For the third time in four months, a tragedy on U.S. soil is dominating the country’s attention. And for the third time in four months, we’re about to have a debate about whether to label such an act — perpetrated by a man with no known ties to Muslim extremism — as “terrorism.”
Shortly after the Las Vegas shooting that killed at least 58 people and injured more than 500 Sunday night, law enforcement indicated that it was not treating the tragedy as terrorism. “No, not at this point,” Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. “We believe it was a local individual. He resides here locally. .… We don’t know what his belief system was at this time.”
And White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said during Monday’s briefing that “it would be premature to weigh in” on whether the shooting was an act of domestic terrorism.
To which plenty of people responded: What? How could the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history not be terrorism?
The debate has been festering for a while, most notably since June, when a white man attacked congressional Republicans’ baseball practice just outside Washington. It returned in August, when an alleged white supremacist drove into a crowd of counterprotesters in Charlottesville. Some on the right wanted a man who targeted Republicans classified as a terrorist, while President Trump’s critics noted his failure to label the Charlottesville attacker as such — despite Trump’s emphasis on “radical Islamic terrorism.” (The debate also raged back in mid-2015, when a white man with a demonstrated racist past opened fire at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C.)