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The violence in making America great again

  • 03 October 2017


Such is the modern conditioning inherent in the news cycle that assumptions were immediate. A terror attack had taken place on a public gathering at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas. It was, as the case had been in the Bataclan shootings in Paris on 13 November 2015, a matter of inflicting mass damage in an enclosed space filled with revellers.

The toll proved terrifying. The shooter, from his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel, had inflicted 500 casualties, with 59 fatalities. (This number is bound to rise.) When the death toll passed 49, the efforts of Stephen Paddock of Mesquite, Nevada had shaded those of Omar Mateen at the Orlando Pulse night club last year.

Within a matter of minutes, the Las Vegas Police Department lifted the urgency of its tweets, noting that the shooting had become a mass casualty event. It proved so stretched that various services were halted. 'Due to the mass shooting incident last night, our Records and Fingerprint Bureau, at our Headquarters campus, is closed for business today.'

It was cold comfort to see that the attack was a local affair, not of official, internationally directed terrorism, but a mass shooting in its traditionally violent form. The behaviour of the shooter could not be explained as an act of anti-American delight, an instance of affirmation to a foreign ideology or code.

There was no call of smug delight surging its way through social media from ISIS, an ecstatic assumption of responsibility. Paddock had seemingly worked alone, fastidiously assessing the situation, stockpiling arms in his room, and waiting for the moment when the crowd would be most concentrated.

Las Vegas sheriff Joseph Lombardo stonewalled on the semantics. Had an act of mass domestic terrorism just taken place on American soil? Perhaps not, despite the Nevada statute defining it as such: the police had yet to ascertain what the 'belief system' of the shooter was. When specifically pressed on whether this could be deemed an act of 'domestic terrorism', Lombardo hedged: 'we have to establish what his motivation was, first.'

President Donald Trump also avoided the term. Terrorism has its loaded associations, a distinct demonology. To suggest that a US citizen might be a terrorist hardly accords with the project of Making America Great Again. Paddock was not a Muslim, which would have been a useful alibi for the restrictive policy on arrivals from specific Islamic countries.