Saturday, June 18, 2016

If The Media Called Them "Alienated Losers" Instead of "Lone Wolves" Would There Be As Many Shootings?

Reporters keep referring to the Orlando killer as a 'lone wolf.'  I get it.  But I also get that one of the reasons youngish men carry out acts like this is to get some form of glory and notoriety, to prove that they have power, that they aren't nobodies.

I'd like to suggest that the media  substitute "alienated loser" for "lone wolf" in their reports of such attacks.   We know that such shooters, in part, hope for some sort of glory from their actions.  A Guardian story tells us:
"The Orlando gunman used Facebook during his deadly rampage, apparently seeking to gauge reaction in real time while also vowing more attacks. . . "
"Lone Wolf" has a romantic appeal.  Other potential shooters might find the image of a 'loser' less appealing than that of the 'lone wolf."   Knowing that one's loser status will be the headline, rather than the more appealing 'lone wolf' image might help discourage such attacks.

 A PoliceOne article by Scott Stewart acknowledges the unwarranted mystique in the term not just for the shooters, but for the media consuming public:
"It is only when we set aside the mystique of the lone wolf and look at the reality of the phenomenon that we can see the threat is often far less daunting in reality than it is in theory."

A 2015 Mother Jones article by Mathew Harwood raises another problem with the term 'lone wolf'.  First he offers a definition:
"Lone wolves are, by definition, solitary individuals, almost always men, often with mental health problems, who lash out violently against civilian targets. At least in some fashion, they are spurred on by belief. Researcher Michael Becker defines it this way: "Ideologically driven violence, or attempted violence, perpetrated by an individual who plans and executes an attack in the absence of collaboration with other individuals or groups." Although you wouldn't know it at the moment in America, the motivation for such attacks can run the gamut from religiously inspired anti-abortion beliefs to white supremacism, from animal rights to an al-Qaeda-inspired worldview."
Then he focuses on the use of the idea of the lone wolf to foment fear, particularly of Muslims,  and justify greater surveillance by law enforcement.  Harwood points out:
"Inside the United States, 136 people died due to individual terrorist attacks between 1940 and 2012—each death undoubtedly a tragedy, but still a microscopic total compared to the 14,000 murders the FBI has reported in each of the last five years. In other words, you shouldn't be losing sleep over lone-wolf attacks. As an American, the chance that you'll die in any kind of terrorist violence is infinitesimal to begin with. In fact, you're four more times likely to die from being struck by lightning. If anything, the present elevation of the lone-wolf terrorist to existential threat status in Washington creates the kind of fear and government overreach that the perpetrators of such attacks want to provoke."
He also says that about 25% of lone wolf terrorists are
". . .  involved with, and often directed or encouraged by, a government informant or undercover agent. This adds up to about 25% of post-9/11 cases of lone wolfism in the US, though the label is hardly accurate under the circumstances. These are essentially government stings, which not only inflate the number of individual terrorism incidents in the US, but disproportionately focus law enforcement attention on American Muslim communities."

I noticed that the British press have used the term 'crazed loner' to describe the killer of MP Jo Cox.  I had considered 'alienated loner' as well as 'loser.'  But this is, in part, a propaganda war, and I think 'loner' still has some cachet, whereas, at this point, no one really wants to be called a loser*.

Words matter as symbols.  The media cannot deprive shooters of publicity by simply ignoring terrorist attacks.  We do need to know what is happening.  But they can stop the sensational coverage and they can stop glorifying shooters with terms like 'lone wolf' and reframe the image with terms like 'alienated loser.'

*I'd note that there are no 'solutions.'  Everything keeps evolving .  It's always possible  to take a pejorative term and give it a new, positive meaning.  And the meaning of 'loser' could morph as well. And so tactics that work now need to be reassessed and adjusted as things change.  And, as I've said before, our larger focus should be on building a society that doesn't create alienated losers in the first place.

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