Thursday, March 22, 2018


The Washington Post's Samantha Schmidt writes:
For weeks, the 23-year-old suspected bomber terrorized the city of Austin with a string of explosions that killed two and injured several others.

But should the bomber, identified by authorities as Mark Anthony Conditt, be called a terrorist?

... Authorities avoided using the “terrorist” label, instead describing Conditt — a white man — as a troubled person motivated by frustrations in his life.

Interim Austin police chief ­Brian Manley said Conditt made a 25-minute video “confession” on his cellphone explaining how he built seven explosive devices.

“Having listened to that recording, he does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said in a news conference Wednesday. “But instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.”
At this point, as a liberal in good standing, I'm supposed to express outrage because Conditt is not being described as a terrorist. I agree that we shouldn't feel any sorrier for Conditt than we do for someone who kills in the name of ISIS or white supremacy.

The problem is that we don't have a sufficiently freighted term to describe someone who matches the police description of Conditt and does what Conditt did. We all agree that a "terrorist" is abhorrent. Why don't we feel a similar abhorrence for someone who chooses to take his personal pain out on the world with extreme violence? Why don't we have a name for someone like that, a term that embodies the same degree of abhorrence?

I know that Conditt was a home-schooled Christian conservative. I've read what he wrote about his political beliefs at the age of seventeen. (Go to to read his writings at length.) That's not enough to mark him as a terrorist. Millions of Americans are Christian conservatives who oppose gay marriage, abortion rights, and the release of prisoners from Gitmo; millions more support the death penalty. These aren't beliefs that should have made Conditt feel alienated -- he was a white man in Texas. In that demographic category, his beliefs were not only unremarkable, they have majority support. It's possible that the police are missing or downplaying evidence that these beliefs, or more radical conservative beliefs, were the motive for his murders -- but if they've got this right and he killed because he felt alienated, why can't we despise him for that? Who was he to kill, maim, and endanger people who'd never harmed him just because he was in pain? What made him think he had the right to do that?

We've given the word "terrorism" a specific meaning: It's violence meant to spread fear in order to advance an ideology or movement. Based on the police characterization, Conditt wasn't a terrorist -- he killed because he hurt inside and he felt entitled to murder people who'd never harmed him in order to make the hurt go away. He didn't have a larger goal in mind, ideological or otherwise -- his focus was strictly on himself. Even if that's a police mischaracterization of Conditt, it describes a lot of American killers -- Nikolas Cruz, for instance. Why do we need to fit them into a category to which they don't belong in order to feel angry at them? Why can't we be angry at them precisely for what they are?

I don't have a clever name for people whose motivation to kill randomly is purely private. The best I can do is call them "violent narcissists." Maybe you can do better.

Their motive isn't an ideology -- an ism. It's themselves. Why isn't that enough to enrage us?

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