October 25, 2002


Interestingly, James Allen Fox, a respected criminologist at Northeastern University--who favored the Caucasian icy-loner scenario--collects a database of sniper homicides. He found that out of 514 sniper murders between 1976 and 2000, 55% of the murderers were white. This, of course, would mean that whites are actually underrepresented among the ranks of sniper-serial killers. One can only assume that in a better world this increasingly influential subculture will look more like America.

Speaking of subcultures, various news organizations delved deeply into the sniper subculture, explaining how the mantra of "one shot, one kill" was increasingly popular among "ex-military" and "police" types. Much of this was egged on by Tom Diaz, an analyst with an antigun group called the Violence Policy Center. Mr. Diaz told the Chicago Tribune. "We do not yet know what specific firearm is being used." But "it is clear the gun industry stands ready to arm and train anyone with the fantasy of being a real live sniper."

This may be true, but as sniper groups have been insisting for the past month, it was never likely that the Washington-area murderer was a professionally trained sniper at all. He used the wrong ammo and shot from a very short range when compared with a pro or serious amateur.

No, the most relevant story line about John Allen Muhammad is not his stint in the Army--mainly as a combat engineer. It is that last name of his, which he assumed only in the past year or so. Indeed, throughout the month of sniper coverage few news organizations would entertain the idea that the serial sniper was directed or inspired by al Qaeda. A few op-eds appeared in late October, but generally speaking the networks and major newspapers only brought up the idea to shoot it down.

It seemed at times that many members of the press were much more eager to return to cultural politics as usual, which in this case meant getting back to smacking around white conservative men, even by proxy. When those two Hispanic immigrants were mistakenly arrested at a phone booth this week, the cameras seemed to linger lovingly over the Bush/Cheney, Marine Corps and NRA bumper stickers on their van. When an unsavory former military man was wanted for questioning in Baltimore, the New York Daily News was ready with a headline: "HUNT ARMED RACIST: Supremacist sought in sniping spree."

I wonder how many of these folks are embarrassed about this now? Not nearly enough, I'd guess.

UPDATE: John Hawkins comments on the "sniper subculture."