Lone gunman at the Pentagon

LONE GUNMAN AT THE PENTAGON…. It might be a while before we have a reliable sense of exactly what transpired and why, but it appears that a deranged man opened fire on two police officers at an entrance to the Pentagon late yesterday afternoon. Officers returned fire and killed the gunman. The officers who were shot appear to be fine.

The shooter has been identified as John Patrick Bedell, a 36-year-old Californian, who carried two semiautomatic weapons and wore a business suit.

Officials told the media this morning that Bedell appears to have acted alone, and was not part of a terrorist plot. There are apparently some Internet postings from Bedell that suggest he was angry at the U.S. government.

Given the larger political climate, Matt Yglesias raises an important observation.

[I]t’s striking how differently the country behaves when you see a non-Muslim individual attempt or succeed at killing some people based on quasi-political motivations versus when it’s a Muslim who does it. And the important thing, I think, is not merely to make a pure hypocrisy argument but to point out that the country’s response to non-Muslim killers ranging from Bedell to the IRS plane crasher to the Holocaust Museum shooter is much, much, much better and smarter.

In the wake of an incident involving a non-Muslim we of course look back and try to see if there’s any reasonable preventive steps we could have taken to prevent the murders. But wild overreactions and wholesale reconfigurations of the constitution, of US foreign policy, or of daily life are considered off the table by definition. And rightly so!

Quite right. In response to several of these recent incidents, most notably the man who flew an airplane into an Austin office building, the country generally remained quite calm. There was no panic or collective freak-out. The same with yesterday’s shooting. No one is running around trying to blame the White House for the violent acts of random lunatics; no one is demanding officials take radical steps to prevent these kinds of unpredictable acts; and no one is proposing sweeping new legislation to show how “serious” they are about isolated incidents like these.

We’re all perfectly mature about the whole thing, and accept as a given that tragedies like this will happen from time to time. Politically, the only oddity comes when some right-wing politicians suggest some empathy for the madmen.

But if John Patrick Bedell or Joe Stack were named Ahmed, it’s not unreasonable to wonder if the reaction would be less sensible. Indeed, if Bedell been a Pakistani-born Muslim, would Liz Cheney and Rudy Giuliani be on the cable networks right now?