Racial and religious privilege intersect in how the Austin serial bomber is being perceived
If a Muslim man planted bombs in predominately white neighborhoods before blowing himself up, you could bet that the White House and various media outlets would label him a terrorist and draw some connection between his religion and his violent acts. But the case of the Austin bomber reveals an enduring double standard: white Christian terrorists continue to get a free pass.
According to a Buzzfeed report, 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt the one responsible for the recent bombings in Austin was part of conservative survivalist circles. An acquaintance of Conditt confirmed he was involved in a group called Righteous Invasion of Truth, a Bible study and outdoors group for homeschooled kids, created and named by the kids and their families that included monthly activities such as archery, gun skills and water balloon fights.
Thus far, the White House press secretary has denied any link between the Austin bombings and terrorism. Never mind that Austin was terrorized in a three-week long serial bombing campaign. The Austin police chief claims Conditt should primarily be seen as a very challenged young man because he did not mention terrorism or hate in the video he left behind before carrying out the bombings. I guess we should let all bombers self-identify now?
Racial and religious privilege intersect in how Conditt is being perceived. Because he is white, his acts are reduced to a personal problem even though white American men have consistently posed a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners who get treated as systemic threat. Since Conditt is a Christian, his faith is considered coincidental in spite of the fact that conservative survivalist circles explicitly pursue a racialized, apocalyptic social project.
Many refuse to label Conditt a terrorist over technicalities involving whether his acts were clearly politically motivated. But thats the luxury of being white. To be white is to be considered culturally and politically neutral even when youre part of a long legacy of white extremists.
Granted, violence is complicated and its motivations cannot be reduced to one factor. Nevertheless, even if Conditt was not primarily motivated by his faith, we are still right to question whether such a segregated and militant religious ideology can feed ignorance, hate and violent acts.
We may never find a video or journal in which Conditt claims that his religious faith was the prime motivator for his terrorizing acts. But even if we did, the double standard would probably still endure. According to a PRRI survey: White evangelical Protestants are the most likely (87%) to disown Christian terrorists who claim to be acting in Christianitys name. However, they are among the least likely (44%) to say the same about terrorists who say theyre Muslim.
In other words, white evangelicals find it hard to believe that white Christian terrorists can truly exist. Yet this flies against everything that has happened in the history of the US.
At one point, almost half of the Christians in this country went to war over the power to own black slaves. When that failed, they reverted to organized terrorism. As Christian writer Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove powerfully recounts in his book Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion, the era of reconstruction following the civil war was interrupted by Christian terrorist attacks, such as the Colfax massacre that took place on Easter Sunday in 1873.
The history of Christian-identifying terrorist groups such as the Klu Klux Klan shows how the violence of Christian terrorists continually flies below this nations radar.
Thinking about Stephon Clark getting shot 20 times while unarmed in his backyard and about the reluctance of many to name Mark Anthony Conditt a white terrorist makes me wonder: its almost as if this nation was founded on the sacredness and holiness of white violence. This is a violence set apart.