In the space of less than a week, the United States experienced two completely unrelated, yet similar, terrorist attacks. Robert Dear shot up a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs on November 27, killing three and wounding nine. Syed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, blasted away an office party at a regional center in San Bernardino, California, killing 14 and wounding 21, on December 2.
Both Dear and Farook were American citizens. Both were apparently motivated by an extremist religious ideology. Dear is a radical evangelist who had a history of intimidating people with his extreme Christian views. Malik pledged allegiance to ISIS (DAESH) the morning of their attack.
The religious link is more direct in Dear’s case than in Farook’s and Malik’s. Mainstream Christianity teaches that abortion is murder. Christianity does not call for violence against those who support women’s healthcare, but self-radicalized extremists who choose to use violence are reaching the logical conclusion of the religion’s views on women’s bodily autonomy. Violence against abortion providers is quite common and under-reported in the United States.
Nothing in mainstream Islam would lead to specifically targeting an office party. DAESH, which is not representative of mainstream Islamic teaching, does call for radicalized Muslims to attack targets in Western countries. So the attack fits DAESH’s general agenda, but is not specific to any religious teaching. While the husband and wife clearly were terrorists, they were an American citizen and an American permanent resident who abused America’s insanely lax gun laws. All 4 weapons they carried were purchased legally. The couple was reportedly not on any watch list. They have more in common with Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, or Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (just to mention a few) than with the 9/11 hijackers or the Paris attackers who were highly trained militants.
Yet, American right wing news used the two attacks to obfuscate the religious motivations of Dear and condemn Islam generally in the case of Farook and Malik. Fox ‘News,’ the frothy bullhorn of America’s conservative media, provides a perfect example.
On Friday, Fox‘s lead headline was:
“‘TERRORISM’ HITS HOME: FBI finally calls investigation into Southern Cal massacre ‘an act of terrorism’; female gunman took online oath to ISIS chief”
This headline is strange for a few reasons. Terrorism had “hit home” just a few days before, in Colorado Springs. Mass shootings happen almost every day in America. Farook and Malik, again, were enabled by America’s insanely lax gun laws, just like every other American who commits a mass shooting. This mass shooting was hardly unusual or a surprise.
Whether the federal government, especially President Obama, refers to something as “Islamic terrorism” has been a bugaboo for Fox News for years. The “news” station harped on it feverishly in the debate surrounding the 2012 Benghazi attacks (at the height of a major election) and following the rise of DAESH.
Fox’s article leads by asking if the FBI is now “Stating the obvious?” by investigating the massacre as a terror attack. Fox insisted that the FBI “awkwardly acknowledged” that the shooting was a possible terror attack. According to Fox, the tenor of a press conference is the most newsworthy aspect of a huge massacre. Fox’s reporting acts as a sort of declaration of victory. Fox is essentially going “nyah, nyah, nyah, this is ‘Islamic terrorism!’” as if anyone was denying that.
Fox’s handling of Farook’s and Malik’s shooting contrasts starkly with its reporting on Dear’s shooting of a Planned Parenthood. Fox repeatedly referred to Dear as “the gunman” and did not mention his religion or discuss terrorism as a possibility. It only briefly stated that it was “not clear if his motive was related to the organization.” This statement was preposterous on its face. The article then speculated about Dear’s mental health.
The article described the police officer, Garrett Swasey, who was murdered by Dear, as “a courageous man and loving father who drew strength and inspiration from his Christian faith.” While this is perfectly reasonable coverage of a shooting victim, its juxtaposition with reporting that pretends that no religious motive for the attacks could exist, is a way of obfuscating the radicalism that drove Dear. When a shooter is a Muslim radical, Fox blames Islam. When the shooter is a Christian radical, Fox fawns over Christianity.
In the months prior to Dear’s religious-motivated terrorist attack on Planned Parenthood, Fox had whipped up a scary amount of slanderous outrage at Planned Parenthood. While discussing hoax videos that were designed to smear Planned Parenthood, Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked critics who challenged the lies in the videos, “Where is your humanity?” Dear told police his motivation for the attacks was “No more baby parts.” Fox did not report on this. This motivation comes directly from false accusations made in the videos, which Fox reported as fact aggressively for weeks, and never retracted.
Fox never discussed its role in helping to motivate Dear to murder three people at a Planned Parenthood. Fox’s Bill O’Reilly blasted Fox critics for pointing out its culpability in radicalizing Dear. O’Reilly called his critics “zealots” who used random violence to “advance political agendas,” which is hilarious, coming from the expert. He repeated the lie that Planned Parenthood sold baby parts. He said that Robert Dear was “solely responsible” for his actions, and it was not the responsibility of people who criticized Planned Parenthood’s “practices.”
On Fox “News,” when a violent American man is a radical Christian who shoots people, he is a “gunman” who is “solely responsible,” might be mentally ill, and has nothing to do with his religion. When a violent American man is a radical Muslim who shoots people, he is an example of “Islamic terrorism.”
Ultimately, neither of these descriptions is accurate, and neither gets at the heart of the problem. This problem is uniquely American, and is not ideological or religious. As long as anyone in America under intense stress can stockpile weapons and ammunition without raising red flags, massacres will continue happening regularly.