As details emerge about the Las Vegas gunman who killed at least 59 people and injured more than 500 others, an online debate has begun about why Stephen Paddock has not been labelled a terrorist.
Instead the 64-year-old who opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel towards an open-air music festival on Sunday evening has been described by news outlets as a “lone wolf”, a “granddad”, a “gambler”, and a “former accountant”, but not a terrorist.
We do not know yet what motivated Paddock to carry out the deadly attack. There has been no link found to international terrorism and no confirmation of mental illness.
Yet on social media, many have been pointing out that if Paddock had been a Muslim, the term “terrorist” would have been used almost immediately to describe him, as a link to Islamist terrorism would be assumed even without evidence.
Celebrities, TV personalities and academics have all been discussing why this hasn’t happened in this case.
According to Nevada state law, an “act of terrorism” is described as follows: “Any act that involves the use of violence intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”
At federal level, the US defines “domestic terrorism” as activities that meet three criteria – “dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law”, those that are intended to intimidate or coerce civilians or governments, and which occur primarily within the US.
The FBI, too, suggests there must be an intent to “intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives”.
This element seems to be key – is the perpetrator of violence not only attempting to cause mass harm but trying to influence government or further a particular ideology?