Las Vegas Shooting: ‘Lone Wolf’ or ‘Terrorist’?

Published: 5 October 2017

Country: USA

Screen_Shot_2017-10-05_at_16.37.18The mass shooting in Las Vegas prompted a debate on whether Stephen Padock, who opened the fire at the music festival goers, is a ‘lone wolf’ or a ‘terrorist’.   According to the media reports, Padock killed 58 and injured almost 500 people at the music festival in Las Vegas. Was this an act of domestic terrorism? If so, why some media outlets avoid using the expression ‘terrorism’?

“When a Muslim person mows down innocent victims and terrorizes a community, media and authorities are quick to declare it terrorism; when a white, non-Muslim attacker does the same, he is usually described as a disturbed loner in a freak incident. In both cases, journalists arrive at these conclusions early in the news cycle when information is incomplete,” reports Poynter. But the same prominent media platform refused to categorise the Las Vegas shooting as an act of terrorism based on ‘the complete, multi-part definition of domestic terrorism under the U.S. Code’. “We don’t know the Las Vegas shooter’s motives so we can’t call him a terrorist,” states the Poynter’s editorial team.

The British New Statesman claims the opposite saying that ‘motive doesn’t matter’ and that Las Vegas shooting was ‘a terror attack’.

“An attack like the one in Las Vegas is inherently and by definition a political act. Even setting aside motive, the fact that the gun used to kill 58 Americans and injure hundreds more was purchased in a country where such military-level weaponry is freely available to citizens – that’s a political position. In Isla Vista, the killer wanted to terrorise women. In Sandy Hook, children. In Mother Emanuel, people of colour. In Orlando, the LGBTQ community. All attacks of this nature, whatever the race or creed of the attacker, are acts of terror,” concludes the New Statesman.

Debating why white people are less frequently charged with terrorism than Muslims in the United States, the Guardian states ‘the little-known fact that while federal law does define “domestic terrorism”, it does not codify “domestic terrorism” as a federal crime. (At least 33 states do, however, have anti-terror legislation.) This is partly out of concern that such a statute could go a long way toward criminalizing thought and trampling on the first amendment’.

The question that raises from such a debate is how journalists and the world media should report on events of mass shootings, attacks and similar incidents. As the Media Diversity Institute stated previously in the analysis of the media coverage of the London attacks, the question is whether journalists reinforce prejudices and stereotypes. Professional media and reporters need to ask themselves how essential it is to mention the attacker’s religion, mental health or place of birth.