We knew the day would come. It was inevitable. Las Vegas was a natural target. Wildly wicked. Massive crowds. People from all over the world.
But most of us thought the horror wreaked on Sunday would come from overseas, not some gambling geezer living in a retirement community in Mesquite.
Stephen Paddock, 64, wasn’t poor or disenfranchised. Not homophobic, at least that wasn’t an obvious motive. Not suffering from stress from a military past, since he didn’t serve. His politics are still unknown.
That unknown motive is why the news media, along with President Donald Trump and other political leaders, have not yet called him a domestic terrorist. But I do.
Paddock is a domestic terrorist under Nevada law, but not under federal law.
Nevada law defines an “act of terrorism” as “Any act that involves the use of violence intended to cause great bodily harm of death to the general population.”
Well, certainly killing 58 people seems to fall under that definition. He carefully planned an attack on the Route 91 Harvest Festival country music concert and treated a crowd of about 22,000 people like they were moving targets at a carnival shooting gallery.
Murdering 58 people and wounding 489 — the number was revised downward because of a counting error — certainly fits that definition.
However, there’s a different element in federal law when defining domestic terrorists. Such individuals must be trying to intimidate or coerce civilians or governments. The key elements seem to be having political or social objectives.
That’s why the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is a domestic terrorist; he was seeking revenge for the 1993 siege in Waco, Texas.
The Boston Marathon bombers also had political motivations in 2013, when one brother said they were trying to defend Islam from the U.S.
But since authorities don’t yet know Paddock’s motivation, the national and local press are calling him a mass murderer. It’s a careful distinction.
Many argue if he had been Muslim and not a white guy, the terrorist label would have been slapped on him without hesitation.
Only matter of time
But whatever term you use, ever since Sept. 11, 2001, law enforcement in Las Vegas knew it could be only a matter of time before someone would attempt an act of huge, horrifying violence in Southern Nevada. So did casino executives. Security was improved and expanded.
New Year’s Eve became a nightmare of nervousness for the people who knew that if anything happened, they would be the first responders. Even the news media was relieved when the holiday of hopeful anticipation passed without incident.
Yet nothing of this magnitude happened for 16 years. Until Sunday.
Efforts by federal agencies to cut back on money used to combat terrorism in Las Vegas outraged local officials, who managed to get some funds restored.
In his 2018 budget, Trump has proposed about $300 million in cuts for anti-terrorism programs. To help build Trump’s Wall.
Not that money would have made a difference when a man who owned about 47 weapons decided to huddle in a suite at the Mandalay Bay hotel with at least 23 of his weapons and start shooting.
At 10:05 p.m. Sunday, Paddock became a killing machine for nine to 11 minutes before eventually shooting himself as police neared.
Las Vegas has recovered from other tragedies. The fire at the MGM Grand, now Bally’s, killed 87 people and injured more than 700 in 1980. That fire involved more foreign visitors than the outdoor country music festival, which drew mainly Americans and Canadians.
There’s one difference between the two nightmares: The fire could have been prevented if building codes were followed.
The MGM Grand’s electrical fire would have been far less lethal if there had been sprinklers in the restaurants and casino. The deaths from smoke inhalations would have been far fewer if the fusible links, a small piece of the ventilation system, had been installed properly and stopped smoke from spreading.
Maybe in days to come, someone will figure out that this murderer could have been stopped.
Police say there are no known links to Islamic terrorists. ISIS took credit for this evil act, probably because it has long hoped for a terrorist act in Las Vegas.
It’s never been definitely known why five of the 19 al-Qaida terrorists met in Las Vegas over the summer of 2001 before four planes were hijacked.
Two flew into the World Trade Center, one hit the Pentagon and one crashed when passengers took action against the hijackers.
America’s enemies in the terrorism war are probably gleefully celebrating at the murder and mayhem in Las Vegas.
Yet once again, Americans acted. Police located Paddock on the hotel’s 32nd floor, saving who knows how many lives in the process. He shot himself when he knew the end was inevitable.
Now while we wait to learn what pushed Paddock to this evil deed, we mourn the dead and celebrate the countless acts of heroism and kindness.
Las Vegas will rebound and make improvements in security, just like it rebounded from the MGM Grand fire and made massive improvements in fire safety and retrofitting.
Jane Ann Morrison’s column runs Thursdays in the Nevada section. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0275. Follow @janeannmorrison on Twitter.