Stop Calling White Terrorists “Lone Wolves”

Content warning: anti-Asian racism and violence

In the wake of the mass shootings at three spas in and near Atlanta, Georgia, media outlets are already labeling the perpetrator a “lone wolf.” The narrative is centering on his personal demons, with one police captain claiming he “had a bad day and this is what he did.” When I have a bad day I listen to sad music and watch “good sportsmanship” compilations on YouTube while eating an entire box of Cheez-Its, but I digress. The phrase “lone wolf” is often used by media outlets and government officials to minimize the systemic and societal underpinnings of horrendous acts of hate-driven violence, and it’s wrong for two glaring reasons (one more important than the other). 

First, the less important reason: the term is scientifically inaccurate regarding wolf biology. Wolves, like humans, are social animals, and their individual behaviors cannot be understood without consideration of the social environment they live in and grew up in. Yes, wolves may sometimes leave their family to go off on their own, but this is only a temporary dispersal process while they search for a new pack to join or start a new pack of their own. Just like no human can ever be truly solitary, neither can a wolf. It’s also worth mentioning that wolf populations used to exist all across North America, but their range has shrunk considerably, victims of environmental degradation driven by the same capitalistic, white supremacist imperialism that threatens our communities and society. The Atlanta shooter and others like him? Not victims.

Second, the more important reason: the term is flat out wrong regarding how individuals come to perpetrate this violence. Nobody grows up in a vacuum, nobody develops hateful ideology independently. Everyone in the United States is living in a miasma of white supremacy—it permeates our culture, our language, our actions, our thoughts. It’s systemic, built into our institutions. The Atlanta shooter said he wasn’t motivated by race, but he targeted Asian women for being “sexual temptations.” It’s impossible to understand his thinking without acknowledging the centuries-old process of dehumanization, otherizing, and fetishization of Asians in this country. Just as an example, comedy shows from Family Guy to Reno 911! have made countless jokes at the expense of Asians generally and Asian sex workers specifically. White supremacy isn’t all white hoods and Nazi flags—it’s baked into our society at an atomic level. 

Using “lone wolf” to describe white domestic terrorists evokes for them imagery of a noble, misunderstood animal that has strayed off the beaten path. If this violence is committed by lone wolves, it’s implied that there is no action that needs to be—or even can be—taken to prevent similar acts in the future. But these men are not noble, or misunderstood; we understand the root of their actions to be white supremacy. We understand that focusing on the psychology of individual actors will do nothing to prevent future acts of violence and hate. Rather than waste time and resources humanizing a person who by his own actions has decoupled himself from humanity, we should focus on honoring and memorializing the victims and taking intense action to be sure white supremacy is eliminated from all corners of the world.



Darren Incorvaia can be followed on Twitter @MegaDarren.

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