Like most Americans, I’ve been closely following the sniper shootings in the Washington, D.C. area over the past week. I am as horrified as anyone else by the killer’s – or killers’ – complete disregard for human life. As someone who has lived in that area and still has friends there I am even more appalled.
But one thing I can neither rationalize nor accept is the recurring question of whether these incidents are in any way related to terrorism.
Of course it’s “terror” – people are refusing to stand in line at the movie theater, are reluctant to pump gas and generally fearful of going about the tasks of daily life. If they aren’t being terrorized then I don’t know what to call it. But mentioning terror-ISM only conjures Sept. 11, to which these psychotic acts are probably not linked.
“This could be anything,” one law enforcement source acknowledged to The Washington Post. “It could be another Timothy McVeigh. It could be bin Laden. It could be Joe Nut.”
Ballistic and forensic tests have only just begun to yield helpful information and investigators have not released a specific criminal profile of the suspect. But experts have been saying all week that the shooter is probably a well-trained sniper, possibly ex-military, and has no motive other than a twisted rush from playing God. Indeed, the “Death” tarot card found near the Monday shooting site contained the chilling message: “Dear policeman, I am God.”
The shooter is likely a sociopath who gets off on the media blitz that ensues from his random acts of violence. So why the inevitable query about ties to terrorism?
It’s amazing how 19 minions of evil can so alter a society’s perceptions.
Were this October 2000, it’s unlikely that “terrorism” would pass from the lips of many reporters or law enforcement officials. More likely, activists would harp on the importance of gun control while the media and politicians drew comparisons to the Columbine slayings.
For me, the grisly sight of a blood-spattered minivan abandoned at a gas pump does not elicit “terrorism” as an immediate response. It triggers the words “psychotic murdering maniac” or “The Godfather.” But it doesn’t remind me of religious fanatics and burning buildings. Not even of suicide bombers, because they have motives and want to be known.
Not everything bad in America is related to Sept. 11. It shouldn’t creep into the national psyche at the mention of any violence, death or despair. We shouldn’t want to automatically draw that conclusion, because it makes no sense.
There is only one aspect of the investigation that can be narrowly linked to Sept.11: the speediness and teamwork that has characterized the investigation.
“The genesis of all this was Sept. 11,” a Bush administration official said to the New York Times. “The terrorist attacks spawned a new era of coordination and communication, and we’re seeing the fruits of that now.”
According to the Times, the official said last fall’s anthrax attacks, which saw law enforcement, the public and the media scrambling to coordinate cleanup efforts and the spread of information, have taught a lesson in how to best run an investigation.
But the connection stops there.
If and when the police catch the nutcases who indiscriminately took six lives over the past week, it’s doubtful they will find any connection to terrorism.