Mandalay Bay hotel next to a tweet about the Las Vegas shooting

Photo via Hermann Luyken/Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)

If the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history isn’t terrorism, what is it?

Why is the U.S. so slow to label Stephen Paddock as a terrorist?


Samantha Grasso


More than a day has passed since Stephen Paddock carried out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, killing 59 people and injuring 500 more in Las Vegas. However, critics across the internet have been left with more questions than answers after shooting investigation officials, and subsequently the media, have resisted labeling the mass murder as an act of terrorism.

On Monday morning, officials said they found no connection between Paddock’s actions and international terrorist groups. Meanwhile, profile pieces and updates on new information about Paddock pegged him as “gambler who drew little attention” who was a “multi-millionaire real estate investor.”

In other words, Paddock was a man who fit the mold for the media’s narrative of the “lone wolf” who just snapped and is definitely, definitely not a person of color, and therefore will not be referred to as a terrorist.

Celebrities, media personalities, and vocal Twitter users took notice of the dissonance between the gravity of the mass shooting and the labels, or lack thereof, applied to the shooter himself. As MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said during a live spot next to the festival grounds where the shooting took place, “If this isn’t terrorism, what the hell is terrorism?”

Several people pointed to the seemingly apparent correlation between a shooter’s or criminal’s skin color and how they’re defined as “terrorists” by law enforcement and the media, particularly before officials know all the facts.

As legalese would have it, there are several reasons why terrorism, or even the phrase domestic terrorism, hasn’t been applied to Paddock. Societally, our “generally accepted definition of terrorism…requires a political, ideological, or religious motive,” the New York Times reported. However, as Newsweek pointed out, while federal law defines terrorism with these motives, Nevada law doesn’t require any sort of motive to define an attack as terrorism.

And though the federal government doesn’t actually have a statute that addresses domestic terrorism, it does have a definition—and it requires the intention to intimidate or coerce civilians, or government conduct or policy.

Ultimately, the applied definition of “terrorism” will boil down to Paddock’s motive, which officials have yet to provide. Whether that application will satisfy critics seeking justice for a label left unapplied to throngs of white, male shooters, however, is a different question entirely.

The Daily Dot