Austin bomber is finally called a domestic terrorist. It’s about time.
It took the police long enough. Police in Austin, Texas, have finally admitted that the man who terrorized the city for 19 days by sending package bombs was a terrorist.
The series of bombings rocked the city. The explosions killed two people and injured several more. Frightened residents were told to stay inside and avoid opening packages left on porches.
Finally, a lucky break combined with good police work put authorities, including the FBI, on the trail of 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt. Rather than surrender, Conditt blew himself up in his car with the seventh bomb he had constructed.
Yet for weeks, police refused to label Conditt a terrorist, instead calling him a “troubled young man motivated by frustrations in his life.”
Why did the police hedge? The obvious answer is that Conditt is white.
Conditt is not only white, but he was home-schooled in a “Christian home” (nearly all media stressed the point of his religion).
Despite the fact that the bombings targeted predominantly African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods in Austin, police refused to assign any racial motives to Conditt’s activities. As The Washington Post reported:
Interim Austin police chief Brian Manley said Conditt made a 25-minute video “confession” on his cellphone explaining how he built seven explosive devices.
“Having listened to that recording, he does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate,” Manley said in a news conference Wednesday. “But instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point.” …
This hesitancy to describe the suspect as a terrorist angered many on social media who believed it presented a double standard. Would Conditt be characterized in the same way if he had been a person of color, such as a black or Muslim man?
“Once, before I die, I’d like to hear a cop or prosecutor declare — and mainstream media report — that the confession of a black- or brown-skinned suspect to a crime of violence is ‘the outcry of a very challenged young man, talking about challenges that led him to this point,’ ” tweeted David Simon, a writer and producer known for the television series “The Wire.”
“Murdering multiple people and being called ‘challenged’ is the height of white privilege,” tweeted comedian, actor and writer Kumail Nanjiani, who is of Pakistani heritage. “If this terrorist bomber was a brown guy, my mom wouldn’t be able to leave her house for a week.”
Let’s ask the families of the victims if they think it was terrorism. This “very challenged young man” killed Anthony Stephan House, 39, an African-American money manager, and Draylen Mason, an African-American 17-year-old whose acceptance to the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory of Music arrived after he was dead. After the first bombing, police actually suggested the possibility that House might have set the bomb off himself.
There’s never a presumption of innocence where darker skin color is concerned.
What else do we know about Conditt? He ran in “conservative survivalist circles.” According to a report from Buzzfeed:
Cassia Schultz, 21, told BuzzFeed News that she ran in the same conservative survivalist circles as Conditt in high school.
Schultz said they were both involved in a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth (RIOT), a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids, created and named by the kids and their families, that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills, and water balloon fights. Conditt and his younger sister would usually attend the activities along with 15 to 20 other kids, according to Schultz.
“A lot of us were very into science; we would discuss chemicals and how to mix them and which ones were dangerous,” said Schultz. “We were into weapons and stuff. A lot of us did role-playing, and RPG [role-playing games]; we’d have foam weapons and act out a battle.”
Schultz described Conditt as a “pretty normal kid.” She said that a lot of children who were part of RIOT carried knives and learned how to shoot guns at gun ranges, but she didn’t recall bombs or bomb-making being a specific topic of discussion at RIOT.
Good to know, I guess. Knives and gun skills were all OK. But bombs weren’t a “specific topic of discussion” at RIOT, even though the kids in this group learned how to mix chemicals and learn “which ones were dangerous.”
Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” It might have a political aim, and it might not. It might be based on religious beliefs or a racial animus, or it might not. The effect is the same: People are still petrified.
It’s still terrorism. Maybe next time — which we hope there won’t be, but there always is — the police can say that up front, no matter the terrorist’s skin color.