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Refusing To Call a Terrorist a Terrorist

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When Mark Anthony Conditt blew himself up as police officers closed in on him in the wee hours of March 21st, most if not all residents of Austin, Texas breathed a sigh of relief. The 23-year-old serial bomber terrorized the entire city for the better part of an entire month, killing two people and maiming several others.

While Austin and much of the nation was attempting to contemplate what the motives were behind such wicked and sadistic behavior, certain pockets of the mainstream media wasted no time in dancing around the facts. They were busy promoting the standard narrative of probing into Mr. Conditt’s past and looking for anything that may have caused such a “good boy” from a good family to indulge in such a display of evil.

Many parties, from the Austin Police Chief who viewed Conditt as a ”very challenged young man” to media outlets, seemed to effortlessly find friends, relatives and others who eagerly shared their accounts about the late serial bomber. He was referred to as everything except what he actually was – a terrorist! His violent actions are the classic definition of terrorism, more specifically, domestic terrorism. Pure and simple.

While much of the media tied itself up in knots and danced around this fact like America’s best dance trio, as they recited stories about how he was a member of religious groups, was home-schooled as a kid and participated in archery, water balloon fights. While there is certainly nothing wrong or unusual about many or any of the aforementioned activities, they still do not absolve the reality that many in the print and electronic media were unwilling or unable to do: refer to Conditt as the domestic terrorist that he was! They refused to call a spade a spad

This has not been lost on many non-White people. Indeed, more than a few people of color – journalists, academics, politicians, attorneys, entertainers – have wasted little time espousing this observation. To those of us who are avid readers and viewers of mainstream news on a daily basis, it is a truth that cannot be denied. On the contrary, we can almost anticipate how the disparities of coverage between White and non-White men will manifest themselves.

Routine reactions to White men who engage in violence and murder others:

He had a troubled past.
He was a loner.
He was introverted.
He was a challenged human being.
He was socially awkward.
He suffered from mental illness.
He was the product of a dysfunctional family.
He came from a good family who suddenly made poor choices.
He was a quiet person.

Routine reactions to non-White men who engage in violence and murder others:
He was violence-prone.
The product of a broken home.
Typical menace to society.
He reverted to his native savage behavior.
He was a discipline problem all throughout his public school years,
He had a long criminal history.
He was a thug.

In the case of Conditt, his racial and religious pedigree afforded him less intense scrutiny. Being a White male, he was viewed solely as “an individual, an aberration” as opposed to being categorized as “like all them,” which, more than often, is the case for minorities.

Just as equally disturbing was the fact that when the story of African-Americans and Latinos being targeted was realized, it received scant coverage from the media. Rather, only until Conditt’s terror spree invaded other neighborhoods did the story get the appropriate attention it should have garnered from the outset.

While no reasonable person would deny that mental illness is a serious medical and psychological factor facing our nation and its victims do indeed deserve intense and proper treatment, the fact is that non-White men or people of color in general are never given the benefit of the doubt of being similarly affected by such a situation.

Further, the majority of people who are classified with this condition do not go around mailing bombs and terrorizing innocent suspects.

Mental illness is not a license to engage in domestic terrorism. Such double standards are the classic example of White privilege. Imagine the reaction from certain quarters if the suspect had been Muslim.

Such incidents remind me of the recent death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man from Sacramento, California who was shot 20 times in his grandparents’ backyard by police officers. One could argue that his murder was a modern-day lynching.

This sordid fact, coupled with the intense apprehension that so many people have in labeling Conditt a domestic terrorist, causes me – and, I am sure, many others – to ponder the question: Will non-White lives ever matter?

Dr. Elwood Watson is a professor of history and African-American Studies at East Tennessee State University.

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