Christie: Should the Austin serial bomber be considered a ‘terrorist’?

The suspect in a string of bombings in Austin is dead, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley confirms March 21. Manley stirred controversy when he called serial bomber Mark Conditt “a very challenged young man” instead of a “terrorist”. (Ricardo B. Braziell/Austin American Stateman/TNS)

UPDATE: According to the Daily Beast, Chief Manley Thursday morning told an audience in Austin that he now feels comfortable calling the Austin bomber “a domestic terrorist,” according to reporters at a panel discussion on the bombings. “When I look at what he did to our community—and as your police chief—I actually agree now, that he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us,” Manley said. Read more…

To some degree, interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley probably wishes he could take it back. But it’s far too late for that.

After Austin police, ATF,  FBI and other law-enforcement finally caught up to 23-year-old serial bomber Mark Anthony Conditt earlier last week, after he terrorized the Texas capital for three weeks, killing and maiming several people with homemade bombs, the unemployed college dropout took himself out by detonating one of his own devices.

RELATED: Inside the 20 hours that led to Austin bomber Mark Conditt’s downfall

The authorities viewed a 25-minute cellphone video left behind by Conditt that detailed the differences among the weapons he built and amounted to a confession. It seemed to indicate that he knew he was about to get caught; in fact, Austin SWAT was closing in on him when the device detonated and killed him.

Chief Manley, possibly a bit punch drunk from weeks with little sleep and continued stress, felt compelled to give an arguably unqualified and politically unwise assessment of Conditt based on the cellphone recording.

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“It is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his own life,” Manley said of the recording, which authorities still have not released amid the ongoing investigation.

Mark Anthony Conditt

Hold up. The “outcry of a very challenged young man”? people asked.

Let’s recap: This “very challenged young man” just held an entire city in a grip of fear for weeks with bombs he made from materials bought at Home Depot.

Isn’t that the definition of a “terrorist”? That’s the question that blew up quickly all over social media after Manley statement — what many criticized as just the latest example in which a white suspect seemed to receive an injection of humanity that is less often extended to blacks, Muslims and others.

“Remember how they talked about innocent black children” like Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray, tweeted Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

“I believe passionately in acknowledging the humanity of those who commit even terrible crimes. Reading this police chief’s empathy for this young white man highlights the awfulness — the plain awfulness — of the persistent refusal to extend this empathy to young black people,” Ifill added.

Those young black males were described as “thugs” by some authorities and in popular discourse. Another case often cited is that of Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old fatally shot by a white officer in August 2014 in Ferguson, Mo. The New York Times described Brown as “no angel” in a profile, a phrase that drew an angry response from readers and was criticized by its own public editor.

Beginning March 2, police say Conditt planted bombs in different parts of Austin, killing two people and severely wounding four others. He began by placing explosives in packages left overnight on doorsteps, killing 39-year-old father Anthony Stephan House and 17-year-old musician Draylen Mason and critically injuring 75-year-old Esperanza Herrera. He then rigged an explosive to a tripwire along a public trail, injuring two young men who crossed it. Finally, he sent two parcels with bombs via FedEx. One exploded and injured a worker at a distribution center near San Antonio.

Police are still trying to figure out Conditt’s motivations. The recording is only one piece to figuring out that puzzle.

RELATED: Who is Mark Anthony Conditt, the suspected Austin bomber?

After Manley drew fire for calling Conditt “a challenged young man,” he struck a different note Saturday, saying: “The suspect in this incident rained terror on our community for almost three weeks.”

That’s not an apology; nor does it come right out and label Conditt a terrorist.

The same can now be said for U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, who after hearing the recording called Conditt a “sick individual,” but not a terrorist, according to the Associated Press.

McCaul, a former federal prosecutor who chairs the House Committee on Homeland Security, chose instead to use his news conference to heap praise on law enforcement officials for bringing the three-week spree to an end. He called the investigation, which included more than 800 officers, a textbook example of how local, state and federal agencies should work together, the AP reported.

Of Conditt, McCaul said: “He did refer to himself as a psychopath. He did not show any remorse, in fact questioning himself for why he didn’t feel any remorse for what he did.”

Conditt makes no mention of a racial motivation on the recording, but investigators are still looking into that as a possibility, McCaul said. The first three victims were minorities.

In the days and weeks to come, as law enforcement officials look into what motivated Conditt, it will be interesting to see whether or not they move away from this kinder, gentler description of the bomber.

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