The Corner

Immigration

Why So Little Coverage of the ICE Attack?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers detain a suspect in Los Angeles in 2017. (Charles Reed/Reuters)

Mostly unnoticed beneath the storm of idiotic presidential tweets and the Democratic struggle session over exactly how minority legislators should behave, a 69-year-old man conducted a terrorist attack on a government facility this weekend.

Willem Van Spronsen, armed with a rifle and “incendiary devices”, set a car on fire and was shot and killed by police officers who were responding to the scene. He also attempted to light a propane tank on fire, which “could have resulted in the mass murder of staff and detainees housed at the facility had he been successful,” according to Shawn Fallah, head of the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility.

Van Spronsen reportedly had been arrested for lunging at and grabbing a police officer during a 2018 anti-immigration protest at the Tacoma facility. Presumably, he attacked the facility out of anger at ICE’s role in the crisis on the border.

This hardly registered in the national media. Granted, all the major outlets ran news stories — but there was no outcry of protest, no concern over political violence directed at government officials.

It is very easy to imagine how a similar attack, with political loyalties reversed, would have been reported. In fact, you don’t have to imagine it: Look to last year’s Cesar Sayoc “pipe bomb spree,” which became a referendum on whether President Trump’s “violent rhetoric” somehow encouraged violence of this kind. Conservatives warned then, and should say again now, that tying lone attacks by obvious lunatics to some kind of aura cast by controversial politicians is a toxic kind of discourse which needlessly and dangerously escalates the moral stakes of political disagreement.

So no one should be blaming any politician or political group for this assault (except possibly Antifa, of which Van Spronsen was a member — the Seattle branch posted a eulogy on Facebook). But the comparative lack of interest in this attempted bombing should be concerning.

I don’t think the downplaying of this story is malicious, but it’s a good example of how media bias manifests itself under the radar. Bias is less an attempt by journalists to impose beliefs and more journalists’ beliefs affecting which stories they cover.

In this case, attacks on Trump critics fit into a media worldview that sees Trump and his supporters as basically proto-fascist, ready to use violence against their adversaries. People like Cesar Sayoc fit into that narrative: They’re “stories” that help explain why Trump supporters are dangerous.

In contrast, Van Spronsen and Antifa are aberrations from the Left’s (and by extension, large sectors of elite media) own self-conception: peaceful, progressive, and ethical. Their actions, while worthy of basic reporting, aren’t worth covering in exhaustive detail. Not being representative of the Left, they don’t really “explain” anything about national politics.

Of course, the reasonable thing to say is that dangerous, violent, lunatics have always existed and will continue to exist, and attempting to attach the blame for bomb-throwing to Democrats or Republicans is absurd. But that wouldn’t drive traffic.

James P. Sutton is an editorial intern at National Review and a junior at Swarthmore College.

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