Judged by the mass media coverage of both, particularly over the past year, terrorists are clearly more newsworthy and thus perhaps made more fearsome to Americans. A recent spate of deadly or near-deadly incidents in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Illinois illustrate the point. But which poses the greater threat to the United States?
An American placed multiple pressure-cooker bombs in several Manhattan and New Jersey locations ten days ago. Some exploded, some did not, people were injured and the police apprehended the suspect in 48 hours. His bloody, rant-filled diary was found and has been seen on TV and shown and discussed extensively on social media.
The following stats (January – September 2016) provide a larger context for consideration:
• 31,128 Americans committed suicide;
• 18,197 died from drug overdose,
• 12,225 from homicides,
• 223,418 from the effects of obesity and another
• 254, 712 from smoking and finally
• 49 from acts of domestic terrorism.
The 49 were killed by a young, American man at a Florida night club. In December 2015, 14 more were shot dead at a local government Christmas party in California, by a young married couple. The husband was a colleague of those killed.
The people injured by the New York and New Jersey bombings and the 63 who died in the two mass shooting, received and still receive much more attention than a small percentage of the homicide victims. But, this latter number poses the greatest threat to the cohesion of the United States. Why? The reasons become clear when more details are added:
• The accused NYC and NJ bomber is a Muslim of Afghan descent, whose diary Is filled with anti-American diatribes and praise for a US and foreign terrorists;
• In North Carolina and Oklahoma, two of the killers were police officers, while one remains at-large. The victims were unarmed African-Americans;
• The 49 killed in the Florida night club, were victims of a Muslim shooter.
• The mass killings in California were committed by a married Muslim couple.
• By September 2016, the number of Chicago homicides since January exceeded 500, more than the total in Los Angeles and New York City combined. Many among the 500 were African-American and several were killed by white police officers, including one particularly disturbing incident – a young, unarmed Black teen-ager was shot multiple times by a White police officer, a scene captured on video.
Let’s reflect for a moment on why Muslim, Middle Eastern or foreign origin American killers translate automatically into terrorists, with all the heavy, frightening emotional baggage that conveys, while a white American Christian murdering 9 African Americans in a church, does not. The white on black killings, particularly those by police officers, reflect a deadly internal racism threatening to tear Americans apart from within. We find it psychologically easier to label white, Christian American mass murderers of inter alia children, as insane, internalize the horror of the moment and move on. “Terrorism” is not the greater existential danger, white on black murder is.
Tom Timberman is an expert on military policy and now lives on the Eastern Shore. Among his many assignments with the US Department of State, he has headed a provincial reconstruction team, embedded within a combat brigade in Iraq. He has also helped implement a new counterterrorism strategy in South East Asia as Senior Advisor for South Asia in the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism.