigns
Ramzy Baroud
Kushner as a Colonial Administrator: Let’s Talk About the ‘Israeli Model’
Mark Hand
Residents of Toxic W.Va. Town Keep Hope Alive
John Kendall Hawkins
Alias Anything You Please: a Lifetime of Dylan
Linn Washington Jr.
Bigots in Blue: Philadelphia Police Department is a Home For Hate
David Macaray
UAW Faces Its Moment of Truth
Brian Cloughley
Trump’s Washington Detests the Belt and Road Initiative
Horace G. Campbell
Edward Seaga and the Institutionalization of Thuggery, Violence and Dehumanization in Jamaica
Graham Peebles
Zero Waste: The Global Plastics Crisis
Michael Schwalbe
Oppose Inequality, Not Cops
Ron Jacobs
Scott Noble’s History of Resistance
Olivia Alperstein
The Climate Crisis is Also a Health Emergency
David Rosen
Time to Break Up the 21st Century Tech Trusts
George Wuerthner
The Highest Use of Public Forests: Carbon Storage
Ralph Nader
It is Time to Rediscover Print Newspapers
Nick Licata
How SDS Imploded: an Inside Account
Rachel Smolker – Anne Peterman
The GE American Chestnut: Restoration of a Beloved Species or Trojan Horse for Tree Biotechnology?
Sam Pizzigati
Can Society Survive Without Empathy?
Manuel E. Yepe
China and Russia in Strategic Alliance
Patrick Walker
Green New Deal “Climate Kids” Should Hijack the Impeachment Conversation
Colin Todhunter
Encouraging Illegal Planting of Bt Brinjal in India
Robert Koehler
The Armed Bureaucracy
David Swanson
Anyone Who’d Rather Not be Shot Should Read this Book
Jonathan Power
To St. Petersburg With Love
Marc Levy
How to Tell a Joke in Combat
Thomas Knapp
Pork is Not the Problem
Manuel García, Jr.
Global Warming and Solar Minimum: a Response to Renee Parsons
Jill Richardson
Straight People Don’t Need a Parade
B. R. Gowani
The Indian Subcontinent’s Third Partition
Adolf Alzuphar
Diary: The Black Body in LA
Jonah Raskin
‘69 and All That Weird Shit
Michael Doliner
My Surprise Party
Stephen Cooper
The Fullness of Half Pint
Charles R. Larson
Review: Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”
David Yearsley
Sword and Sheath Songs
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail