Two weeks ago, James Harris Jackson, a 28-year-old US veteran and member of a white supremacy group, commuted to New York City to “make a statement,” according to the New York Police Department. Frustrated with the rising influx of interracial relationships in America, particularly those between African-American men and Caucasian women, Jackson planned to stalk and kill multiple black men.
He aimed to garner as much media coverage as possible. In an interview with the New York Daily News, he stated that, through his act, he wanted white women to think, “Well, if that guy feels so strongly about it, maybe I shouldn’t do it.” For this reason, he ended up killing Timothy Caughman, an elderly black man, with a 26-inch-long sword.
Similarly to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who mercilessly shot and killed nine black church-goers during a prayer meeting in 2015, Jackson believed that this hateful crime would ‘save’ the Caucasian race. He believed that “the white race is being eroded. [. . .] No one cares about you. The Chinese don’t care about you. The blacks don’t care about you.”
My primary vexation, which left me inaudible and perturbed, is the continuation of the tropes that define who we do and don’t deem as ‘terrorists.’ The image of a terrorist is usually a very irate, evil Middle Eastern Muslim man. As such, we fail to conceptualize terrorism as stemming from the very real and tangible acts committed by white men right here in North America.
In reading of the blatantly heinous acts of individuals like Jackson, Roof, and Alexandre Bissonnette (the mass-murderer who shot and killed six individuals and injured 19 others at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec City this past January), it’s hard to ignore that they are rarely labelled for what they are — terrorists.
Jackson was indeed charged with terrorism by authorities in New York. But typically, white males committing these acts of hatred aren’t regarded as radical terrorists. The KKK — Ku Klux Klan, despite its members’ many bombings of black churches and the multitude of lynchings and vile murders of black folk, is still not registered as a certified terrorist group.
It’s sad that the persistent issue of white privilege even exists within the realm of terrorism. This form of privilege (which exempts the white demographic from various economic, political, and social problems faced by people of colour) has made it so that men like Jackson, Roof, and Bissonnette evade the social classification of ‘terrorist.’
By excusing white individuals from the terrorist label, you vilify entire racial and religious demographics. Planning, perpetuating, and committing acts of terror upon innocent civilians in order to enforce a political and hate-driven agenda is undoubtedly terrorism. While Jackson’s charges of terrorism are a step forward, there are still numerous unresolved cases of white men who have escaped the label.
To be perfectly clear, any and all acts of terrorism are horrible. Any individual — regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion — should be recognized as a terrorist if they have committed terrorism. However, men of colour, and particularly those who are Muslim, are continuously established as terrorists for their crimes while various white men guilty of equally atrocious hate-crimes are not.
We need to start identifying and labelling all individuals guilty of hate-filled, agenda-driven crimes as terrorists — even if they derive from Eurocentric roots.