Troubled or Thug? The Intersectionality of U.S. Society, Domestic Terrorism, and Race


Troubled or Thug?

Johnson, Maisha Z. “8 Ways the Media Upholds White Privilege and Demonizes People of Color.”

Terrorist: Noun. A person who uses unlawful violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

Oxford Dictionary

Domestic Terrorism: The American Pastime

Domestic terrorism goes mainly unchecked in the United States; partly because of the federal government’s inability to implement gun control laws and prevention strategies, and also because of the ignorance and pride of American society. Even though, there are an exorbitant amount of mass shootings in the US, motivated by extremist beliefs, the media rarely frames them as domestic terrorism. Additionally, a stark inconsistency exists between how American news outlets cover mass shootings based on race.

“Counting America’s Mass Shootings.”

Me, Myself, and Domestic Terrorism

For a more in depth look at my personal interest click on this link, Personal Interest Essay

Domestic Terrorism: [Terrorism] perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily U.S.-based movements that espouse extremist ideologies of a political, religious, social, racial, or environmental nature.


Daily Dose of Racism

Historically, the US government and media has treated violent politically motivated organizations differently because of race. For example, the different treatment the Black Panther Party and the Ku Klux Klan received from the federal governement and media during the 1960’s and Civil Rights Movement. To know more about the historical racial bias in the US click on this link, Historical Problem Essay

Initiating Violence To Stop Free Breakfast

The Black Panther Party combined elements of socialism and Black nationalism, and was dedicated to armed self-defense, set up armed patrols with the intention to prevent police brutality, created free community health centers, and free breakfast programs that were beneficial to the community (Hermida). When the US media covered the BPP, “the stories fit into narrow frames that underscored national ideologies about race and social protest”, basically framing the party in a negative light (Rhodes). In response to the Black Panther’s party rhetoric and actions the FBI, Federal Bureau of Investigations, launched the Racial Intelligence Section COINTELPRO (Counterintelligence Program) with the goal to “expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalists” (Jones). The tactics, however, usually involved violence, which was largely initiated by the government who, “aimed not at preventing violence, but at neutralizing the BPP as a political entity” (Jones).

“The Black Panther party, without question, represents the greatest threat to the internal security of the country” 
-J. Edgar Hoover

Blakemore, Erin. “How the Black Panthers’ Breakfast Program Both Inspired and Threatened the Government.”

Turning a Blind Eye To Whiteness

The Ku Klux Klan rose in high numbers in the 1960’s in order, “to disrupt and intimidate the growing civil rights struggle” (Smith). The reception of the KKK’s bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963, which resulted in the death of four black girls, is a stark contrast to the coverage the Black Panther Party received. Reportedly, the police where informed of the bomb two hours before the explosion and did nothing. It wasn’t until 1977 that a Klan leader was prosecuted and convicted for the bombing, but officials declined to present evidence detailing the role the federal government had in the bombing (Smith). This demonstrates the governments past of ignoring racism and dereliction of duty in protecting American citizens. After the Civil Rights Movement there was an effort to discover the identities of Klan members and dismantle Klan activities. However, none of the tactics used were ever violent or caused fatalities; unlike the tactics used against the Black Panther Party.

Framing: The process by which a communication source, such as a news organization, defines and constructs a political issue or public controversy.

(Nelson, Clawson, Oxley)

Colan, Lee. “Identifying the Elephant in the Room.”

The Elephant In The Newsroom

Even though there are an exorbitant amount of mass shootings in the US motivated by extremist beliefs, the media rarely frames them as domestic terrorism. The media will often frame politically motivated mass shooters as an individual struggling with mental health problems or as a hate crime (Sanchez). Even though, hate crimes do not always mean domestic terrorism, the two labels are incredibly similar, but the US media has a clear aversion to the label of domestic terrorism. This is important because, the way a story is framed is important because it can shape the reader’s perception, tolerance, and opinions on the issue or event (Nelson, Clawson, Oxley). To see more of my research on the present day problem click on this link, Present Day Problem Essay

White and Troubled Has A Better Ring To It

Additionally, the US media more frequently portrays white mass shooters with extremist beliefs as troubled individuals dealing with mental health issues, then with non-white mass shooters (Sanchez). For example, in Charlottesville, South Carolina on June 17, 2015 a white supremacist named Dylan Roof killed nine black churchgoers while they were praying (Blinder, Sack). A CNN article detailing Roof’s background in order to comprehend his motivations, did not once refer to him as a terrorist even though the shooting had all the hallmarks of an act of domestic terrorism.

(Image Citation: Robles, Frances. “Dylann Roof Photos and a Manifesto Are Posted on Website.”)

Compare this to the backlash the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) received after a shooting in Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016 the difference is clear. BLM was holding a peaceful protest, when a black veteran, Micah Johnson, shot and killed five police officers because of his extremist beliefs (Blake). The movement was subsequently condemned by news outlets like the Rush Limbaugh Show, which called BLM a “terrorist group” (Blake). Even though, Johnson was later reported to have no affiliation with BLM a portion of the media was quick to blame the politically motivated violent extremist attack on the organization. However, while it was fair to label Johnson a terrorist, an entire movement shouldn’t be judged and condemned for the actions of one extremist not even associated with the movement. This backlash shows that there is a clear difference in the coverage mass shootings get based on race. Other reports of the shooting would remain unbiased, but never referred to Johnson as a terrorist (Fernandez, Pérez-Peña, Bromwich).

(Image Citation: Wilson, Samantha. “Micah Xavier Johnson’s Mother & Siblings Surface For First Time Since Dallas Murders.”)

The US Government Isn’t Doing Their Job?! Shocker!!

In an attempt to combat domestic terrorism, the US launched a Strategic Implementation Plan (SIP) in 2011. The three objectives for countering violent extremism were, “community outreach, research and training and capacity building” (GAO). In 2016 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that out of the 44 tasks aimed to counter violent extremism; 19 tasks had been implemented, 23 tasks were in progress, and no action had been taken on 2 tasks (GAO). The report found that there is no real strategy for the implementation of the plan or effective way to measure the outcomes of it, thus it can be concluded that the US government’s efforts to counter violent extremism are inadequate and insufficient. To resolve domestic terrorism the federal government needs to be more proactive in implementing preventative plans and strategies. For example, more effective treatments and programs for mental health issues, more gun control legislation, and more resources in public education in order to develop critical thinking skills and to further assist struggling students.

Hear Ye! Hear Ye! Calling All Local Politicians And News Outlets!

“Rosie the Riveter”

On the surface, the idea of one person solving domestic terrorism is absurd, however, there are several actions an individual can take to effectively prevent domestic terrorism. For example, one can call or send a letter or email to their local politician to lobby for more competent gun control laws, or join a protest against mass shootings calling for more preventative actions from your local government.

“Uncle Sam”

Some more abstract approaches are to have more tolerance for those who are different from yourself, to provide more support to those who are struggling, and to hold more respectful and open conversations that include people with a variety of different opinions. In addition, a good method to remain unbiased against the framing of news outlets is to first, understand that the media does have a bias, and then expose oneself to as many different commentaries on the event as possible, then proceed to use critical thinking to produce an objective opinion for oneself. To learn more about my proposed solutions click on this link, Solutions Essay

Not To Sound Cliche But More Gun Control Would Definitely Help

Lopez, German. “America’s Unique Gun Violence Problem, Explained in 17 Maps and Charts.”

Unlike the US, Japan has highly restrictive gun control and one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world, demonstrating that gun control is effective (Masters). Furthermore, with the highest homicide-by-firearm rate out of all the world’s developed nations, the US sorely needs gun control. An economist Richard Florida found that, “states with tighter gun control laws have fewer gun-related deaths” (Lopez). Additionally, after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida state legislatures passed 69 gun control measures in 2018 (Astor, Russell). However, while this is promising the federal government, especially Congress, have yet to enact any new gun restrictions, due to pressure from the National Rifle Association (Astor, Russell). The federal government’s hesitancy to implement more gun restrictions is detrimental to preventing domestic terrorism.

You’re Toxic, I’m Slippin’ Under

The root cause for domestic terrorism can be found within the attitude American society has created of supremacy and the belief that the individual is purely responsible for any success or failures. Not only does this societal attitude generate an anger and intolerance towards those who are different, but also provides a way to ignore racial bias and disregard America’s history of racism. In order to progress as a nation, American society as a whole needs to abandon the notion that the US is perfect and homogeneous and acknowledge the prevalent racism and domestic terrorism plaguing the nation.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Wang, Sissi. “People with Racially Diverse Friend Groups Are More Productive.”

Works Cited

Constructive feedback is appreciated!

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  1. April 25, 2019 by Siena.Martin

    Zoe, great project! One of your links and a photo would not show up but other than that you did an amazing job. This topic is super relevant especially today. I liked how you tied the historical and modern aspect closely together. I think it would do the US a lot of good if we would acknowledge our past mistakes so we can avoid them in the future and move on.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Lisa.Kopelnik

    Zoe, what an impactful and thoughtful project. Your project was very well-researched and it’s so important to raise awareness surrounding racial media bias and also how patriotism interferes with security and investigations. I also appreciated your humorous headers and the website is formatted super well. Great job drawing the lines from history to present, and I really enjoyed reading this.

  3. April 28, 2019 by Rebecca.Urato

    Zoe, this project is amazing. I loved how you used some humor to grab the audience’s attention, but still kept the topic serious. I can tell you did a lot of research and care deeply about this issue; it is reflected in your project. Great work!

  4. April 29, 2019 by Hannah Robbins

    I loved your project! I felt that you found very creative and interesting ways to disseminate important information. The design of your page was gorgeous, and your research was profound.

  5. April 29, 2019 by Natalie.Bauder

    Really great job! This was an extremely interesting topic to read about and an important one to discuss. You tackled so many different topics and it was very evident that you did your research. I liked your headers for each subject as well!

  6. May 12, 2019 by Rin Zoot

    Hi Zoe,
    I never saw school shootings and etc as domestic terrorism until reading this interesting website. I think it is a valid and thought-provoking concept, which calls for direct change. I also liked how you designed your website, along with the numerous quotes you used throughout the article. Nice job!

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