At least 26 people were killed and another 20 wounded in a brutal terror attack when a white, Christian American from gun-loving rural Texas opened fire in a Lone Star State house of worship Sunday. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had a long history of violence and white-on-white crime before committing this act of terrorism.
Tenderhearted conservatives whose cheeks are permanently salted with the tracks of white tears will read the preceding paragraph and call it racist. They will ask why anyone would inject the volatility of race into Sunday’s tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs. They might even tell you that the incident had absolutely nothing to do with racism or terrorism—the two most volatile words in the current political climate.
Those people are liars.
The response by media outlets, politicians and America at large highlights the chasm between how this country casually shrugs its shoulders when white people are suspected of committing heinous crimes versus the hyperbolic hand-wringing that surrounds Muslim “terrorists,” Mexican rapists or Chicago “thugs.” It shows how America’s mouthpieces and bullhorn blowers ratchet up their fearmongering hate machines when brown people break the law in contrast with the reasonable, cautious, wait-and-see approach taken when whites murder in bulk.
If Devin Kelley had been Muslim, the shooting would have automatically gone down as an act of terror.
CNN’s initial report on the Sutherland Springs event characterized it as a “shooting at a Texas church.” By contrast, when a man drove a rented truck down a New York bicycle path a week earlier, CNN’s headlines were quick to call the incident an “attack” and an “act of terror.”
Law-enforcement officers still don’t refer to Stephen Paddock’s Las Vegas shooting as a terrorist incident, even though they have no idea of his motivation. And the day after the Texas church massacre, CNN’s Doug Criss wrote a lengthy article explaining why it shouldn’t be considered an act of terrorism. I’ve read the article twice, but still can’t find the part that says, “because Devin Kelley was white.”
To be fair, I had internet connectivity issues all day Monday.
(a) A person commits an offense if he threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to:
- cause a reaction of any type to his threat[s] by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies;
- place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury;
- prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building; room; place of assembly; place to which the public has access; place of employment or occupation; aircraft, automobile, or other form of conveyance; or other public place;
- cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas, or power supply or other public service;
- place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or
- influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state
When Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot soldiers at Fort Hood, it was deemed an act of terror, but when Dylann Roof opened fire in a Charleston, S.C., church, it was not. The deadly mowing down of a woman in Charlottesville, Va., allegedly by James Alex Fields, isn’t considered terrorism, while the deadly attack on a New York City bike path, allegedly carried out by Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, is.
By any application of the legal definition, Kelley also fits the description of a terrorist. There is only one factor that exempts him from being labeled as such:
The gunman who committed this atrocity has been painted as a troubled, mentally ill man in numerous accounts, without an iota of medical evidence or confirmation. This fits the narrative that often accompanies the white men who commit mass murders. They are characterized as broken men who suddenly “snapped.”
When a white person goes on a murder spree, it is because he or she is suffering from mental illness, a messy divorce, loneliness, sleepwalking, Twinkies or too much money. (Those are all legal explanations for white people who have been acquitted of crimes.)
Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov has repeatedly been called an “immigrant trucker” and “terror suspect,” but multiple reports portrayed Adam Lanza as a troubled kid who suffered from sensory-processing disorder after he slaughtered six women and 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. He was alternately described as a “gifted” child who was “socially challenged.”
CNN referred to James Eagan Holmes as someone who had a “broken mind” after he murdered 12 people in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. Most recently, after Kenneth Gleason was suspected in two racially motivated slayings, the New York Post described him as a “clean-cut American.”
When asked about the Texas incident, President Donald Trump said that Kelley’s massacre wasn’t “a guns situation” but “a mental-health problem at the highest level.” This is the most-often-used explanation for the deadly explosion of white homicidal tendencies, even when there is not a bit of medical evidence or corroboration to support it.
But it’s not fair to pin the onus for this repeating narrative on Trump or the press. There are plenty of people to blame ...
On both sides.
After the 2016 Orlando, Fla., Pulse-nightclub shooting, Trump tweeted:
Had the Texas shooter been Muslim, our brave political officials would have immediately stepped up to the microphone to explain how they planned to fight terrorism here and abroad. They would have advocated tough immigration policies if the perpetrator’s last name had been Hispanic. And, of course, any black violence highlights the need for tougher prison sentences and anti-gang laws.
You can’t read past the second paragraph in any story about the New York bike-path attacks before the Muslim faith is mentioned. The suspect in the attack was allegedly radicalized in the U.S., as was Orlando Mateen, the Pulse-nightclub shooter. But newspapers and cable news shows repeatedly reminded their audiences that Mateen’s father was from Afghanistan and Saipov hails from Uzbekistan.
Even those not suspected of terrorism are painted as scary brown-skinned monsters if they are not white. Hispanic criminals become “illegal immigrant moms.” Black murders are usually deemed “gang-related.”
According to Trump’s America, Mexicans are rapists and murderers, Muslims need vetting, and any sentence that refers to black people should begin with “Chicago” and end with “black-on-black crime.” But a white person can commit cold-blooded, racially motivated murder and be described as “clean-cut.”
No one would make the argument that Devin Patrick Kelley is someone worthy of sympathy or praise. But Kelley is afforded the privilege of white individuality. He is not placed in the context of the white men who commit more mass shootings than any other group. News reports will not place him in the category of terrorists, even though the legal definition and the statistics say otherwise.
The next time another white guy commits this kind of act (and make no mistake, another white guy will commit this kind of act again), no one will recall the guy who snuffed out the lives of 26 people as they worshipped in their sanctuary. Devin Kelly’s name will soon be forgotten. He will soon become just a guy who did a thing at that church that one time.
Devin Patrick Kelley’s despicably heinous crime will one day be erased into the ether, just like the lives he took this past Sunday.
Because he is white.