Countless people on Twitter, Tumblr, and all over the internet have been calling Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock a terrorist. They have been criticizing the news media for not labeling Paddock a terrorist, claiming that the only reason he’s not called a terrorist is because he is white.
These people are confused about what the word terrorist actually means. A terrorist is not simply someone who commits a horrible crime or inflicts terror. A terrorist is someone who commits a crime for an ideological reason, to advance or draw attention to a political or religious cause. Dictionary.com defines terrorism as “the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.” Merriam Webster defines it as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”
There is a reason why the media called, for example, Omar Mateen a terrorist: he stated during a call with a 911 dispatcher that he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was trying to stop America from bombing Syria and Iraq. Similarly, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev wrote a note explaining that he and brother Tamerlan bombed the Boston Marathon as retribution for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s not only Muslims who are labeled as terrorists: Timothy McVeigh is considered a terrorist because he carried out the Oklahoma City bombing as retaliation for (among other things) the government’s actions at Waco, as is “Unabomber” Theodore Kaczynski, who explained his ideology in a manifesto.
Law enforcement is still trying to figure out what Paddock’s motive was. Right now there is no evidence that he had a political motive or that he was engaged in a systematic campaign of violence in order to achieve a goal. As far as anyone knows, he didn’t leave a manifesto or express any strong religious or political beliefs. Unless this changes, it’s simply inaccurate to call him a terrorist.
As for the term “lone wolf,” that simply refers to a criminal who acted alone. A lone wolf can either be a non-terrorist, or a terrorist who acted independently. When the news media describes Paddock as a lone wolf, they are not being racist; they are simply stating that he was not, as far as the evidence shows, part of a terrorist organization.
Not calling the Las Vegas shooting terrorism is not the same as saying the shooting wasn’t very bad or shouldn’t be taken seriously. Whether or not an act should be classified as terrorism has nothing to do with how horrible it was or how many people were killed; it just has to do with whether or not there was an ideological motive.
People who say that racism is the reason Paddock is not called a terrorist are seeing racism where it does not exist. Ironically, by complaining about “well-paid white people on television who spread disgusting stupid ‘thoughts'” and using hashtags such as “white people white peopling,” they are the true racists.