As soon as media outlets around the world began reporting on the events of the Las Vegas shooting on the 1st of October the gunman Stephan Paddock was labelled a “lone wolf.” There were 58 fatalities and hundreds have been left seriously wounded. The attack was one of the most fatal and shocking to have ever occurred in modern American history.
Not only did the media brand Paddock a ‘lone wolf’ but so have those in positions of authority. Las Vegas’ mayor, Carolyn Goodman referred to him as “a crazed lunatic, full of hate” yet avoided the word terrorist. In the press conference after the attack, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo was asked if the massacre was an act of terrorism, to which he too said no. It seems that the term terrorism has become a word reserved only for incidents in which an attacker is a Muslim but never white.
American law defines “domestic terrorism” as “activities that appear intended to affect the conduct of government by mass destruction”. The authorities are still trying to pinpoint Paddock’s exact intentions, but he clearly intended to cause great harm and damage. It was an incredibly well thought out attack and police believe he may have had help planning. While he may not have had a direct political motive, an attack consider one of the worst in American history is surely going to affect “the conduct of government.”
By calling Paddock a lone wolf it humanises him, classifying him as troubled and unstable. The term terrorist on the other hand instantly links the perpetrator to something much larger and more terrifying. It also implies an element of radicalisation with an assumed religious motive, part of a large picture. This is a deeply institutionalised issue but reinforces dangerous stereotypes.