A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
Terror can be described as “a state of intense fear.” Or more specifically, “violent action or threats designed to cause fear among ordinary people, in order to achieve political aims.”
Saturday’s attack in El Paso meets both definitions. The FBI has a more specific definition, but it fits too. Federal authorities are treating this as a case of domestic terrorism. And it’s not the only case. A number of other recent mass shootings in America also meet both definitions. Investigators haven’t said much about the motives of the attacker in Dayton yet, but he certainly elicited terror there as well.
We’re witnessing a change in how these types of attacks are talked about. The “CBS Evening News” called this weekend “TERROR IN AMERICA.” The lead story on Vice.com right now is titled “El Paso is what white nationalist terror looks like. America isn’t ready.” The lead editorial in Monday’s New York Times says “mass shootings like the one in El Paso should be condemned by America’s leaders as terrorism.”
Sunday night’s homepage headlines
CNN.com: “A deadly day in America”
WashingtonPost.com: “2 cities, 13 hours, 29 dead”
NYTimes.com: “Back-to-Back Shooting Massacres Shake a Bewildered Nation to Its Core”
FoxNews.com is leading with a Trump quote: “We have to get it stopped”
How Anderson Cooper began Sunday night’s broadcast
“Tonight in El Paso, Texas,” he said, “a 2-month-old baby boy has no idea his life has changed forever. His name is Paul. He was found under the body of his mother. Her blood had spilled on him. Some of his fingers were broken but he was alive. He is, it seems, alive because his mother Jordan shielded him from the bullets that killed her and the bullets that killed her husband Andre. They were in the Walmart shopping for school supplies.” Read more about the family here…
About the “manifesto”
“Across the globe this year, white supremacists have left manifestos referencing a racist conspiracy theory” (so-called “white replacement”) to justify their attacks,” The Daily Beast’s Kelly Weill writes. They’re trying to “get others to follow their examples.”
Most media outlets approached Saturday’s racist anti-immigrant essay with an abundance of caution. Outlets like CNN quoted from it sparingly. The Drudge Report was widely criticized for publishing the text. But there’s no ignoring the reality that some of the manifesto’s rhetoric, namely the term “invasion,” has been repeated by President Trump. Over and over again. The AP says the manifesto’s anti-immigration language “mirrors some of his own.” The Washington Post says Trump’s rhetoric “looms over” the El Paso massacre. And one of the New York Times’ front page headlines on Monday says the essay is “an echo of Trump’s language…”
Cloudfare cuts off 8chan
The racist essay was first posted on an 8chan message board. CNN noted that El Paso was “at least the third atrocity linked to 8chan this year.” Fredrick Brennan, the site’s founder, told the New York Times and the Washington Post that the site should be shut down.
“The problem,” Brennan told CNN’s Sara Sidner, “is the current administrators are running it in a way that is indefensible. If it’s going to keep on like this it should be shut down. I don’t want to pile on but they are not doing anything to solve this. They should at least shut down the board for a week or a month after something like this. They are letting their users incite violence.”
In the wake of the attack, reporters renewed their scrutiny of Cloudflare, the US company that helps keep 8chan online. Initially on Sunday Cloudfare said it had no plans to stop providing services to the message board. But on Sunday evening the company did an about-face and said 8chan would be cut off at midnight Pacific time.
The message board will probably find other ways to remain online. But as Donie O’Sullivan wrote Sunday night, “this decision certainly feels like an important moment in the history of the internet. Cloudflare is setting a precedent, a precedent it didn’t want to set.” CEO Matthew Prince says “we continue to feel incredibly uncomfortable about playing the role of content arbiter and do not plan to exercise it often…”
Oliver Darcy writes: If a member of my family (we’re Persian), or a Muslim, had posted a racist political screed, threatened violence, and then carried out a slaughter, it would rightly — and very quickly — be covered as a terror attack. The culprit would be called a “suspected terrorist.” So why did it take newsrooms so long? I understand that officials were bizarrely reluctant to initially say they were investigating it as domestic terrorism, but do newsrooms really need to wait for a government official (particularly in this administration) to say the obvious before covering it as such? I am not convinced…
>> Related from Bellingcat: “Until law enforcement, and the media, treat these shooters as part of a terrorist movement no less organized, or deadly, than ISIS or Al Qaeda, the violence will continue…”
Will conservative media demand Trump call this for what it is?
Oliver Darcy writes: Back just a few years ago, a common refrain in conservative media was to demand that Obama call radical Islamic extremism for what it is. Say “radical Islamic extremism,” these personalities said. If you can’t identify the enemy, they’d argue, how can you defeat it? You would hear this type of rhetoric on Fox, you would hear it on talk radio, and you’d see it online. So now, following another bloody weekend, I’m waiting for these same personalities to demand Trump call THIS violence for what it is: white supremacist terrorism. Where are they?
>> The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board says “the common theme of these killings is the social alienation of young men that will be harder to address” than guns or political rhetoric… (Wall Street Journal)
FOR THE RECORD, PART ONE
– To understand what’s going on, read this by Juliette Kayyem: “White-supremacist terror is rooted in a pack, a community. And its violent strand today is being fed by three distinct, but complementary, creeds. The community has essentially found a mission, kinship and acceptance…” (Washington Post)
– CNN’s Mallory Simon: “Today, it appears officials are making a decision to call these attacks the terrorism they are — and maybe that is a first step towards fixing this rising tide of hate. But it cannot alone stop or solve it…” (CNN)
– Margaret Sullivan’s Monday column: “The media’s by-the-numbers coverage of gun massacres must change” (Washington Post)
– NBC’s Phillip Mena was born and raised in El Paso… Most of his family members still live there… “When we talk about protecting our borders and protecting our way of life, and then we see something like this, we ask ourselves, I mean — what are we protecting it from? Death and decay?” (Mediaite)
Trump will speak on Monday
He’s slated to speak from the Diplomatic Room of the White House at 10 a.m. ET. The broadcast networks are planning to take it live, giving it the feel of an address to the nation. His televised remarks on Sunday certainly underwhelmed — he didn’t mention guns, domestic terrorism or white nationalism…
In the wake of the Christchurch mosque attack in March, a reporter asked Trump, “Do you see, today, white nationalism as a rising threat around the world?” Trump answered: “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case. I don’t know enough about it yet. They’re just learning about the person and the people involved. But it’s certainly a terrible thing. Terrible thing.”
>> CNN’s Don Lemon on Sunday night: “When are we going to call out white nationalism for the curse that it is on this country?” He said Trump “won’t acknowledge” the serious threat…
George Conway’s prediction
While Kellyanne Conway is presumably involved in the conversations about what Trump will say in Monday’s speech, her husband George has a prediction. “We all know what’s going to happen here,” he tweeted on Sunday. Trump will give a speech, “it will look somewhat presidential,” but “it’ll be hard to believe that he believes the words he said. And his speech won’t address his own hateful, racist rhetoric.” So, Conway said, he’ll be “roundly criticized,” and he’ll watch the coverage, and he’ll “stew,” and then he’ll erupt, and “he’ll tweet, otherwise say, or do something that’ll completely undo whatever positive benefit came from the speech.” His point: We’ve seen this all before…
FOR THE RECORD, PART TWO
– Lester Holt and David Muir anchored NBC and ABC’s nightly newscasts from El Paso… Norah O’Donnell anchored on CBS from NYC, and she’ll be in El Paso on Monday…
– Muir’s intro: “We have been to so many of these, and the words quite honestly are harder and harder to come by…”
– On Monday’s “Today,” Holt will join the show from El Paso while Craig Melvin will report from Dayton…
– CNN is live all night and into Monday morning…
– Numerous CNN anchors will be leading the network’s coverage from El Paso and Dayton on Monday, joining Victor Blackwell and Jim Sciutto, who anchored from El Paso on Sunday…
– MSNBC has scheduled a two-hour special, “A Nation in Crisis,” Monday from 9 p.m. til 11 p.m. ET. It will be anchored by Brian Williams, Rachel Maddow and Nicolle Wallace…
My interview with Shannon Watts
The gun control group Shannon Watts founded, Moms Demand Action, was holding its annual conference for activists in DC when the El Paso attack took place on Saturday. After dark, hundreds of the group’s members held a moment of silence outside the White House and rallied near Capitol Hill. “NOT ONE MORE,” they chanted, a few hours before the shooting spree in Dayton.
We showed videos of the rallies when Watts spoke with me on Sunday’s “Reliable Sources.” She said “I get asked all the time whether I’m numb or I think Americans are numb. What those videos show you is that we’re not— there isn’t a parent in this country who isn’t terrified that their child will be next.” Here’s the segment…
Notes and quotes from “Reliable”
– We spoke with Dayton Daily News editor Jim Bebbington and former El Paso Times editor Bob Moore…
– With Jennifer Mascia and Dave Cullen, we talked about the daily death toll from gun murders and suicides… Plus the term “manifesto” and whether it glorifies what these killers do…
– With Nikole-Hannah Jones and Wesley Lowery, we talked about how to cover the scourge of white nationalist terrorism… And with Olivia Nuzzi, we analyzed the president’s difficulty in being a consoler-in-chief…
Josh Campbell’s observations
I asked CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell, who’s in El Paso right now, for his observations about the news coverage and the federal response.
“One stark thing for me is how two distinct groups are using the media to their own ends: A) politicians casting blame on who is responsible for the national toxic tone and B) law enforcement, which is trying to appeal to the public to submit specific tips that will assist in the investigation,” he wrote. “I also wonder what would happen to further the reduction of gun violence if any senior law enforcement leader (at DOJ or FBI) actually had the intestinal fortitude to weigh in on the larger issue and truly talk about WHY things are happening rather than just WHAT happened. Thus far we’ve only seen law enforcement using media for tactical investigative purposes rather than to drive a national conversation about this national emergency.”
Holt: “There is too much to lose…”
“We’re all tired,” Lester Holt said at the end of Sunday’s “Nightly News” — “tired of having to watch communities like these go through the well-worn rituals of shock, pain, vigils and talk… lots of talk and few answers. We’re tired of asking why. But there is too much to lose for us to succumb to numbness and despair. And what we can’t forget is that this is sadly common, but it is not normal. And that should give us hope/”
O’Donnell: “We will not live in fear.”
Americans “prayed in churches and in private” for the shooting victims, and then “went on with their lives, spending a summer Sunday with their families, appreciating them that much more,” Norah O’Donnell said at the end of her program. “And perhaps living life to the fullest, in the most positive way we can, is the best way to honor those we lost & the best message we can send to those who would have us live in terror. We will be vigilant, do everything possible to prevent these tragedies and protect our loved ones, but we will not live in fear. That would be admitting defeat. Among the 4 freedoms laid out by Franklin D. Roosevelt is ‘freedom from fear.’ He called it an essential human right, and it is one we cannot afford to surrender.”