19 Jun 2015

Was the Charleston shooting an ‘act of terror’?

A year after 9/11 our family moved to Washington. The nation and its capital were still raw with the wounds of terror. Different coloured warnings kept the nation on high alert and nerves were highly strung about another possible attack.

But what really “terrorised” us, and millions of Americans in the Washington area, wasn’t the thought or threat of another attack from extremists. It was the hunting spree of two black American killers, known as the Washington snipers who picked off one seemingly random target after another and ended up killing 11 people and injuring four. It lasted three weeks and it terrorised us.

We stopped going to playgrounds because the snipers picked off targets in open spaces. We were nervous about refuelling our car because two victims had been killed at petrol stations. It changed our lives as much as the new post 9/11 flight rules did.

We were terrified and terrorised. And yet no one was allowed to call this domestic terror, terrorism. The latter was a label reserved for Islamic extremists.


Since 2001 America has been largely spared “terrorist” violence. The one exception was the Boston marathon bombing in which two Chechen brothers, who had immigrated to America, killed three and injured dozens with a pressure cooker bomb planted near the finishing line.

The killing resulted in a mass manhunt which saw the greater Boston area of almost 5 million people in lock down, until one suspect was shot dead and the other captured.

The attack was appalling. The response was alarming. Terror had come back to the streets of America. A few months earlier a young white man had shot dead 20 five and six year old kids and their teachers in Sandy Hook, a small town in Connecticut. The nation grieved in deep shock. But this school shooting, the worst of many, was never called an act of terrorism and therefore it was denied the seriousness and legislative response it deserved.


Gun violence is an epidemic in America. But every time there is a school, cinema or restaurant massacre the sale of guns and ammo increases and the debate about gun control gets drowned out. And yet this is the worst kind of terrorism that America faces these days.

Guns, racism and violence are America’s most stubborn toxins. For the first time some, like Jon Stewart, the TV comedian are debating whether to call what happened in Charleston terrorism. But until the nation does, and sees it as such, very little will change and America will continue to do what it does best in these tragedies: grieve with plangent poignancy while doing little, if nothing, to solve the problem.

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3 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:

    Of course it was an act of terror. It’s part of the Yank Nightmare.

    You know, the one you ignored and censored by omission when you wittered on about “the dream” while you were “reporting” from Washington.

    So much for your propaganda.

    Tragic reality is beginning to wash away your kind of delberately misleading muck.

    The least you now owe people is the truth.

  2. Andrew Dundas says:

    It was the consequence of persistent and malign portrayal of violence as the solution to America’s internal stresses.

  3. H Statton says:

    It is not just about having a gun; it is finding a genuine reason to warrant carrying that gun (It is not the 1770s). Living in a culture of fear for some, will justify possessing a weapon, irrespective of whether the cause of that fear is real or not.

    Is going to Wal-Mart or a church a deadly mission? Should people be sleeping with firearms under their pillows?

    E.g. If a white teenager goes on a shooting spree he is often declared a troubled young man, someone who slipped through the net of social services.

    If any other [ethnic] teenager does the same thing he is just plain criminal until proven otherwise. Both teenagers do jail time but they are viewed differently. Think of the film, “Twelve angry men”.

    Believe it or not, I once heard someone declare “I am not a racist, I’m a white supremacist”. I waited for some sickening, lame, half-baked punchline, but there was none. He was absolutely serious and I was thunderstruck.

    I just don’t understand how even in the wake of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Charleston (to name a few), that people think that these ‘incidents’ will go away if everyone has a gun(!). I found Eric Pratt’s (Gun Owners of America) comments frankly, moronic. Basically he was saying that if you go out should take a gun with you.

    Following the mass-shooting in Columbine, Colorado in 1999, American film-maker Michael Moore produced a documentary about America’s gun culture and mind-set.

    In his film, “Bowling for Columbine” he was able to open a bank account in Northern Michigan and apparently receive a free Weatherby hunting rifle.

    Gunning for the land of the free
    Stuart Jeffries in Cannes
    Friday 17 May 2002

    Just a note from American history:
    The Jim Crow Laws in America were in force right up until the mid-1960s and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement.

    “Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.”

    Are we now witnessing a second wave in the Civil Rights Movement in America? As Jon Stewart (The Daily Show) said in response to the Charleston massacre, there are “no jokes”.

    If we are not shooting some enemy, or some perceived enemy, we are busy shooting one another. “Are We a Nation of Gun Nuts or Are We Just Nuts?” (Michael Moore, commenting on America).

    “As the era of the sword was ending, that of firearms began, in time to allow no lapse in man’s belligerent capacity.”
    Barbara Tuchman

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