But nobody’s calling them terrorists, and that’s a problem for America.
We didn’t call the jihadis who blew up the Twin Towers “mentally ill,” “disgruntled,” or discuss their “troubled past.” We correctly called them terrorists because they used mass murder to try to “right a wrong” or achieve a political goal, which is the literal definition of terrorism.
Osama bin Laden was nowhere in the vicinity of 9/11 — we later learned he didn’t even know the details of the operation that he had inspired with his words and those who amplified his rhetoric until it happened — yet President Barack Obama tracked him down and killed him. Bin Laden wasn’t mentally ill, either: he was a terrorist.
Bin Laden was radicalized by mullahs in Saudi Arabia, and went off to Afghanistan to use terror to (successfully) drive out the occupying Russian “blasphemers.”
Here in America, media figures, politicians, and preachers — seeking fame, fortune, and power for themselves just like the Saudi mullahs — similarly radicalize angry or self-righteous men to commit acts of mass murder.
But when the men they’ve triggered practice their terrorism to frighten Black people, Jews, abortion providers, queer people, or even former employers into submission or invisibility — or to keep politicians in offices they lost — we call them “sick” or “troubled” or “mentally ill.”
The man who shot up Club Q in Colorado Springs has been called “deranged” in media headlines featuring his “troubled past.” He wasn’t deranged: he was a terrorist. So were the men who murdered Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue and Black people at a Buffalo supermarket.
All had the mental competence to identify their victims, acquire their weapons, and execute their crimes. They may not live or think exactly like you and me, they may have had tough childhoods, but they’re not mentally ill: they’re terrorists.
The Arizona citizens who so threatened the life of the Maricopa County Supervisor, Republican Bill Gates, that he and his family went into hiding aren’t mentally ill. They’re malinformed — lied to — largely by a hierarchy of Republicans from former President Trump down to county officials, and worked into a rage by those lies broadcast across social media, podcasts, and the radio, but they’re not mentally ill: they’re terrorists.
— Members of the Klan, who murdered thousands of Americans over the decades and continue to advocate white supremacy today aren’t mentally ill: they’re terrorists.
— So-called militia members who go looking for street brawls and tried to murder Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi aren’t mentally ill: they’re terrorists.
— Politicians who engage in dog-whistle politics using antisemitic innuendo and darkening the faces of their Black opponents in TV ads aren’t mentally ill: they’re trying to inspire terrorists.
There are a few mass shooters who are clinically delusional, genuinely mentally ill, but they’re few and far between. And even they are similarly vulnerable to radicalization by preachers, politicians, and media figures who are hustling hate for their own selfish purposes.
A 2018 FBI study, looking in detail at the lives and backgrounds of 63 mass shooters from 2000 to 2013, found that, at most, about a quarter had a mental illness “of any kind” — which included things like depression and anxiety disorders — but only three out of the 63 had an actual psychotic disorder, what we usually think of when we attribute mental illness to a horrific act.
Mentally ill people, in fact, are more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators. By calling terrorists “mentally ill” or “troubled” we’re doing a terrible disservice to those tortured souls who actually suffer from mental illness.
That homeless guy with the wild hair who screamed incoherent obscenities at Louise as he chased her down a Portland street was genuinely mentally ill. Sixty out of 63 mass shooters the FBI looked at were not: they’re simply terrorists.
They hate Jews and Muslims, they hate Blacks, they hate queer people, they hate teachers, librarians, and election workers. But hate is not a mental illness: it’s a normal part of the spectrum of human emotion that we are all capable of experiencing.
And, in America today, that hate is all too often triggered by politicians and media figures who then sanctimoniously offer “thoughts and prayers” when random (or stochastic) terrorists to their evil work for them.
The shooters — and the politicians and the media figures who incite them — are America’s real terrorists: only rarely are any of them actually mentally ill or driven by their own “troubled pasts.”
America has a terrorism problem, and if we don’t face it soon it will destroy our nation.
While our mental illness problems are a very real crisis for our society, particularly since Reagan defunded so many of our federal programs to help the mentally ill, that’s not what’s causing mass shootings. They’re caused, pure and simple, by all-American inciters of terrorism and then carried out by all-American terrorists.
— Some wear fancy business suits and make billions funding massive media operations that spread hate and fear.
— Some hold political office, claim patriotism as their motivation, and say they’re just “protecting the children.”
— Some run or work at social media operations and websites that use algorithms that amplify hateful messages just to increase profits from “engagement.”
All are accomplices to terrorism, just like bin Laden was when he inspired 9/11 but didn’t fly a single plane.
Six months ago psychologists Seth D. Norrholm, PhD (also a professor of psychiatry), and Alan D. Blotcky, PhD published an analysis of multiple mass shooting incidents and the people behind them. Their article was appropriately titled “Most Mass Shooters are Terrorists, Not Mentally Ill.”
Opening their article with a quote from Greg Abbott claiming after the Uvalde shooting that, “Anybody who shoots someone else has a mental health challenge,” they came right out and called BS on these pathetic excuses offered by politicians who are, themselves, inciting terrorism.
“There is a common misperception amplified by mainstream media and government officials that people ‘go crazy’ or enter some altered state of consciousness and start shooting,” they wrote in Psychiatric Times.
“Rather, executing murderous plots such as mass shootings at schools, grocery stores, places of worship, and public events requires a mind that is lucid and capable of producing rational thought, planning, and logical cognitive processing. For example, the 2017 Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest Festival shooter reportedly had extensive notes on distance, trajectory, and wind changes in his hotel room.
“These shooters are often linked with an adherence to ideas and rhetoric that are bandied about as truth on media outlets. On top of that, elected government officials with massive public platforms echo these ‘truths’ and reinforce their so-called legitimacy. The result is a radicalized—not mentally ill—individual absorbing all of this extremist ideology who then takes advantage of the easy access to guns in America.”
They note how many of the mass shooting crimes in America are motivated by racism, writing:
“To put it bluntly, racism is not mental illness.”
Mark Follman, author of the book Trigger Points: Inside the Mission to Stop Mass Shootings in America and National Affairs Editor for Mother Jones, came to a similar conclusion after years of research on the topic.
In an article for The Los Angeles Times, he notes:
“Extensive case history shows that mass shooters don’t just suddenly break — they decide. They develop violent ideas that stem from entrenched grievances, rage and despair. In many cases they feel justified in their actions and regard killing as the sole solution to a problem. They arm themselves and prepare to attack, choosing where and when to strike. Often this is a highly organized and methodical process.”
That isn’t mental illness: it’s terrorism.
Experts across the spectrum — from those who study mental illness, crime, and gun violence — all largely agree: our crisis of mass shootings isn’t the result of mental illness. It’s fueled by hate and grievance and is most appropriately called one thing and one thing only: terrorism.
Only our media and politicians insist on calling terrorism what it isn’t, as if using the word will burn them when they type it or call it out.
And, sadly, the genuinely mentally ill in America are such a tortured and fractured community that they lack the infrastructure and coordination necessary to respond to these slurs by media and politicians against them.
So it continues. Media and politicians blame mental illness for terrorism that they, themselves, often inspire and amplify.
January 6th was an act of terrorism, killing eight people including three police officers. The plan to kidnap and murder Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was an act of terrorism. The shooting at Club Q was an act of terrorism, as are the vast majority of the over-600 mass shootings America has experienced in the past year.
It may be terrorism with big goals like getting a president elected or changing policy and laws.
It may be terrorism with smaller goals directed at a former boss or lover who fails to “respect” their male-privilege grievance, often ending in suicide or death-by-cop.
Or it’s terrorism targeting people because of their race, religion, or because of who they love.
But it’s all very simply one thing and one thing only: terrorism.
You can’t cure a problem that you refuse to identify. And if we truly want terrorism in America to stop, we damn well better start calling it what it is.