Over the years, America has experienced an increase in domestic terrorist acts and mass shootings. The radicalization of far-right extremism in our nation comes to us in the wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2011. In the aftermath, America became paranoid and in fear of the Muslim community in every aspect. The rise in far-right extremist activity has contributed to the increase in homegrown attacks across our nation. START-funded researches calculate that 134 people were killed in ideologically far-right extremist attacks in the United States between 2000 and 2014, compared to 52 people killed by Islamic extremists including 9/11 victims (CQ Researcher). Acts of domestic terrorism are characterized based upon the political and ideological stance of whomever is carrying out the attack. Though certain mass shootings can also fall under acts of domestic terrorism, direct motive and mental status is how our country separately categorizes these attacks.
Terrorists tend to seek ideology to justify their aggression and violent acts of destruction.
For example, the Aurora Theater shooting. On July 20, 2012, James Holmes opened fire inside a Colorado movie theater during a midnight movie premier. Holmes was wearing tactical gear including an armored vest and gas mask. He was also heavily armed with assault rifles and hand guns, as well as tear gas canisters he threw into the theater before the shooting. Upon being captured by law enforcement after his killing spree, Holmes also booby-trapped his apartment with explosive devices??”rigged to explode if anyone were to enter his home. This was the largest deadly shooting in Colorado history involving 12 killed and 70 injured (History Source). Holmes is considered a mass killer because of his mental estate prior to and after the shooting. He maintained a rather antisocial rapport among students and classmates while attending medical school at the University of Colorado prior to dropping out in 2012. Psychiatric evaluations a month prior to the shooting also reveal that Holmes posed as a potential threat to society (History Source).
Another example, is the Sikh killings that occurred in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, 2012. Wade Page walked into a Sikh Temple and shot six Sikh worshippers before being killed by law enforcement officers. The Sikh-American community believes they were targets because they are often mistaken by Americans as Muslim. Considering no motive was identified it is hard to say whether or not his racist mindset stemmed far beyond his hatred for African-Americans.
Page is a domestic terrorist because of his involvement and practice of far-right extremist ideologies in the form of white supremacy. As discussed in the book Terrorism in America, people are attracted to the violence and will power these groups utilize to advocated white rights. They are attracted to how extremist groups spread their hate (Borgeson). After Page was discharged from the military he became heavily indulged in white power music, local supremacist groups and much more. He also blamed the military for making him what he became. Page believed that the military system was more in favor of African-Americans and structured against whites in terms of promotion and discipline.
The two incidents mentioned above are distinct examples of classifications between a mass shooter and a domestic terrorist. Among terrorist groups or organizations violence is considered the beginning of the end. They have an issue with the current estate of our society so violence is the only solution to fix it. Mass shooters are often associated with mental illness, social pressures and other personal problems that may or may not be visible to others. As you can see these classifications are not analyzed based off a person’s internet search history, hobbies outside of work, or certain legal purchases. The suspects of the 9/11 shootings attended flight school here in the United States, James Holmes was able to legally purchase and order weapons and explosive device materials online, and Wade Page was also able to legally purchase weapons regardless of his interests in white supremacy. According to law enforcement and intelligence agencies these suspects are considered lone wolves.
It is impossible to catch a lone wolf without help because they keep to themselves, no one knows of their intended plans (Assessing). We cannot label someone as a terrorist or predict them to be a mass shooter because they portray the average person living in America.
The rights we as citizens are granted by the constitution infringe on our process of identifying mass shooters or domestic terrorist and stopping them from committing these acts. Our protection for privacy and property, right to bear arms, and freedom of speech and expression prohibit us from acting on the red flags we see the obvious in one’s personal activities. On the subject of mass shooters, there is nothing else for us to consider outside the extinct of the shooting besides mental illness. Mass shooters often have no links to extremist groups, or radicalized ideologies outside the norm, their mental state is the only justification. We stigmatize people with psychiatric disorders because they are more prone to aggression which leads towards violent acts such as these shootings (UWIRE).
All in all, our spectrum of characterizing these crimes is based off personal background and the number of casualties. There are a wide variety of characteristics we consider to identify who qualifies as a mass or spree killer or a domestic terrorist. However, regardless of how we classify these attacks there may still be similarities or characteristics that place certain incidents under more than one category. Other incidents such as the Jason Aldean concert attack were categorized as a mass shooting and act of domestic terrorism due to the number of casualties. The gunman had no background ties to any extremist, religious, or racist groups nor was there a motive stated for these acts. If certain rights where not granted to us national security would be able to assess more obvious red flags when characterizing such attacks.