The chilling details have already faded from view, but the terror that unfolded at the Los Angeles International Airport last week is worth recalling. That's when unemployed motorcycle mechanic Paul Ciancia marched into Terminal 3, pulled out an assault weapon and opened fire. Targeting Transportation Security Administration employees, Ciancia repeatedly shot Geraldo Hernandez at point-blank range, and quickly shot two other agents and a nearby passenger.
With police in pursuit and panicked passengers fleeing the scene or taking cover in stores and restaurants, Ciancia moved towards the airport gates, still firing his gun, where he was shot four times, subdued and arrested.
Hernandez died at the scene.
Sadly, the details of the LAX shooting rampage can easily be swapped out for equally chilling accounts of other recent gun rampages all across the country. The public eruptions of gun violence where gunmen target strangers have become an unwanted hallmark of the most heavily armed country in the world.
What made Ciancia's deadly shooting anything but random was the fact that according to news reports Ciancia, perhaps thinking he'd die at the scene of his crime, brought with him a one-page, handwritten manifesto in which he described himself as a "pissed-off patriot" and affirmed he had "made a conscious decision to kill" multiple TSA employees.
He wrote that he wanted to "kill TSA and pigs" in order to "instill fear in your terrorist minds." The note included references to the Federal Reserve and "fiat currency," issues popular with anti-government conspiracists. Ciancia signed the declaration with the letters "NWO," in an apparent reference to New World Order, another conspiracy that fears a totalitarian one-world government.
Also, Ciancia's note reportedly referred to former Homeland Secretary chief Janet Napolitano as a "bull dyke" and contained the phrase "FU Janet Napolitano."
So a "pissed-off patriot" brought a .223-caliber assault rifle and a duffel bag filled with hundreds of rounds ammunition to an airport to kill federal government workers (TSA employees) and perhaps local law enforcement officers ("pigs"), and the story's met with something akin to a newsroom collective shrug and days later is virtually ignored?
Yes, the awful event was big news while it was breaking and while the news helicopters were circling near LAX. These types of deadly shootings are often widely hyped while they're producing compelling television images and the fear of the unknown permeates. But as has become the media tradition, once the latest shooting stops and the gunman is apprehended or killed, and if the victims number one or two, and especially if there is no Islamic terrorism angle, the story immediately recedes with little additional coverage or consideration for what prompted it.
For instance, as of today, only one of the ten largest newspapers in America, the New York Daily News, has reported that Ciancia referred to himself as a "pissed-off patriot." A search of mostly primetime television news transcripts via Nexis retrieves just three "patriot" references that aired in connection with Ciancia, all of them on CNN. (Not surprisingly, Fox News, as is its custom, quickly lost interest in the shooting once it became clear the rampage had larger, anti-government implications that might embarrass the conservative movement.)
The New York Times' coverage of the shooting made a couple passing references about the "handwritten note" and the shooter's stated grievances, or his "''antigovernment and anti-T.S.A. ramblings.'' But the newspaper spent no time dwelling on the larger ramifications, or acknowledging the "pissed-off patriot's" shooting spree came in the wake of a steady stream of right-wing domestic terrorism. In fact, when Times columnist Joe Nocera's blog addressed the specifics of the LAX shooter's political manifesto, it had to link to a Daily News article for the details since the Times itself hadn't reported on it yet.
Question: Would a gunman's handwritten manifesto, discovered following an anti-government murder spree, have received more press attention if it had included the self-identifying phrase, "pissed-off Muslim"?
Meanwhile, the LAX shooting story has been presented with virtually no discussion about domestic terrorism, even though it appears Ciancia carried out a premeditated attack in order to express a political grievance and to strike terror into his perceived enemies within the government.
The tepid gun violence coverage reflects a growing, stubborn media refusal to address the escalating threat of right-wing extremist violence, much of which is sponsored under the guise of fanatical political activism. From neo-Nazi killers to a string of abortion clinic bombings, as well as bloody assaults on law enforcement from anti-government insurrectionists, acts of right-wing extreme violence continue to terrorize victims in the U.S.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that the often-violent Patriot movement in America has exploded since President Obama became was elected, expanding from 149 documented groups in 2008, to 1,360 today. And according to Think Progress: "Fifty-six percent of domestic terrorist attacks and plots in the U.S. since 1995 have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists."
The tragic LAX shooting wasn't an isolated incident. It wasn't isolated from the growing trend of gun rampages and it wasn't isolated from right-wing terror attacks. It's the news media's job to connect those disturbing trends.