Our Role in Preventing Domestic Terrorism

Perhaps we all have a role to play in preventing domestic terrorism. A societal shift brought us here, and it's the only thing to bring us out.
Last night, I swiped right to my top stories: Parcel Bombing. School Shooting. Trump Scandal(s). Russia Collusion. I screenshot the frame and began to write into my notes…. “What the hell is happening here and why are we letting it?”
Then I stopped.
I exited out from my screen and shut off the phone, making a conscious decision to side-step the rabbit hole and be present with Kennedy. I turned on a movie, snuggled up with her, and quietly recognized all those victims who could no longer hold such a luxury. Life is hidden in the little things, and these little things have become increasingly fleeting.
The next morning, I awoke to find my feed scattered with posts suggesting there’s been less coverage on the Austin bombings or the Maryland shooting because these incidents did not fit the liberal media’s plotline on gun control. This reasoning, regurgitated as original thought from person to person, was mindlessly provided alongside the same analogies: “Do we now ban shipping boxes? “Chuckle, haha.” And the same citations: “Shooter was (perhaps) killed by the resource officer! Lives saved! Now, be smart and arm the teachers!”
It sickened me. (Read: it sickens me.) The absence of compassion, the desire to throw paint, the lust for gotcha politics. I reopened my note, tackling the keys with fervour.
From where I’m standing, these incidents fit the script just fine, and any attempt to oversimplify or cast blame is self-serving, and frankly, a huge part of the problem. I won’t succinctly define the issue as “guns” (or semi-automatics, though do take note that the Maryland shooter was armed with a handgun, killing one; and the parcel bomber killed two people over a period of several weeks – so let’s be intelligent and avoid false comparisons: the main issue raised against AR-15’s and conversion kits is the shooter’s ability to very quickly commit mass-murder, with virtually no immediate recourse, no matter how skilled the teachers or students are in active-shooter training).
I also wouldn’t broad stroke it as “mental health,” or gloss over it as “bullying.” No. To me, this is a perfect storm, powered by an ever-increasing presence of psychopathic narcissism. And even though I know it could happen at K’s school, and even though my heart preparedly stops every time she texts me from campus, the real terror is our utterly blasé response. We keep feeding the very beast we’re after, and it’s only served to lead us deeper and deeper into the clutches of this uniquely American ego.
Stop, pause for a moment, and consider your reaction to the Columbine shootings. Where were you when the first plane crashed on 9/11? Who were you with? What did you feel?
Now, where were you when during Virginia Tech? Do you remember? Almost twice as many dead than at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. Do you remember where you stood, as you watched the body bags carried out, gurney by gurney?
And if not, why?
Perhaps we all have a role to play in preventing domestic terrorism. A societal shift brought us here, and it's the only thing to bring us out.
I’ll be the first to recognize that the timing of these acts does, in fact, play into politics: the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting occurred just days before sine die in Tallahassee – this did (and should) affect dialogue in the legislature, and when bills are being proposed and called to vote, there is going to be a spike in news coverage. Despite this, it’s ludicrous to attempt the leap that outlets have recoiled in their time slots, because these acts of terror weren’t committed with AR-15’s. No. And, best as I can tell, the answer is simple and embarrassing: News coverage is directly correlated to our consumption of it. The question isn’t why aren’t they covering, it’s why aren’t we watching?
I personally think, as a culture, we’ve become horrifically desensitized. We live in this cyclical pattern: event, debate, event, debate; and the burden to collectively shock us continues to rise. After Marjory Stoneman Douglas, society was on a seventeen-dead terror-high. Under-informed people, lacking vest and sincerity, take to social media to stake a blind claim in the conversation. It’s like the grown-up version of the cool kid’s lunch table – everyone says they hated “Insert Controversial Movie Title Here.” You haven’t so much as heard of it, and say you hated it too. It’s as though this ever-enlarging population believes they have to pick a side and voice their opinion, or else, they risk falling into the woes of Facebook obscurity. This goes on for a few days, then society comes down from their massacre-buzz, and our trauma litmus spikes. Any future, “lesser” carnage becomes palpable, and “two dead in parcel bombing” barely warrants a soundbite.
I’m surely not the first to suggest the afore, but the piece that seems to be missing is how we, as a society, contribute to the birth of domestic terrorists through this very cycle. Why are they committing these crimes? A need for attention? A desire to feel important or be remembered? If we’re being honest with ourselves, how different from them are we, really?
Wherein lies the line between like-grabber and mass-murderer, and what is the nexus between domestic terrorist and a psychopathic narcissist?
I’m sure my words read like a fabled grandfather, spouting “back in my days”, but why are they really doing it? Because of over-edited pictures, and follower counts; there’s too much text messaging and not enough human connectivity. Because we’re surrounded by false ideas of what it takes or means to be happy or successful. Because we’ve created unattainable standards of beauty and popularity. Because people believe your lives are perfect and beat themselves up, wondering why their’s isn’t. Because we force the narrative into us versus them’s and are obsessed with being right, or the best, or number one. Because at the end of the day, people just want to be fucking noticed.
Every single time I read the barrage of response posts, my mind trails back to the words of Atticus Finch: “A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man.”
These acts of terror are precipitated by the killer’s ability to dehumanize their victims. When we shift the focus from the lives lost to our right to bear arms, we, in turn, dehumanize. When we thrust our uninvited stances and spew vitriolic comments to anyone who thinks otherwise, we in turn, dehumanize. Likewise, when we pigeonhole the terrorist as being wholly evil – as if they are our very antithesis – we dehumanize them and plenty of other people, sharing even the most insignificant characteristic or physical attribute. Where exists our personal, moral onus? Why are we so afraid to look at these issues, and recognize what we’ve bestowed? We are hugely fallible; every last one of us. And though we might never feed our ego with violence, our desire for talionic justice is really not all that different.
I’d easily wager that the majority of these terrorists committed these crimes largely in part because they craved a sense of recognition and significance. Unable to otherwise meet this, they opted for a facile infamy. Consider the concept of malignant narcissism and its components: self-aggrandizement, deficient social conscience, disregard and indifference towards the welfare of others. Now ask yourself why these events are happening more and more frequently, and with less and less afterthought.
There is such a societal increase in face-saving: exaggerating our successes, downplaying our failures, carefully parsing the truth of our individual circumstance. These elaborations and fabrications create an almost delusional self-deception, which I fear has begun to border semi-psychotic proportions. I read these posts and tweets and comments, and cannot help but recognize that the contributor has convinced themselves, wholly, of the veracity of their own self-serving falsification.
And where’s the leap from this to domestic terrorist? Unfortunately, it appears, just a small skip and hop. How many keystrokes between considering yourself smarter than all those who disagree with you, and considering your life more worthy, valuable or above? How many divisive comments are there between our commonplace avoidance of self-responsibility and a terrorist’s fundamental absence of empathy? And what’s your individual pressure point between retaliative speech and retaliative acts?
We’ve grown to rely so heavily upon the approval of others, and are so quick to bulldoze those who stand in our path. The crucial question we must ask ourselves is at what degree does this veer a person from being moronically close-minded to narcissistically hypersensitive? And what are we each willing to give up, to stop it?
Ask yourself, what’s worth more? Your pride or the lives of your fellowman? Do you know when the shootings and the bombings will stop? When we make a concerted effort to reverse our outright refusal to identify with the feelings of those we disagree with. A societal shift brought us here, and it’s the only thing to bring us out. So when you post and comment and reply, consider the fight of two wolves inside us – which one wins?
The one you feed.

About Jenny Penland 5 Articles
Jenny Penland, is a working mama who specializes in high-conflict family law and child welfare. She blogs out of catharsis, though finds the writing of bylines akin to the toil of inscribing one’s own tombstone. Jenny’s a fierce advocate for the brazen, the balanced, and the unapologetically multifaceted. She and daughter, Kennedy, enjoy traveling, creating, growing, and living the full width of their days

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