Paddock's family said they were stunned to learn he was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in US history
Paddock's family said they were stunned to learn he was responsible for the deadliest mass shooting in US history

There is a reason why what Stephen Paddock did was an 'act of terrorism', but he has not yet been called a 'terrorist' by law enforcement officials.

Words matter, and the ones we choose shape how we cope after a tragedy and how it forms in our memory.

According to police, 59 people were shot and killed by Paddock, and well over 500 were injured in the horrific attack.

In making a point about racial bias in the media and law enforcement, many persons shared a section of Nevada state law which calls what Paddock did as an act of terrorism.

The Nevada legal code defines an act of terrorism as:

Any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population

Many news outlets and law enforcement officials have so far avoided using the term 'terrorist' to refer to Paddock himself.

On the night of the shooting Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo told a journalist

We don’t know what his belief system was at this time.

It was on these grounds that he and others did not refer to Paddock as a terrorist.

References to Paddock as a 'lone wolf,' were also considered by some to imply a racial bias.

The criticism expressed does indeed contain some elements which are true - for example use of terms like 'lone wolf' for far right, white, mass killers, is because organisations on the extreme right tend to favour recruiting and grooming young white men to become lone wolf killers. This is distinct to the collective, group training given to Islamic extremists, and creation of a feeling of cell unity, perpetrated by groups such as Isis.

Terrorism and terrorists

The FBI defines terrorism as using violence with intent to:

intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives

The main problem is that there has so far been no discernible political or religious message that Paddock's mass murder was intended to further.

Terrorism, as defined by the authorities, must be recognisably political. The absence of traditional motive is in part what makes the Paddock killings so unsettling.


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