Analysis: Terror attacks are becoming less sophisticated and the media seems to lack the resources and experience to cover them
Matt Pierce Briscoe
The community is frustrated at the lack of information coming from officials when it comes to the suspected terror attack at a Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi on May 21, 2020. Federal officials came out and hinted that the attack was an act of terrorism and that there could be another suspect somewhere in the community. Investigators say that they are withholding information pending the investigation and local mainstream media is doing little reporting on the situation on their own, which is not unexpected in smaller markets like Corpus Christi. Investigators are facing a common problem with this case and local media outlets are not often trained to handle cases of this magnitude, leaving citizens to fend for themselves to gather information.
On Thursday, when the 20 year-old local college student opened fire at one of the entrances to the base, security personnel acted quickly, risking their own lives to stop the suspect. Their bravery no doubt saved lives.
The suspected terror attack in Corpus Christi thankfully doesn’t look anything like 9/11. Like so many of the recent terror attacks around the world, this one seems to fit the mold and involved lone attackers who weren’t formal members of any terrorist groups. Instead, it is now believed that the attacker was allegedly drawn to violent extremist causes on the internet and may have very likely communicated with terror leaders as early as 12 hours before the attack took place.
And while there is no indication yet that the dead suspect ever trained at a terrorist camp, and was armed with nothing more than a common assault rifle, which a majority of Texans have in their homes now, the suspected terrorist managed to carry out an attack that injured one American soldier and could have killed many if not for some valiant and heroic acts.
While this type of attack fits the mold for the modern form of terrorism carried out by not just Islamic extremists, but domestic terror groups and criminal street gangs alike, it has proven frustratingly hard to stop, leaving communities in frustration all around the globe.
While counter-terrorism agencies have disrupted international mass-casualty plots by the major organizations, these unsophisticated loners have gone unnoticed and unmonitored until it was possibly too late.
Terrorist groups are well aware that lone attackers using simple, easily accessible weapons are more difficult to detect, which is why their propaganda has encouraged supporters to kill with assault rifles, knives, vehicles and even rocks. Simply put—you can’t ban, restrict or deny access to every potential weapon.
“It’s nearly impossible to stop these opportunistic attacks, particularly from lone wolves who aren’t part of a larger organization,” said Yaacov Yadgar, Professor at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies and Department of Politics at Oxford and an International Relations Fellow at St. Anne’s. “We don’t know for sure if the suspect was actually a lone wolf attacker, but it seems likely that he may have been and the mentioned other suspect theory either did not pan out or turned out to be a minor role, if there is such a thing.”
Noting that an increasingly younger demographic that is being drawn to online extremism, Yadgar said it was partly up to parents and the community to tackle and police the problems.
Dr. Yadgar said the there is also the possibility that the global pandemic may be making things even worse since it has left youths more socially-isolated and with endless hours to explore the internet.
“Some readers might say that I am blaming the parents and I am not,” he said. “Records seem to indicate that this young man came from a dysfunctional home life going back to his birth in 1999 and that plays a role in the mental state of these attackers. They become radicalized towards all sorts of things from Islamic extremism to anti-gay movements to extreme illegal immigration viewpoints like what you recently saw in El Paso.”
Why isn’t mainstream media at the local and national level covering this event like many people feel like they should be? That question has an answer, too.
A report done by the Georgia State University - Global Studies Institute shows that target type, being arrested or death of the suspect, and fatalities heavily impact coverage at all levels.
On February 6, 2017, President Trump said that the media neglect to report some terrorist attacks. His administration released a list of purportedly underreported attacks, many fitting similar markings to the suspected attack in Corpus Christi.
Media outlets at all levels are drawn to covering ongoing or potential conflicts, especially those which are shocking or sensational. Often, local media tend to cover stories where information is easily attainable and they often lack the resources and experience which allows them to dive deeply into sensitive situations such as terror attacks.
When the news media spends time on an issue, this suggests to the public that the topic is valid and important for understanding the world around them. However, explaining the world as it really is often proves difficult in cases such as these and traditional sources of information who many local media outlets are friendly with, cannot provide timely and accurate information, leaving the community with few answers and more questions and local reporters seemingly chasing pointless ends and wasting time and resources.
So while many in the community might be seeking answers as to what exactly happened on Thursday’s suspected terror attack, there may always end up being more questions than answers, at least as far as the public may ever know.