Throughout the first three weeks of March, the city of Austin was plagued with a series of bombings. The attacks came to an end on March 21st when the suspect, Mark Anthony Conditt, detonated a bomb inside his car, killing himself. But the conversation about what happened in Texas is not over. Today, March 29th, Austin police chief Brian Manley condemned the Austin bombings as domestic terrorism.
In a panel discussion this morning, Manley discussed the way the attacks had been treated in the media and by the police. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Manley said that when he reflected on the case, Conditt “was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us.” The police chief then said that he had avoided the term “terrorism” during the case out of caution, since the attacks would eventually be tried in court.
The Austin Police Department’s reluctance to refer to the bomber as a terrorist drew criticism after Conditt — a white man — was identified. The media was also condemned for describing Conditt as a “troubled young man.” Chase Moore, the leader of the Austin Justice Coalition criticized this depiction in an interview with the Statesman, saying that Conditt was given the benefit of the doubt because he was white.
Manley’s decision to call Conditt a terrorist is a critical step forward.
Federal law defines domestic terrorism as violent criminal attacks that are intended to intimidate or coerce either citizens or the government. But the reality is that, despite this broad definition, politicians and the media typically only use the word “terrorism” if an attacker is Muslim. Erin Kearns, assistant professor of criminology at Georgia State University, told NPR that Muslims are much more likely to be called terrorists than perpetrators who belong to other ideologies. When white men are the attackers, such as in the case of the Las Vegas shooting on Halloween, they are described as “lone wolves” or mentally ill (which only further stigmatizes people with diagnosed mental illnesses).
While Conditt’s motive in the Austin bombings remains unknown, he did intimidate the citizens of Austin, and for that reason, many argue, calling these bombings terrorism is appropriate and necessary. We commend Manley for his decision to use this term and we hope that, in the future, we can see acts of domestic terrorism for what they really are.