It’s Not Terrorism If a Christian Does It. Again.

You may have heard about the man who attacked TSA agents at the New Orleans airport last week with a machete and was shot and killed. Or you may not have heard about it. Because he’s a white American Christian, not a dark-skinned Muslim. Thus, it doesn’t get labeled with that magic T word.

A Muslim American man carrying a duffel bag that holds six homemade explosives, a machete, and poison spray travels to a major U.S. airport. The man enters the airport, approaches the TSA security checkpoint, and then sprays two TSA officers with the poison. He then grabs his machete and chases another TSA officer with it.

This Muslim man is then shot and killed by the police. After the incident, a search of the attacker’s car by the police reveals it contained acetylene and oxygen tanks, two substances that, when mixed together, will yield a powerful explosive.

If this scenario occurred, there’s zero doubt that this would be called a terrorist attack. Zero. It would make headlines across the country and world, and we would see wall-to-wall cable news coverage for days. And, of course, certain right-wing media outlets, many conservative politicians, and Bill Maher would use this event as another excuse to stoke the flames of hate toward Muslims.

Well, last Friday night, this exact event took place at the New Orleans airport—that is, except for one factual difference: The attacker was not Muslim. Consequently, you might be reading about this brazen assault for the first time here, although this incident did receive a smattering of media coverage over the weekend.

The man who commited this attack was Richard White, a 63-year-old former Army serviceman who has long been retired and living on Social Security and disability checks. He was reportedly a devout Jehovah’s Witness.

Given the facts that a man armed with explosives and weapons traveled to an airport and only attacked federal officers, you would think that the word “terrorism” would at least come up as a possibility, right? But it’s not even mentioned.

Instead, law enforcement was quick to chalk this incident up to the attacker’s alleged “mental health issues.” That was pretty amazing police work considering this conclusion came within hours of the attack. There was no mention by police that they had even explored whether White had issues with the federal government stemming from his military service, if there was any evidence he held anti-government views, etc.

We see this in lots of other areas as well. When black people hold a protest and a small number of them turn violent, they’re all “thugs” and criminals. When upper middle class white kids from a bunch of fraternities at the University of Michigan go on a weekend mayhem spree and do almost half a million dollars worth of damage to a ski resort, as happened last year, the word “thug” rarely comes up. All of this is a result of implicit racism and tribalism.

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  • Gregory in Seattle

    See how persecuted Christians are?

  • Kamaka

    This incident looks to be terrorism to me, but has somehow escaped the howling news cycle.

  • marcus

    If this scenario occurred, there’s zero doubt that this would be called a terrorist attack. Zero. It would make headlines across the country and world, and we would see wall-to-wall cable news coverage for days.

    Which is, of course, precisely what happened after the so-called “shoe-bomber” was apprehended.

  • raven

    This happens all the time. The media is blatantly chicken and biased.

    1. In Oklahoma, a Moslem who had just been fired, went on a rampage and cut someone’s head off. This was on the news for weeks as terrorism although it was clearly a case of work place violence.

    2. In Oklahoma, a devout xian cut someone’s head off for supposedly practicing witchcraft. It barely made the local news and soon disappeared.

    (FWIW, there is no evidence that the headless body was practicing witchcraft. That turned out to be a post hoc excuse. The media didn’t report that either. )

    ‘Religious zealot’ Christian student ‘decapitated … – Daily Mail

    www .dailymail…/Man-charged-attack-killed-troopers-son.html

    Oct 30, 2014 – ‘Religious zealot’ Christian student ‘decapitated 19-year-old friend because … suffered several stab wounds and had his head ‘mostly severed’ from his … Marin was furious at Crockett for his interest in witchcraft, which he saw as …

    Well it does work as terrorism. I’m very wary of fundie xians. I’ve got cats to feed and couldn’t do it without my head attached to my body.

  • raven

    From Kamaka #2

    Not an Isolated Incident

    Legislative and rhetorical attacks on abortion clinics go hand in hand with violent attacks.

    By David S. Cohen and Krysten Connon

    Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi.

    Photo by Michelle Colon/Jackson Women’s Health Organization

    In January 2014, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant declared that his goal as governor was to “end abortion in Mississippi.” He has not been able to do that so far, but earlier this week, vigilantes took the matter into their own hands.

    Sometime late Sunday night or early Monday morning, the last remaining abortion clinic in Mississippi, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was severely vandalized. According to a post on the clinic’s website, the clinic’s security cameras were destroyed overnight and its generator was dismantled and seriously damaged. The post continued: “A review of our DVR showed that in the early hours of the morning, a masked intruder came onto the property and proceeded to methodically destroy our cameras. Other damage found indicates that they were trying to destroy the power lines coming into the building, no doubt hoping to stop all patient care for the near future.”

    You are right. This never made the national news.

    During the Bush Catastrophe, seems like there was an attack on family planning centers about once a month. They almost never made the national news.

  • justawriter

    I forget which blog had this example from Katrina, but it was basically two photos side by side of a man wading through deep water carrying stuff. One cutline said, “man with food looted from a grocery” and the other cutline said, “man with supplies scavenged from an abandoned store”. Three guesses on the race of the people in those two photos.

  • zenlike

    The original post is short and to the point, and points to a very real issue, backed up by facts.

    The comments section is 90% people blackballing the op and denying that Christian terrorism is a thing.

    And these people vote.

    Still sure you want Cruz running for president? Because with a voting public this stupid and steeped in ignorance, I really don’t see why nutballs like him wouldn’t have a real chance of winning.

  • busterggi

    “alleged “mental health issues.”

    Alleged? Hell, the guy believes he has an invisible friend who talks to him – how much more evidence is needed?

  • Modusoperandi

    Try to look at the positive: apparently black people or muslims doing bad things is such a rarity that it’s news.

  • scienceavenger

    First off, the real problem with the labelling of these attacks isn’t that this one wasn’t called “terrorism” – its that other similar attacks have been if they were the work of Muslims. “Terrorism” is the use of violence and other means to terrorize and thereby coerce people to enact political change to your liking. It does not mean “violence by brown people”, which seems to be the definition the media is using. If you killed a politician because you wanted his politics the change, you’re a terrorist. If you kill him just because you’re a sick fuck, you’re a murderer, not a terrorist.

    Second, Bill Maher isn’t shy about stoking the flames of hate towards Christians either. He just thinks the Muslims are worse, and he’s right. But yeah, he’s too broad-brush for sure. The vast majority of every religious group is not violent, so the causality can’t be as strong as he implies it is. Reminds of how in the 80’s there was a trend of blaming Ozzy Osborne for teen suicides because a huge proportion of those teens were Ozzy fans, ignoring that the overwhelming majority of Ozzy fans had no such problems.

    Third, it makes good copy, but the “thugs” double standard claim doesn’t hold up in the media at large. Maybe Fox only refers to black criminals as thugs, but other stations are happy to apply it to ISIL and other violent groups. Then again, maybe when people say “the media”, they don’t mean Al Jazeera.

  • Childermass

    Truth be known, if I was forced to bet based on the limited evidence that I see, I would bet nut case. After writing the last sentence I googled his name. Sure enough what I suspected is true, the reason why investigators quickly concluded the guy was mental is because, well, he was known to have severe mental problems prior to the incident. There is nothing alleged about this person’s history of mental disease. If it is the contention that the investigators merely assumed he was mental because he not part of a hated group, then that contention is outright false. Not to mention attacking people with guns with wasp spray and a machete seems like a pretty damn obvious hint at someone not playing with a full deck. Anyone with possession of their wits could come up with a better terrorist plan. Also given the incident happened so recently, I rather doubt that the official investigations are over.

    While it is true that Fox News would have called it “terrorism” is he had been a Muslim and not a Christian, it was simply not terrorism. Truth be known I almost expect right to use this guy as an example anyways as right-wing social media just loves it when a black person attacks someone and shed loads of crocodile tears when it fails to make the news.

    As for the Oklahoma beheading (comment 4): Not terrorism. Personal grudges are not terrorism. Sorry Fox News, that is true no matter the religion of the perp.

  • Childermass

    Ed: “Because he’s a white American Christian”

    Actually, he was black.

    And as usual, racists in right wing sources are gleeful. See the comments in this this Washington Times article for an example.

    Lets just be happy that this guy did not have a gun. I wonder if the existence of background checks or waiting periods might have actually done some good here.

  • raven

    As for the Oklahoma beheading (comment 4): Not terrorism. Personal grudges are not terrorism.

    Well you are wrong.

    This was clearly religiously motivated violence. It’s a hate crime at the least and can be considered terrorism. What letter of “devout xian” don’t you understand.

    What personal grudge? These two people barely knew each other and their only disagreement was reported to be…religion.

  • Modusoperandi

    Childermass “Actually, he was black.”


  • Childermass

    “What personal grudge? These two people barely knew each other and their only disagreement was reported to be…religion.:”

    The whole point of the concept of terrorism is that it is not aimed at the individual people the terrorist has encountered in his travels. It is aimed at groups, communities , populations.

    “What letter of “devout xian” don’t you understand.”

    If we take him at his word then he him after a disagreement: Not a terrorist. Indeed the article you cite uses the word “friend.” Whether or not that is justified they certain were were playing cards at the time and had a history of arguing. Not terrorism. And if the speculation that it was a “post hoc excuse” is correct then one can’t even argue the motivation was to terrorize the witch community or those who might sympathize with them. Not a terrorist. If anything given how soon this followed the Oklahoma Muslim case, copycat murder seems a more apt description. In the prior case, a Muslim murdered a coworker after losing his job is also clearly not a terrorist.

    The far right is dead wrong in calling some stuff terrorism. I don’t think that the answer to b.s. claims that x Muslim was/is a terrorist is to make b.s. claims that y Christian was/is a terrorist.

    Again the whole point of the concept of terrorism is that the perp is not specifically going after people which had had personal beefs with.

    The Okie Muslim: Not a terrorist

    The Okie Christian: Not a terrorist

  • Kamaka

    The Mississippi clinic attacker: terrorist.

  • Kamaka

    Childermass @ 15

    Decapitation is a terroristic attack.

  • lorn

    Terrorism is always a political act attempting to advance a cause or ideology. It is a tactic exploiting emotional impact as a force multiplier and substitute for military or political power. Often, but not exclusively, used as tactic by the weaker side in a conflict.

    The usual format:

    1) Public presentation of grievance.

    2) Public demand for recognition and accession to demands.

    3) Public warning of violence if demands are not met.

    4) Call for action. Overt/covert, soft (the righteous and inspired by God will act) /hard ( We will attack)

    5) Attack/s.

    6) Public justification of attack. Either by associated people as a manifesto.

    There is no need for any or all of that to be delivered by the same people or group. As we have seen with Al-qaeda, remember Al-qaeda, the announcement of grievances can be made by one group, the demands by a second, warning by a third, and the attack/s can be undertaken by virtually anyone in the name of the cause. But for the terrorist tactic to work as terrorism the grievances have to be made loudly and clearly enough to be widely known so that the cause can be publicly credited to the cause.

    In this case, based on what I have read in these short pieces, and subject to reconsideration if additional information emerges, this was not terrorism. There was none of the necessary public presentation of grievances, demands, threats. There was also, apparently, no public justification or manifesto.

    This is either, depending on how you gauge it, either an attempted but failed terrorist attack by an inept or poorly organized political group who failed to set the context necessary for it to be terrorism, or a violent attack by a person who may have thought they were committing a terrorist attack without understanding the need for context. Either way, it is not terrorism, even if it was intended as such.

  • dingojack

    Raven (#4) – “…there is no evidence that the headless body was practicing witchcraft.”

    How many headless bodies, in your experience, practice ‘witchcraft’ (or do cross-stich, or go surfing, or do meals-on-wheels, or whatever else for that matter?) In my (limited) experience headless bodies don’t do much of anything at all, except lie there.


  • Who Cares

    Nah that isn’t terrorism, this is.

    Just notice how they are bending over to not mention the word. Prosecuted for attempting to damage federal property and presenting false information.

  • Childermass

    “Decapitation is a terroristic attack.”

    That is a false statement. Decapitation is a method. Sometimes it a means of killing and sometimes it is a means of mutilating the body of the slain. Decapitation can (and has) been used by terrorists, but the use of that method is not enough

    The overuse of the term terrorist tend to glamorize crimes that should be considered murder–pure and simple. And the use of the term is being used as an excuse for justifying bigotry towards people who share some characteristic with the killer (race, ethnicity, religion, political cause) via guilty by “association.”

    I am seeing more and more often in both the left and the right the notion that people somehow have to apologize for acts which they are not in any way part of that happened to share a race, religion, etc.

    A black man should have no need to apologize for the crimes committed by other black men. Replace “black man” with Sunni or Baptist and it is still true. That blacks statistically speaking commit far more murders than whites does not change this. Ditto whatever religion someone has. And if some atheist commits some murder, we here have no need to apologize. And if every single atheist organization does not immediately put up a condemnation it is not evidence that there is something wrong with us.

    In the news there is a crime that would really set Fox News off if it was done by a Muslim or a dark-skinned person: A German copilot has been determined to intentionally crashed a passenger plane the crashed recently.

  • Childermass

    “The Mississippi clinic attacker: terrorist.”

    I would call the murders, attempted murders, and maiming of abortion doctors, etc. terrorism. It is ideological, it is not a personal grudge against an individual, and it is meant to spread fear in a larger population. It also fits the model used in comment 18.

  • Dr X

    Take the same story, but make the storyteller a liberal TV star, the tied up man and his family Christians and have the criminal confront the tied up man with the question: “where’s your all-powerful God now?”

    Stir, pour and watch conservative Christian world go berserk with demands to fire the star . Watch a not insubstantial percentage of liberals agree. Watch the star lose his job.

  • Dr X

    oops, wrong thread.

  • erick

    @Raven, #4

    “Well it does work as terrorism. I’m very wary of fundie xians. I’ve got cats to feed and couldn’t do it without my head attached to my body.”

    Actually, you’d probably still feed them for a few days….

    @dingojack, 19

    ” In my (limited) experience headless bodies don’t do much of anything at all, except lie there.”

    Sometimes that’s enough.