by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
What a difference a white face makes! A pale visage allows a terrorist to escape the label, even when he crashes a plane into a public building for political reasons. The appearance of being a “nice” white girl can get one away with murder. White privilege is the gift that keeps on giving.
Freedom Rider: White American Terrorists
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“The tea party crowd immediately produced Facebook pages extolling the virtues of his violent act.”
White people can commit terrorist acts without having the terror label applied to them in any way. Joseph Stack and Amy Bishop are the two most recent examples of this phenomenon. The benefits of white skin privilege are never ending and extremely dangerous to humanity.
Stack deliberately flew his small plane into an Austin, Texas building after posting an anti-government rant online. He, like millions of other people, didn’t like paying taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, which was housed in the building he sought to destroy. The incident was of course covered by the 24 hour per day cable news channels, whose usual incompetence in conveying useful information was on full display. The question on the lips of every anchor person was, “Terrorism or not?” When it became clear that a white man who blamed the IRS for all his problems was the culprit, that question was incredibly answered with a resounding “No.”
An individual intentionally crashing a plane into a building meets any possible definition of a terrorist. Fortunately, Stack killed only one other person, but that fact is inconsequential. His goal was to kill many more. Yet the perpetrator’s whiteness trumped common sense, and the evidence left in plain sight. He wasn’t a Muslim or a person of color, so there was no need to think him of him as another bin Laden.
“Yet the perpetrator’s whiteness trumped common sense.”
Not only was the “T” word not applied to Stack, but his anti-government screed has even been called “populist” by pundits and bloggers who ought to know better. The tea party crowd immediately produced Facebook pages extolling the virtues of his violent act. Like Stack, they don’t dare call themselves what they are, white nationalists. Instead they hide behind seemingly bizarre obsessions and illogic ravings, and denial about them makes them more emboldened.
Stack claimed the right to take lives because he was angry about his personal problems with the IRS. “…violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer.” That ideology is the point of commonality for every group or person labeled as terrorist. Individuals who are angry with the United States government’s foreign policy and who choose to kill Americans because of that anger, are always called terrorists if they are foreigners and not white. Not only that, but the United States government reserves the right to assassinate them. Those rules don’t apply to the Stacks of the world, even when they leave behind written proof of their intentions.
There is another kind of threat in our midst and it is posed by the dangerous person whose violent and bizarre behaviors are ignored in deference to their whiteness. The killer scientist at the University of Alabama at Huntsville is but the latest example. Amy Bishop, like Joseph Stack, felt highly aggrieved when she experienced a situation shared by many others. She was denied tenure, which meant she would have to look for another job. Instead she embarked on a quixotic effort to have the decision overturned and her anger culminated in the shooting deaths of three colleagues, two African Americans and one Indian national.
“Another kind of threat is posed by the dangerous person whose violent and bizarre behaviors are ignored in deference to their whiteness.”
Shortly after the killings, it was revealed that Bishop shot her own brother to death more than 20 years ago. She then held two individuals at gunpoint in a failed escape attempt and even pointed her gun at police (without being shot herself). Inexplicably, that same police force never even charged her with a crime. The killing was ruled accidental without Bishop ever having to explain her actions to the criminal justice system. The state police in Massachusetts were never informed that she threatened two people after killing her brother.
Perhaps it isn’t so inexplicable that a “nice” white girl would be sprung from jail without charges being filed because her “nice” white mother showed up and asked for her release. Bishop’s mother served on the Braintree, Massachusetts town council, which probably led to some of the favorable treatment. More than likely, the mere presence of the right kind of white family pleading her case was enough reason for Bishop’s brother and her other would be victims to be ignored and forgotten.
Before the university shootings, Bishop had assaulted a patron in a restaurant, and most disturbingly, was suspected of mailing a pipe bomb to a professor she believed had given her a bad evaluation. After the University of Alabama shootings, Bishop’s surviving colleagues quickly pointed out to police that they feared she may have booby trapped their laboratory with deadly germs. Their fears about her behavior were apparently insufficient for her to have been dealt with in a way that might have saved lives.
“A white face does work wonders.”
A killing, assaults, and fears of chemical weapons use were not enough to stop this clearly unstable woman and put her under the supervision of law enforcement where she obviously should have been. She literally couldn’t get arrested no matter what she did.
Stack lived in a large home, which he burned down before his flight, and of course he owned the plane he used as a weapon. Yet he considered himself oppressed to such an extent that he called for violence. Bishop has a Ph.D. from a prestigious university who instead of looking for work, chose to kill.
Both Stack and Bishop felt entitled. They felt entitled to get what they wanted and to do what they wanted. White folks grievances are indeed an awesome force, and so is denial about them. A white face does work wonders. It will keep police and prosecutors from investigating killings and it will keep a terrorist from being called just that.
There are millions of silent, angry people in this country. Many of them will not act out their sick fantasies, but others will. They won’t be called terrorists or they get away with one murder and go on to commit more. As long as the assumptions about white people are positive, the Stacks and Bishops and their murderous acts, will always be with us.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgandaReport.com.