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Who is a terrorist?

Memorials for victims at the Waffle House near Nashville, Tennessee, and on Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario.
Memorials for victims at the Waffle House near Nashville, Tennessee, and on Yonge Street in Toronto, Ontario. Liberation News photo collage.

On Sunday April 22, Travis Reinking shot and killed four people at a Waffle House near Nashville Tennessee. His rampage was cut short due only to the heroic intervention of James Shaw, Jr., an African American man who wrestled the gun out of Reinking’s hands at great personal risk to himself. On Monday April 23, Alek Minassian drove a rental van into a crowd of people in Toronto, Ontario, killing 10, mostly women, and injuring many others.

If you simply look at the media coverage of these tragedies, you would not realize that these were politically motivated acts of terror.

Reinking is a self-described “sovereign citizen” who refuses to recognize the U.S. federal government as a ruling authority over him. While this sounds wacky and delusional, the movement of sovereign citizens (also known as “state citizens” or people seeking “the Truth”) has its roots in deeply racist ground. “The concept of a sovereign citizen originated in 1971 in the Posse Comitatus movement as a teaching of white supremacist “Christian Identity” minister William P. Gale.” (Wikipedia)

Minassian is a so-called “incel” or “involuntary celibate.” Incels believe that they are entitled to have sex with women, even by force. This subculture is vehemently anti-feminist and misogynist; online incel communities share their fantasies of violent revenge on all women.

It is should be noted that both Minassian and Reinking were captured alive by police. While in Canada police kill civilians much less frequently than in the U.S., this is not the first time that a racist mass murderer has been apprehended alive (remember Dylan Roof, who not only was captured alive, but given a fast food meal by police?) Meanwhile, in the U.S., racist, trigger happy cops kill unarmed Black youth who have committed no crime, and get away with it every day–just by saying they “feared for their lives.”  

For the loved ones of those killed in these massacres, the motivation of the killer probably makes little difference to the intensity of their grief.

But why the hesitance to call these killers what they are–terrorists? Why impugn people with mental illness, suggesting that these terrible massacres are the product of delusional individuals? Countless people have mental illness, including delusional symptoms, but the overwhelming majority do not go out and commit mass murder.

What links Reinking and Minassian are the reactionary ideologies that motivated them. Slaughtering innocent Black and Latino civilians based on racism, bringing on the “incel rebellion”–Minassian’s stated motivation–how are these not acts of terrorism?

In the world of corporate media, these are not acts of terrorism because the perpetrators are not Muslims. Killers like Minassian and Reinking do not fit the dominant paradigm of what a terrorist is supposed to look like. Yet even law enforcement officials have indicated that rightwing terror movements like “sovereign citizens” pose a much greater danger of domestic terrorism than Islamic extremism.

The media don’t call these acts of terrorism because to do so would shift the “terrorism” narrative away from the endless war focus on “Islamic extremism” committed by “foreigners.” This in turn would undermine the ostensible rationale for current U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Afghanistan not to mention  U.S. aid to assorted allies including the Philippines and Saudi Arabia who are also committing human rights abuses as they engage in brutal wars. All progressive and revolutionary people should call out these media “lies by omission” and stand firm against racism, sexism and U.S. imperialism.


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