Yesterday, a man in an SUV who'd been making online and in-person threats against the Muslim community ran down and killed a 15-year-old boy getting into the family car outside a mosque in Kansas City, Mo. At the end of last month a man with ties to extremist Christian groups and opposed to immigration fired more than 100 rounds at various targets in Austin, Texas, including the police headquarters, the federal courthouse, and the Mexican consulate, before he was killed.
In neither case has the word "terrorism" featured prominently in the coverage of the attack. And, if the US press and politicians stay true to what's become the accepted framing for homegrown "terrorism," it's unlikely to appear much going forward.
The adoption of slogans like the "war on terrorism" since Al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 was supposed to be about the tactic, not about the underlying beliefs of the attacker. But in practice, terrorism carried out by Muslims is portrayed as far scarier, a far greater danger, than similar violent acts carried out by adherents of other faiths.
The killing in Kansas City happened outside a mosque mostly frequented by Somali immigrants, and the attacker was also a Somali, a convert from Islam to Christianity, according to local community members. “It became pretty clear that this was not an accidental crash, there is a considerable amount of evidence that leads us to believe it was intentional,” Sgt. Bill Mahoney from the Kansas City Police told the local Fox affiliate.
Local station KCTV spoke to members of the Somali community who had a photograph of what they said was the attacker's SUV from two months ago, when it carried the slogan: "Quran is a virus disease woreste [sic] than Ebola."
Moussa Elbayoumy, the Kansas Chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says members of the targeted mosque had reported recent threats against the community posted on Facebook, and an incident in which the attacker drew a gun on Somali Muslims, to the police.
"We understand this person is a known person to the community and had made several threats to the community in the past few months," says Elbayoumy. "The local police were informed of these threats.... The police came and investigated, and as a matter of fact that young man who died is one of the people interviewed by the police. We are not sure what the police did, if anything. Did they take these threats seriously and give some protection to the community in the light of these threats? That’s what we want to know."
Mr. Elbayoumy says his group has warm relations with Christian and Jewish communities in the area and that incidents like this are extremely rare. Still, "We feel that Islamophobic hate speech that at times becomes spread in different elements of our society in general against Islam has a direct impact on people like (the alleged attacker)…. We could even call this a terrorist act."
What Elbayoumy is talking about is what is sometimes called "incitement," an issue that gets far greater attention when the attacker is motivated by his beliefs about Islam than it is about other groups.
So far, the killing has received less national attention than the Oct. 23 Queens hatchet attack on police officers in New York City that ended in the death of the attacker, Zale Thomspon, a "self-radicalized convert to Islam" in the words of the NYPD. The word "terror" and its variants appeared five time in the Monitor's own story about the attack the next day. The word does not make an appearance in the Monitor's story on the Austin rampage of Steve McQuilliams from the same day as the Nov. 28 attack.
This is not to single out my own publication or the diligent professionals who work for it. A similar approach can be found in most US media when such incidents hit the news. This is a result of national culture.
Take the lede to the Wikipedia article on the Queens attack, which shows how mainstream the belief in the causal relationship is between Islam and terrorism has become. "The incident was being investigated and it was found out that Thompson was a recent Muslim convert, making his attack an act of terrorism." The attack in Austin by Mr. McQuilliams has not yet been graced with a Wikipedia article at all.
Acevedo said the book “Vigilantes of Christendom” was also found in the shooter’s van along with a note and Bible verses indicating he planned on fighting “anti-God people.” Statements made in interviews also tied him to ultra-conservative groups with anti-Semitic, anti-homosexual, and anti-bi-racial families, according to Acevedo.
“Terrorists come in all sorts of colors, ethnicities, and religions,” said Acevedo. “By no means can you call him anything other than an extremist.”
What do the statistics tell us? The good news, as shown by a 2012 report from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism that examined domestic attacks between 1970 and 2011, is that the number of incidents has plunged, from over 450 in 1970 to a recent annual average of less than 25. The declining trend has continued since 2001.
Though far and away the most terrorist fatalities have been as a result of Muslims motivated by their beliefs, on account of the 9/11 attack, those motivated by far-right and antigovernment views – as was the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people in 1995 – have been far more active in recent years. The Southern Poverty Law Center says there have been at least 29 similarly motivated attacks in the US since 2010. In a review of Muslim-American terrorism in the US in 2013, Duke University sociologist Charles Kurzman found that the total number of Muslim-Americans involved in domestic terrorism since 2011 was 225, or fewer than 20 a year.
In 2013, which included the jihad-inspired terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon that claimed four victims, there were 30 mass killings, claiming a total of 137 lives.