President Trump’s Twitter feed was unusually sober this morning, and rightly so: a lone gunman had engaged in an act of politically motivated violence by shooting at Republican lawmakers just hours earlier. Senior congressman Steve Scalise, who had been enjoying a baseball practice ahead of a charity game against Democrats, was left critically injured. Two policemen were also hurt, as was a congressional staffer and a lobbyist.
In the wake of the outrage, the President had this to say: “Just left hospital. Rep. Steve Scalise, one of the truly great people, is in very tough shape – but he is a real fighter. Pray for Steve!”
There was no fulminating against left-wing zealots, even though the perpetrator’s social media made it clear where his sympathies lay, and he had volunteered for Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.
There were no promises to shock and awe the supporters of his political opponents who might be tempted into copycat incidents.
Just prayers for the victim.
For once Donald Trump managed to look dignified, even presidential.
That may yet change, but so far the ugly stuff has been left to others. They lost no time in poisoning cyberspace. There are already reports of Democrats receiving threats, warning that “You guys are next”.
Would things have played out the same if the perpetrator were not white, like James Hodgkinson, but a Muslim of, say, Middle Eastern extraction?
Imagine if, instead of a placard bearing the legend “Tax the Rich like Congress did for 70 years till Reagan’s Tickle Down”, he had been pictured demonstrating with “Destroy the Enemies of Islam who Bomb Children in Syria”. Or something along those lines.
I don’t imagine the President would have been happy to leave the stronger language to keyboard warriors and crazies then.
His response would have been very different, because we need to crack down on these people. Everyone knows that you only need to scratch someone with a Middle Eastern background to find the terrorist lurking within. That’s why it's necessary to ban them from travelling to the US, and the judges need to realise that. Unless they hold Saudi passports. The Saudis are our friends, you see.
What is notable about the lamentable James Hodgkinson is just how similar elements in his background are to some of the Isis-inspired terrorists who have perpetrated attacks on the West in recent months, and also to some of those on the opposite side of the political divide who have done the same.
Like them, he was a misfit. A man with a record of petty criminality, and of domestic violence: a feature strikingly common to those engaging in terrorism, or whatever kind.
Consider, for example, that a relative of Khalid Masood, responsible for the Westminster attack in March, told the Daily Mirror that his former wife had fled her ex-husband in terror. A school dropout and drug-user, he had also had contact with the police for criminality that had nothing to do with terrorism.
Back to the white guys: how about maladjusted right-wing drug-user Dylann Roof, who shot up a church full of African American worshippers in South Carolina? There’s no record of domestic violence on his part – he was, after all, only 21 at the time – but there was criminality, and he grew up in a home where domestic violence was apparently present.
Meanwhile, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the French-Tunisian delivery driver who drove a truck into crowds gathered for Bastille Day celebrations in Nice? The divorced father-of-three was described as a loner, sometimes aggressive, “more into women than religion”. He was known to police not for terrorism but for assault, armed robbery, threatening behaviour and domestic violence.
And so it goes on.
President Trump repeatedly criticised former President Obama for failing to use the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism”. Yet he seems strangely reluctant to use the term “terrorist” when the perpetrators of politically motivated violence are white, regardless of whether they are on the left or the right.
I’m not seeking to downplay the threat posed by Islamist-related political violence. I abhor it, and its apologists. I think we are too tolerant of those that fund the ideology that gives birth to it, and entirely too keen to distribute weapons to some of those who quietly support it around the Middle East.
I’d simply point out that it is not the only form of political violence at large in the world today. So why is Donald Trump – and often the media too – so quick to label some people terrorists, and to tar millions of entirely innocent people with the same brush in the process, but strangely reluctant to do it with others?
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