Supremacist/extremist, no Terrorist?

A white supremacist does not necessarily commit any an act of terror or any violence, but simply has the mindset of white superiority over all other racial groups. So why are white men who are responsible for mass shootings consistently referred to as supremacists in newspaper headlines? 

Following the closing class discussion of Wages of Whiteness an important quote stuck with me “Technically, white, cannot be labelled as terrorist.” I  then felt a bit guilty as I realized the word terrorist usually invokes an image of Islamic militant groups with terrorists like Osama bin Laden. This prompted me to google search the words ‘white terrorists’ and I encountered a mix of inaccurate results which rarely included white and terrorist as a phrase, but rather used in the same sentence. Instead, the word supremacist and extremist popped up everywhere in major news articles.The google image results were a variety of bad quality mug shots of men involved in mass shootings such as Dylann Roof, the man responsible for nine deaths in a church in South Carolina, Scott Roeder, and the man in the image below, James Holmes, who opened fire in a movie theatre in Colorado

This image was the very first image result, a meme making a joke out of how bad the racism and Islamophobia is, that a white man can commit such a crime and still not be considered a terrorist.


The word extremist is used synonymously in American media for the word supremacist as well; they both replace what should be defined as terrorist. An extremist is a more fitting term, as it considers people who resort to radical action. There is no doubt, however, that white people are rarely ever labelled terrorists when the conceptual definition of terrorist fits.

The majority of the Google search results included criticism of the white privilege these murderers receive, which is important, yet at the same time, the lack of legitimate news sources criticizing this is disheartening. This is a prime example of how institutionalized racism is, of course the media outlets do not acknowledge the racism, because they contribute to it.


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