Jack Wilson, American Hero

(Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters)

We’ve become a society that reacts intensely over terrible things but works hard to forget about the great things.

You would think the name Jack Wilson would be far more celebrated than that of David Hogg in the United States of America. You would be wrong.

Wilson, 71, is the firearms instructor who on December 29 shot and killed a murderer in mid-rampage at the West Freeway Church of Christ in the town of White Settlement near Forth Worth, Texas. What Wilson did was extremely unusual (he is a civilian security guard who ended what could have been an extended massacre), extremely difficult (he hit the shooter in the head with a pistol from a distance of 50 feet, a marksman’s feat), and extremely heroic (he stood up to a gunman to save the lives of others). All of these extremes add up to a major story, or so they used to say in journalism classes.

Hogg, a survivor of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida in 2018, didn’t do anything particularly difficult or heroic. He is one of many Americans who have been present at mass shootings. Yet the media portrayed him as a figure of immense importance for embodying the presumed dual moral authority of having both survived an especially horrific mass shooting and for being young. These two factors sparked an almost crazed year-long level of interest in everything Hogg said and did on any subject. (The first long CNN story about him, three days after the shooting, was about Hogg’s ambitions to be a TV journalist.) Hogg and four classmates were deemed so important by Time magazine that they were declared members of the “Time 100” gang of the most important people on earth. Hogg et al. were on the cover of Time magazine.

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Here’s what Time magazine had to say about Wilson, starting in the sixth paragraph of a story about the shooting:

A parishioner named Jack Wilson — who volunteers for the church’s armed security team and trained others in the church to use firearms to protect the congregations — confronted Kinnunen almost immediately, shooting and killing him, according to the Associated Press. Two parishioners, including one who volunteered on the security team, were also killed during the shooting.

“I am very sad in the loss of two dear friends and brothers in CHRIST, but evil does exist in this world and I and other members are not going to allow evil to succeed,” Wilson wrote on Facebook after the shooting.

That’s right: Time didn’t bother to interview Jack Wilson or even publish a separate story on him. This is about all the attention Jack Wilson can expect to get from Time, it appears. The only other mention of Wilson by Time is in the 14th paragraph of a story about the shooter.

CNN’s national news squad didn’t bother to interview Wilson either, though it picked up an interview by a local affiliate and posted an 82-second video along with a curt, ten-paragraph story that made no attempt whatsoever to highlight what an extraordinary thing Wilson had done. New York magazine (which did a cover story and huge profile on Hogg as the “spokesperson for radicalized young America”) mentioned Wilson only in the tenth paragraph of a story on the shooting.

Needless to say, Wilson hasn’t yet turned up on the Jimmy Fallon show or the Dr. Phil show, or Anderson Cooper’s show, as Hogg did, but perhaps those invitations are forthcoming. Holding my breath in anticipation of those events is not what I’ll be doing.

What seems more likely is that the Time model is becoming the standard for the national media; a bare minimum of acknowledgement that Wilson did what he did, but no further exploration of the matter, no attempt to ascribe national importance to Wilson, no interest in making him a folk hero, no promotion of Wilson’s ideas on global warming or any other subject, no inquiries even into Wilson’s thoughts on guns or how private citizens might react to the new age of mass public shootings.

The obsessive interest in Hogg was deflated by an observation by Louis C. K., in a standup routine that instantly became infamous: “Why does that mean I have to listen to you?” he asked. The American public did not, in fact, listen to Hogg, and so didn’t send a gun-controlling slate of legislators to Congress in the 2018 midterms. The media’s supposition that Hogg’s voice would be especially compelling because of his youth remains unproven. Many Americans would argue that people who are barely old enough to drive make for less, rather than more, plausible national-policy Solons due to their general lack of knowledge, experience, and self-control. Hogg recently joined a group that ran onto the field in the middle of a college football game in the cause of arresting global climate change. This act seemed to be about as useful as anything else he has ever done, unless getting attention is an end in itself. Also, Hogg’s team lost the game.

A larger question: What kind of culture are we living in when Hogg-ism is somehow more celebrated than Wilson-ism? Hogg is one of many Americans who think gun-control regulations should be tightened. He may be right, he may be wrong, but there is nothing particularly exceptional about him. Wilson is a singular figure, a man of action who did something amazing on the spot that can hardly be praised enough. Who knows how many more people might have suffered and died that day in Texas if Wilson hadn’t been so skillful and brave? Led by our media, we’ve become a society that reacts intensely over terrible things but works hard to forget about the great things. Let’s never stop talking about Jack Wilson, a new American hero.

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