After the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday, authorities fielded questions as to whether the gunman, Stephen Paddock, was affiliated with any cause or terrorist organization. They described him as seemingly a “lone wolf.” The term has been applied to other killers and various criminals throughout the years. But what does it mean? And, apart from the rather straight forward lone wolf meaning, why does the term upset some people?
Lone wolf meaning
A lone wolf is someone who commits violent acts alone, without the assistance of or affiliation with any outside group. That doesn’t mean they aren’t ideological — they can be working to advance a cause by themselves. The term was popularized by white supremacists in the 1990s.
When has the term lone wolf been used?
“With the exception of the attacks on the World Trade Center, experts say the major terrorist attacks in the United States have been perpetrated by deranged individuals who were sympathetic to a larger cause,” writes the Christian Science Monitor, “from Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh to the Washington area sniper John Allen Muhammad.” The term was also applied to the Boston Marathon bombers; Anders Breivik, who shot and killed 69 people in Denmark; the Unabomber; and Omar Mateen, who killed 49 people during the Pulse nightclub attack, claiming loyalty to ISIL.
Why is the term lone wolf controversial?
Some believe that it’s hypocritical, applied only to white men, while violent criminals of other races are immediately branded terrorists. “We have a double standard in the United States when it comes to talking about terrorism. The label is reserved almost exclusively for when we’re talking about Muslims,” writes Mustafa Bayoumi in the Guardian. “[The Las Vegas sheriff] didn’t call Paddock a terrorist, but he did label him a ‘lone wolf’, which in our lexicon is that special name we use for ‘white-guy terrorist’.”