When the Shooter is White

By Jamilah King Mar 05, 2010

Another white guy took out his fundamentalist rage in a government building last night. Thirty six year old John Patrick Bedell reportedly walked into the pentagon dressed in a suit and carrying semiautomatic weapons, opened fire, and wounded two security guards before he was shot and killed by police. National security threat levels, of course, remain unchanged. Why? Because he’s white. And whiteness always affords the privilege of having reasons:

Bedell “appears to have been a right-wing extremist with virulent antigovernment feelings,” the Christian Science Monitor reports, who traveled from California specifically to attack the Pentagon. While police were hesitant to assign a motive, “writings by someone with his same name and birth date, posted on the Internet, express ill will toward the government and the armed forces and question whether Washington itself might have been behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”

What strikes me most in these narratives of national security and public safety isn’t just who’s labeled a terrorist and who isn’t. It’s the amount of space whiteness is allowed to have causes for their crazy. And it’s a theme that plays out far beyond so-called extremist ideologies. Lashaun Harris drowned her three kids because she was, in effect, crazy. Andrea Yates did it because she suffered from years of mostly untreated postpartum depression and psychosis — and there’s a Wikipedia page to prove it. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan was well on his way to white American inclusion until he reverted to radical Islam and shot and killed 14 people. Travis Twiggs suffered from severe PTSD after four tours in Iraq. In effect, whiteness is good, sane, and healthy. Any evidence to the contrary requires an exhaustive search for justifiable reasons that can explain what went wrong. With folks of color, things never just "go wrong" because the error is in our mere existence. No need to dig for the details.