It's Not Just Irresponsible to Call White Terrorists "Loners," It's Dangerous — Here's Why

Getty Images

What should you call a person who deliberately and methodically plans to hurt and frighten innocent people because of their identity? For Carl Dial, a Southern California white man who was arrested Friday for allegedly setting a mosque on fire, that answer was "loner."

At least, that's how his parents, who have refused to post his bail, described him to reporters after the arrest. That's the description that national media outlets have used. And it's no surprise: White men who seek to and do cause harm are often described that way. After Dylann Roof massacred black churchgoers in South Carolina last summer, he was called a loner, too. Anyone who becomes singularly focused on the violent destruction of an entire community obviously has deeply ingrained mental and emotional issues. But only white men are afforded that much complexity.

When those acts of violence aren't named for what they are, they spread. In the two weeks since the San Bernardino shootings, which are rightfully being called acts of terrorism, the following anti-Muslim attacks have happened in cities across the country:

* Dial allegedly set fire to a mosque in Coachella Valley, California. 

* A teacher asked a 13-year-old Muslim student if she brought a bomb to school. 

* A pig's head was left in a Philadelphia mosque. 

* This man was accused of smashing windows and overturning furniture at an Islamic center in Palm Beach, Florida.

Source: Josh Killet's Facebook

* A 26-year-old Brooklyn man was arrested for assaulting employees at a New York City restaurant while shouting anti-Islamic threats.  

* A mosque in Idaho was vandalized and had the words "Hunt Camp?" scrawled across it, which is probably a reference to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, who were imprisoned in the same city as the present-day mosque. 

* A ride-share driver was attacked by a man who accused him of being a terrorist. 

That's not even all of them. In just one week, there were 19 suspected anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States, according to Zach Cartwright at U.S. Uncut. Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations was forced to evacuate its Washington, D.C. headquarters after workers there found a suspicious substance in an envelope. "We are thankful this threat did not result in physical harm to any member of our team," CAIR National Board Chair Roula Allouch said in a press release. "This incident serves as a reminder of the dangers presented by an increasing climate of hate against American Muslims and those who seek to protect their rights and liberties."

That climate of hate won't go away unless we call out what's fueling it. And what's driving it is extremist violence being perpetrated by white men. That's terrorism.