THE BLOG
12/10/2015 11:56 am ET Updated Dec 10, 2016

Dear Media: Stop Using the Term 'Radicalized' Unless You Apply It to White Christian Extremists, Too

The double standard can't be more jarring: For days television networks and media outlets have been parroting the FBI in telling us how the San Bernadino shooters were "radicalized" at this or that time, or speculating on their "radicalization" and how it occurred.

The double standard can't be more jarring: For days television networks and media outlets have been parroting the FBI in telling us how the San Bernadino shooters were "radicalized" at this or that time, or speculating on their "radicalization" and how it occurred. This terminology, when applied exclusively to terrorism inspired by a distortion of Islam, is discriminatory, and furthers the very anti-Muslim bigotry that Donald Trump and much of the GOP presidential field promote. The implication is that there are two kinds of Muslim: Radicalized - even if there's an acknowledgement that they represent a small minority, though often there's no such acknowledgment -- and non-radicalized.

The further implication is that any Muslim can become radicalized if x, y, and z happens -- a trip to Saudi Arabia, a text message with this or that individual, engaging with certain people on a Facebook page, etc. And yet, for several weeks not only have many in the media been reluctant to label Robert Dear, who carried out the Planned Parenthood attack in Colorado Springs, as a terrorist, but there's no discussion of him being "radicalized" by extremist Christianity. He expressed support for the Army of God, a Christian extremist terrorist group that has taken responsibility for the killings of doctors who provide abortions and whose members have killed others in the name of stopping abortion, such as Atlanta Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph, who also bombed a lesbian bar in that city. Dear declared in court yesterday that he is a "warrior for the babies." How much more radicalized can you get?

Dylan Roof became immersed in the deep cult of white supremacy that has been nurtured by groups like the Ku Klux Klan -- which also describes itself as a Christian group -- and many other groups for decades in this country, and surely he was radicalized to the point of carrying out a massacre in a South Carolina church. And yet, no one in the media has used the word radicalized to describe him.

Instead, white supremacist and Christian extremist killers are described as "lone wolves" or "deranged" or any number of other benign terms. The standard reply from those on the right -- or even many in the media defending themselves --is that there isn't a well-organized, large presence of established Christian extremists comparable to ISIS or its global threat. But putting aside for a moment the fact that more people in this country have been killed since 9/11 from right-wing terrorists than Islamic terrorists - 48 to 45 -- scale should not be what defines a terrorist or radicalization or what inspires it.

When presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee attended and spoke at a conference organized by Pastor Kevin Swanson, who advocates execution for homosexuality -- as Rachel Maddow noted, the conference was "a 'kill the gays' call to arms" -- not only did much of the media ignore Swanson's blood-curdling speech, but certainly none compared Swanson with any of the individuals who inspire people to kill in the name of Islam. Just days before the Planned Parenthood shooting, Ted Cruz accepted the endorsement of an activist who called for the execution of doctors who provide abortions and now runs the very well-organized extremist anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. "In addition to our personal guilt in abortion, the United States government has abrogated its responsibility to properly deal with the blood-guilty," Troy Newman wrote in his 2003 book, Their Blood Cries Out. "This responsibility rightly involves executing convicted murderers, including abortionists, for their crimes in order to expunge bloodguilt from the land and people."

Surely that kind of language radicalizes extremists, no matter how Newman now tries to deny it. Individuals like Newman, Swanson and many others have been mainstreamed into the Republican Party. My hunch is that many in the media are too cowed by the GOP and the right, as they often are, fearful of the backlash they'll receive if they use the word "radicalize" in connection with Christianity. But if they're loathe to use the word regarding Christian-extremist-inspired killers, there is a simple solution to avoid the demonization of all Muslims: Stop using the term when discussing killers inspired by an extremist interpretation of Islam.

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