Sniper Killings Toss Ugly Glare On Home Grown Terrorism

The day after the FBI issued yet another terror alert, Kenneth H. Bridges, the co-founder of a national black self-help group, Matah, was gunned down at an Exxon gas station in Northern Virginia. If state and local authorities had acted on the FBI terror alert and tightened security at airports, bus and train stations, public buildings, and if Congress had given President Bush the billions and free-wheeling authority he demands for homeland security in America, it would not have saved Bridges' life, or the lives of the to-date eight others murdered by the roving, unidentified sniper.

In the past, those who shot-up schools, shopping malls and neighborhood streets were likely to be white males who kill for thrills, personal revenge, to settle real or imagined grudges, or for fringe political causes. In fact, a Newsweek poll found that Americans by a big majority fear the sniper more than foreign terrorists.

The serial sniper is the latest in America's rogues gallery of home grown terrorists who acted out their deadly personal or political hatreds and claimed hundreds of lives. In 1966, Charles Whitman climbed a tower at the University of Texas and gunned down 16 persons. In 1977, David Berkowitz killed six and wounded seven women in New York City. In the 1990s, there was Uanbomber, Ted Kaczynski, Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, the Columbine High School shooters, right-wing bio-terrorists and the still unidentified anthrax killer.

The serial sniper is hardly the first long distance killer to terrorize local communities. During a three year shooting spree in the early 1990s, Thomas Lee Dillon sniper killed five in Ohio. According to Northeastern University criminologist, James Alan Fox, between 1976 and 2000 there were 514 known sniper killings. The killers fit the standard pattern: Most were white, male, between the ages of 26 to 40 and loners. And even more chilling, nearly half of them were never caught.

Though these in-our-backyard terrorists usually act alone, there are countless, nameless and faceless others in local communities who nurse private or political hatreds, and who are fully able and willing to launch their own mass killing sprees. Authorities know that a serial sniper can stir imitative murderous impulses that lurk in many others. They implore TV stations to tone down their obsessive, relentless and, more often than not, sensationalist coverage of mass killers. They also appeal to Hollywood to halt the making or delay release of films that glorify mass murder.

In the same Newsweek poll, women, blacks and Latinos said they were even more fearful than white males of the sniper. There's a reason for their greater fear. They have been the prime victims of hate violence from individuals who kill from deranged rage, or who belong to organized hate groups. In the 1990s, the Southern Poverty Law Center estimated that there were thousands of racist Skinheads, and members of the Order, Aryan Nation, the White Patriots Party, Nazi factions and the Klan. They committed dozens of bombings, physical assaults and murders to bring about their apocalyptic vision of a white, Christian America.

The FBI also reported that in 2001 hate crimes leaped from the year before. As always, women, gays and minorities were the main victims, and they were almost always, as apparently is the case with the victims of the serial sniper, chosen at random. Their different sexual orientation, gender, religion, or race was enough to put them in harm's way.

Bush has said that he is sickened by the killings, and has even labeled them "terrorizing." Yet, he refuses to admit that the killer is far more likely to be an ordinary citizen then a foreign-born terrorist. That lax gun laws (Bush still adamantly rejects gun "fingerprinting" that might make it easier to trace the killer's gun) and the easy accessibility to the kind of weapon that the sniper is using, enable a homegrown terrorist to create his own arsenal of mass destruction. And, that police and local officials refuse to compile track, monitor, let alone racially profile, those who are prone to hate violence. This continuing blind spot toward our made-in-America-terrorists fans the public delusion that pulverizing towns in Afghanistan to stamp out the Taliban, or occupying Iraq and to dump Saddam Hussein will wipe away this type of terror violence.

The sniper's bullet that snuffed out the life of Bridges and eight other innocents is likely more proof that Americans can and do routinely maim and kill other Americans, paralyze entire cities with fear and panic and force federal and state agencies to cough up millions to hunt them down. FBI terror alerts, and billions earmarked to protect them from foreign terrorists won't change that.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion Web site: He is the author of The Crisis in Black and Black (Middle Passage Press).

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