Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve probably heard about the recent attack on Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner. The media aftermath has—as expected—dissected everything that has anything to do with this story, from his political affiliations to the Loughner family’s parenting technique. The L.A. Times even mused about “how far we’ve come” that the heroic intern who potentially saved Giffords’ life is gay.
But here’s one thing that hasn’t been discussed: whether Jared Lee Loughner is a terrorist.
As Cord Jefferson of Good magazine astutely points out:
According to the United States Law Code, terrorism is “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” New evidence alleges that Loughner possibly planned for years to assassinate Giffords, a prominent politician. Sounds a lot like terrorism to me. But a whole host of major media outlets seem to disagree.
Why? Could it be because—god forbid—Loughner is white?
Jefferson compares this story to the attack on Fort Hood by Nidal Hasan, a Muslim:
Four days after the attack on Fort Hood, The Wall Street Journal published two stories suggesting that Hasan was a terrorist, one of which included the assertion that it was a terrorist act because Hasan spoke Arabic while he shot. The Los Angeles Times spoke to counterterrorism experts for this piece on Hasan. And, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, blogger Kyle Wingfield actually gave credence to a Forbes argument claiming that Hasan “went Muslim.”
Some will argue that Hasan’s terrorist intentions were proved by communications he had with radical cleric Anwar al Awlaki, but, in fact, experts who reviewed the pair’s email exchange deemed it totally innocuous.
Whether or not you agree with Jefferson’s account of the details, you can’t deny the difference between how these two news stories “feel.” To remember Fort Hood is to remember a terrorist attack. To think of Tucson is to think of yet another mentally ill young person.
Good magazine sums it up in its headline for Jefferson’s piece: White Guy Shooting = Crazy; Brown Guy Shooting = Terrorist.
Granted, nobody’s ruled out the possibility that Loughner’s acts were driven by a terrorist directive. But a running list of Loughner’s descriptions in media outlets reads like the thesaurus entry for “crazy white man”:
Are all of these adjectives accurate? Certainly. Is this a double standard? You tell us. But as judge and philosopher Learned Hand once said, “words are chameleons, which reflect the color of their environment.”
And isn’t it all a question of color?