Las Vegas Shooting Appears to Be a Case of Domestic Terrorism

As of now, it appears that there is no evidence to connect this shooting with the classic definition of terrorism.

4 min read
Police officers stand at the scene of the shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

Shortly after 10 pm on 1 October 2017 as on the other side of the globe India was paying homage to the apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, on his 148th birth anniversary, a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a music concert in Las Vegas from the window of a room in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. As of writing this article 59 people died in the firing and more than 527 were injured, in what has been the deadliest shooting in US history.


As of now, it appears that there is no evidence to connect this shooting with the classic definition of ‘terrorism’, which is – “the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature.”

The number of guns found in the possession of the perpetrator, 42 in total, 23 in the hotel room from where he fired and 19 in his house indicates a warped mind rather than a terrorist.

Going by that, this appears to be a case of ‘domestic terrorism’ as defined in the US PATRIOT Act. The US PATRIOT act defines acts of domestic terrorism as those which: “(a) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State; (b) appear to be intended – (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and (c) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States."

It is ironic that the West, which over a period of time has developed paranoia to Islamic terrorism, has seen random acts of domestic terrorism unleashed by mentally unstable Christians who are mostly far right-wing loonies like the Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik. On 22 July 2011, he had carried out a truck bombing in Oslo and then killed 69 participants of a summer camp on an island off Oslo, in total taking 77 lives.

The gunman in the Mandalay Bay attack who later apparently shot himself, Stephen Paddock, was a wealthy man as per reports. So far nothing has been found to even remotely connect him to a motive. Probably interrogation of his live-in partner who was in Tokyo when the shooting took place, as well as forensic examination will throw some light on the motive. True to form, the ISIS has claimed that he was their ‘lone wolf’ who had recently converted to Islam. That however is not substantiated so far.

Does ‘domestic terrorism’ qualify to be called terrorism in case the perpetrator just aims to ‘punish’ people but not aim to achieve any other objective?

In the case of Anders Behring he still had a political aim, however warped, of trying to stop Muslims from coming to Norway (and Europe) through targeting a liberal constituency who he felt was encouraging their influx.


What Stephen Paddock has ensured is a place for himself in the history of violence in the USA. His act of violence may also turn out to be the tipping point in tightening up of the US gun laws.

In the sphere of classic terrorism his action will also have an impact. Under the ‘Behavioural Contagion’ theory, successful terrorist attacks are copied by other terrorists and included in their book of tactics. Snipers firing from high rises has happened many times and will happen in the future also. The assassination of President John F Kennedy is a classic case. That is why whenever a VIP has to go through an area or address people in a scheduled public function, the overlooking high-rises are sanitised or occupied by the police or security forces. What is different in this incident is indiscriminate firing from a high-rise into a totally defenceless and unaware crowd of revellers in an open-air function.

What this incident will do is that, in the future, outdoor public functions, even those related to entertainment events, will have to keep overlooking high rises in mind before deciding upon a venue. Alternatively, the required sanitisation will have to be done. It is one thing which harms liberalism.

The terrorism expert Martha Crenshaw has stated that even the most extreme and unusual forms (of terrorism) follow an internal strategic logic. Was Stephen Paddock trying to interject some meaning into what he felt was an aimless existence? If so what was the meaning? Did he commit this outrage to get a psychological gratification? Or was he actually radicalised as the ISIS claims? It is possible that no clear answers will be forthcoming.

If no answers come then it will be like the case of Theodore Kaczynski, a former University of California mathematician (notorious as the ‘Unabomber”) who in a 17-year period killed three and wounded 23 people through letter bombs till his arrest in 1995. His case was not terrorism as we have come to know it. As another terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman writes in his book Inside Terrorism:

The Unabomber was a lone individual acting from frustration and animus so profound that no other person could share them.

To that extent Stephen Paddock may turn out to be another Unabomber.

(Lt General GS Katoch (Retd) retired as the Director General Perspective Planning in 2016. He is an MS in Defence Analysis with specialisation in ‘Irregular Warfare’, from the Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California, USA. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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