18 April 2017
Hate Crime or Terrorism?
An individual already suspected of murder went on a shooting franchise at a bus stop in Fresno CA today, killing three people before police took him into custody. Whether he committed the earlier murder or not, he was open about his motive for today's crimes, telling the police that he hated white people. He was heard to shout "Allahu Akbar" as he fired, but if he is the author of the Twitter account under the name reported by police he was more likely motivated by some form of black nationalism than by any form of Islam most Islamists would recognize. The Twitter feed, which only began in February, is full of promos for hip-hop music, anti-Trump graphics, and warnings of divine wrath in the form of natural disasters if "our demand for reparation and separation" was not met by progressive deadlines. While the Twitter feed may belong to someone else of the same name, it and today's shootings appear to be the work of lunatics. Expect to hear some debate over whether the killings were primarily acts of terrorism, by virtue of "Allahu Akbar," or hate crimes, by virtue of the suspect's own statements. What exactly is the distinction? A person could argue reasonably that there is none, but the question is still worth asking in the context of a comparison with Dylann Roof, the perpetrator of the Charleston massacre. It was self-evident that Roof had committed a "hate crime," but how many people went further to call it "terrorism?" Why wouldn't you? It might be argued that neither Roof nor the Fresno killer belonged to an organization, and that "terrorism" presumes an organization with an agenda -- the end to which terror is a means -- beyond the personal hatreds and rationalizations of lone-wolf shooters. From another angle, it might be argued that a "hate crime" ultimately is a matter of personal responsibility, while "terrorism" requires further steps. The Charleston massacre provoked little in the way of demands for a crackdown on the racist media that influenced Roof. The Fresno killings may prove more provocative, if only because the shooter said the A-word, and also because white fears of violence by blacks may grow more compelling, but a case could be made against making distinctions based on the identity of the perpetrator or his targets. Why not treat Dylann Roof, the Fresno shooter and your generic Muslim attacker the same, as terrorists, hate criminals or whatever? Why not try in each case to get to the roots of their hate and, so far as the Constitution permits, root them out? If "all lives matter," as some are wont to say, then all killers are equal, qualitatively if not quantitatively, and if we seek to hold ideas or media responsible in one case, we should do likewise in all cases, and to do otherwise is merely partisan.