As Lilly Workneh eloquently stated regarding the massacre at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, "by definition, it was a domestic act of terrorism and the gunman, a terrorist." In fact, Workneh's assessment isn't only entirely accurate, but also represents an overlooked aspect of terrorism in 2015. While all of America hears about ISIS on a daily basis, the reality is that ISIS is a far greater threat to the citizens of Iraq than to the citizens of South Carolina or any other state in the U.S. Furthermore, while the State Department and others have lists of foreign terrorist organizations, no list exists to classify people like Dylann Roof.
If Roof were linked to ISIS, would this have made a difference to the families of murdered worshipers? Would our nation be at greater risk? Would we have sent even more troops off to Iraq?
No, there won't be color coded terror alerts before the next mass shooting, nor will there be discussion about how to destroy hate crimes in the manner that endless time and energy has been devoted to destroying ISIS and similar groups. The murder of nine worshipers at a historically black church wasn't only a hate crime, it was also an example of terror that can strike at any moment in America; without the attention given to terrorist groups based in the Middle East. Since we don't know how many Dylann Roof's exist in America, and since mass shootings and other forms of random violence take place all the time in the U.S., Wednesday's murderous rampage represents a threat that can't be assessed in a traditional manner. In reality, the threat of random violence from a deranged shooter is a far greater threat than ISIS, or any other terrorist group.
During Bush's last four years in office, Iraq witnessed 19,535 terrorist attacks where 122,596 people were either "killed, injured, or kidnapped" according to the U.S. Department of State. In 2014, the Iraq Body Count lists a total of 17,144 people killed by violence in Iraq, and in 2015, 7,403 people have already died as a result of the bloodshed. No doubt, ISIS and other terrorist organizations are genocidal groups that have caused a great deal of bloodshed in Iraq and Syria, however these groups focus their madness primarily within the confines of the Middle East.
Terror in the U.S. happens, and while Fox News and conservatives like neatly defined classifications, Wednesday's terror attack in South Carolina should fit into their definition of terrorism. Likewise, the Tsarnaev brothers had no ties to any terrorist organization during the Boston Marathon bombing, yet society focuses incessantly on how foreign terrorist groups will end up causing havoc in the U.S. Sadly, we don't need anyone to bring terror into the country; between the number of people who could snap at any moment and random acts like mass shootings, we're already "fighting them over here."
Americans, and primarily the African-American community in the case of Charleston's church rampage and other attacks, experience terror and violence from threats that aren't sensationalized by the media. First, blacks experience the most hate crime. In terms of aggregate numbers, a Washington Post piece titled The ugly truth about hate crimes lists some staggering statistics:
FBI hate crime data show that more than 50 out of every 1 million black citizens was the victim of a racially motivated hate crime in 2012, the highest among any racial group.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics provides the most comprehensive overall count of hate crime incidents. Its data, drawn from interviews with victims, shows the number of hate crimes has remained fairly constant over the past 10 years, hovering between 200,000 and 300,000 annually.
Hate groups aren't distributed evenly by geography. Controlling for the population in each state, hate groups are concentrated most in the Deep South and in the Montana/Idaho region.
How many times has Fox shown a terror alert pertaining to hate crimes in America committed "between 200,000 and 300,000 annually"?
As for mass shootings, this kind of terror takes place with frightening regularity in the U.S., without the calls for sending troops abroad or conservatives focusing on a particular religion as the culprit. A Los Angeles Times article titled It's not just a perception: Mass shootings have become more frequent, illustrates that random violence and terror (or terrorism, according to Vox's definition) have increased in regularity:
Mass shootings like the one in Charleston have become more common in the U.S. since 2011.
Defining mass shootings as outbreaks of firearms violence in which four or more victims were killed and the shooter was unknown to most of his victims, researchers from Harvard University's School of Public Health and Northeastern University found that, in the roughly two-year period that ended in September 2013, a mass shooting occurred on average every 64 days.
If a foreign terrorist group were responsible for a mass shooting every 64 days in America, how would Congress react and what would the reaction be from Fox News?
Another article from The Washington Post titled 11 essential facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States lists some even more startling figures:
Shooting sprees are not rare in the United States.
Mother Jones tracked and mapped shooting sprees over the three decades from 1982 to May of last year. They counted "at least 61 mass murders carried out with firearms across the country, with the killings unfolding in 30 states from Massachusetts to Hawaii," they found.
A Congressional Research Service report published in 2013 counted 78 incidents over roughly the same period, in which 547 were killed. Definitions of mass shootings vary. The report excludes those for whom terrorist ideology or criminal profit was a motivation. The Mother Jones staff limited themselves to indiscriminate killings of at least four people in public places by lone shooters.
Therefore, when was the last time the 547 people killed from mass shootings in 2013 were referred to as victims of terrorism? Breitbart.com rightfully labeled the Charleston murderer as "pure evil," therefore aren't the murderers of these 547 victims also pure evil? True, many definitions of terrorism have a political component to them, however mass murder is mass murder: the death of innocent human beings shouldn't be confined to a politically motivated definition.
If ISIS had killed 547 Americans in 2013, we'd have sent tens of thousands of Americans back to Iraq, so why do we simply shrug our shoulders at hundreds of murders that aren't linked to a terrorist group?
As I wrote last year, if ISIS had committed the 11 school shootings since Sandy Hook, Congress would have declared war. This doesn't mean ISIS and others aren't a threat to the U.S.; they are a genuine terrorist threat worthy of addressing by America and other nations. However, Americans live with the threat of terror daily, but not from terrorists driving pickup trucks with machine gun turrets. Dylan Roof sat for one hour in the Charleston church before venting against African-Americans and killing nine people. What Fox News, conservative politicians worried about the next terror threat, and all other Americans concerned with terrorism should address is the threat associated with a random act of violence.
While African-Americans face the most hate crimes in the U.S., random violence and other hate crimes in America could also target anyone. In 2014, a gunman targeted Jewish community centers in Kansas, but killed three Christians. ISIS, like al-Qaeda in Iraq before it, will eventually wither away and become replaced by another terror organization in Iraq and the Middle East. The next Dylan Roof won't be a threat until he or she becomes a terrorist and decides to kill Americans, simply to fulfill whatever it is that motivates this person to commit a mass shooting. Although there often times isn't a political component to mass shootings, it's terrorism; to call it any other word ignores the reality of the thousands of Americans who've died over the years. Sadly, we don't have to wait to "fight them over here," we have terrorists in America today, we just don't know when they'll strike and their presence is invisible to law enforcement, American society, and our political culture.