The Jury Talks Back

11/11/2009

Defining Terrorism

Filed under: Uncategorized — Leviticus @ 11:43 pm

What is terrorism? How do we define terrorism?

The most obvious definition to me seems to be something along the lines of “any act designed to instill terror.” But are there better/more inclusive/more exlusive definitions that we need to consider? Does violence of a religious nature count as terrorism (in light of the Fort Hood shootings)? Glenn Greenwald’s hyper-punctuated hyper-sensitivity aside, does shouting “Allahu Akbar” during a shooting classify that shooting as a terrorist shooting? If so, why? If the Fort Hood shootings count as terrorism, what about the Columbine shootings, or the shootings in Orlando the day after the Fort Hood shootings? What differentiates them?

I’m not necessarily saying that the Fort Hood shooting wasn’t terrorism – I’m just asking why it might be classified as terrorism, and why it’s so important that we classify it as terrorism. Is it really any more or less abhorrent (and it absolutely is abhorrent) as “terrorism” than as “another Muslim shooting rampage”?

I’m sure further questions will arise over the course of the thread (depending on the length of the thing), but that seems like enough to start. Again, I have no horse in this race; I just want to know what we ought and ought not refer to as terrorism.

80 Comments

  1. Part of the confusion that we face is the difference between ‘Sudden Jihad Syndrome’ where a single muslim decides that now is the time and mysteriously drives his car into a crowd of americans shouting “Allahu Ackbar and Jeff”; versus organized terrorism in which several people conspire, have a plan which they build over weeks or months, take preparatory actions, and finally commit an act.

    Both are clearly acts of terror. But Sudden Jihad Syndrome is not sufficiently organized for us to call it ‘terror ISM’. Sudden Jihad Syndrome is a usually a single event after which the perpetrator is caught because he didn’t really think out what we he was doing and/or he wanted to die a martyr.

    I personally favor collective punishment (penalties on the families of terrorist criminals) and religious punishment (desecrating the dead bodies of the terrorists with pork products before state-controlled burial).

    Unfortunately both are illegal under current law, despite their proven effectiveness.

    Comment by luagha — 11/12/2009 @ 11:09 am

  2. You say that “both are clearly acts of terror”; but why are they clearly acts of terror? That’s what I’m interested in parsing.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/12/2009 @ 1:19 pm

  3. The goal.

    To work towards a particular goal (in this case the prominence of Islam) through the spread of fear. Fear of sudden random attack.

    Comment by luagha — 11/12/2009 @ 2:50 pm

  4. To be more specific, an act of terror is a criminal act with the goal of behavioral modification of both the target and witnesses by causing fear.

    So Major Hassan’s goal is to get us to submit to Islam because we fear that if we don’t we might get shot suddenly and with no rhyme or reason.

    Wife-beaters terrorize their wives by beating them and threatening them with worse if they ‘act up.’ It doesn’t matter how good they act, however, because some random beatings will always take place to keep the fear high.

    And so on.

    Comment by luagha — 11/12/2009 @ 3:16 pm

  5. I don’t think it does fit into the standard definition of terrorism; it was an attack on on-duty, military personnel, on a military base. That said, it’s not like mass murder — and he’s been charged with first degree murder, after all — or treason are generally regard as something deserving a slap on the wrist.

    Comment by Joel Rosenberg — 11/12/2009 @ 4:21 pm

  6. Agree with Joel. We weaken the term when we apply it to attacks of this sort. It was either mass murder, or an act of a crazy man, or treasonous warfare by a turncoat. But not terrorism.

    Comment by Kevin Murphy — 11/12/2009 @ 5:43 pm

  7. That’s what I think – that unless Hasan’s goal was to instill terror in any particular segment of the populace, this wasn’t terrorism, and labeling it as terrorism cheapens the term. But again – I’m interesting in hearing arguments opposed to this particular perspective, that the goal of terrorism must be to instill terror (specifically) rather than just have a goal generally.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/12/2009 @ 6:30 pm

  8. Mass murder in the United States for the purpose of jihad or any religious, social or political goal instills terror in the general population. I don’t care where it happens, including on an Army base. The military may have a greater interest in prosecuting an act as murder or treason, but that doesn’t preclude it from also being terrorism.

    Do you honestly think you are safe because Hasan was only targeting military personnel on federal/state property? If so, then explain to me how Francheska’s unborn child was an acceptable military target?

    Comment by DRJ — 11/12/2009 @ 7:10 pm

  9. In other words, Leviticus, the test isn’t and shouldn’t be Hasan’s subjective intent. The test is and should be the objective impact of Hasan’s actions.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/12/2009 @ 7:11 pm

  10. Leviticus – why does the goal of terrorism have to be to instil terror ? Is it not almost as effective if it can instil doubt – such as doubt in the safety of air travel, or doubt in the safety of an over-the-counter simple remedy ?

    DRJ – should “the test” not have to be multi-pronged ?

    Does the preponderance of evidence show intent ? Does the likelihood of the result factor in ?

    Joel – is the modern ‘terrorist’ such as Hasan not simply the same person as would have been a spy/saboteur during the Great War ? (without the need to be associated with a specific State (stipulated))

    Yes, it’s a dilution of the term – but, then again, any ‘terrorist’ who is caught and identified carrying out a killing spree cannot be nearly as terror-inducing as an unknown person with unknown motivations who reamins free to kill again and again – like the Beltway Sniper prior to his arrest, would you not agree ?

    Me, I see it as ‘terrorist’ and ‘suicide bomber’ have become convenient reframings of terms for those who commit atrocities … sadly, nowadays, with “only” a dozen or so killed in the spree, Hasan is no longer so extraordinary …

    In the ‘inflation’ of Modern Life, whereas I grew up in a city (and county) where, over a period of 3 months, if there was even a single homicide, that was a major newsworthy event, I now live in a county where I suspect it is only a newsworthy event if there is not a single homicide in an entire given 24 hour period …

    Patterico – would you know (or could you find out without too much effort) when the last time, in LA County, over an entire calendar day of 24 hours, there wasn’t a single homicide ?

    Comment by Alasdair — 11/12/2009 @ 7:55 pm

  11. Alasdair,

    If I had the choice, I wouldn’t focus on terms like terrorism, hate crimes or similar terms that try to distinguish some bad acts from others — and to punish one more than another — but some bad acts are worse than others. Thus, if we’re going to select one group for harsher treatment than others, I think terrorist acts are a good place to start.

    Having said that, I haven’t thought about the details of a legal definition of terrorism. No doubt it would be a multi-pronged test, i.e., it would have more than one element. From a legal perspective, I’m reluctant to say it should be subject to a preponderance of the evidence test instead of a more rigorous criminal law standard, but I might change my mind if you’re referring to the standard for differentiating terrorism from crime (and not about the standard of proof for the underlying act). I don’t endorse a different standard depending on whether the act is successful or not, as long as the intended consequences are clear.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/12/2009 @ 8:21 pm

  12. “The test is and should be the objective impact of Hasan’s actions.”

    – DRJ

    See, I considered that as a means of assigning the “terrorism” label, but it doesn’t seem as accurate a litmus test – does the fact that an act strikes fear into the heart of an individual (or even a wide array of individuals) make that act “terrorism”? What about the “Terror Alerts” after 9/11? If it struck fear into the hearts of Americans when the administration raised the terror level, did that make the actions of the administration “terrorism”?

    “Do you honestly think you are safe because Hasan was only targeting military personnel on federal/state property?”

    – DRJ

    Personally, I don’t worry about dying in a terrorist attack regardless of who Hasan targeted, which raises the additional problem of assessing the “objective impact” of given actions: if I’m not afraid of falling victim to someone like Hasan and you are, what are the “objective impacts” of his actions? It just seems to me that intent is a more reliable test (although you’re certainly right that an effective test would probably be multi-pronged).

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/12/2009 @ 10:21 pm

  13. Military bases in the US have a multitude of civilian employees. The bases also have a multitude of civilians “related to”. And medical facilities have their fill of both. And Hasan knew that. Hasan knew, going in, that his targets would be unarmed and would comprise non-military personnel.

    To say this was a pre-meditated attack on the military would only be a partial truth. It ignores the fact of “full knowledge” going in. And, in my book, any partial truth is a lie.

    Was this a terrorist attack? Yup, youbetcha. Should the terrorist be punished any differently than a run-of-the-mill pre-meditated mass-murderer? Not necessarily.* Hang him.
    __________
    *He did this as a member of the military; therefore, UCMJ should be the overarching document, and not civilian law.

    Comment by John Hitchcock — 11/12/2009 @ 10:28 pm

  14. The act of the person is the definer, and not the response of the 2nd party or 3rd party. Whether you are terrorized by 911 or not does not change the fact 911 was terrorism.

    RE: alert status: When the alert status is adjusted and vague information is given out, that is a reaction to intel and a pro-active measure to prevent an event. It is not causing an event.

    Comment by John Hitchcock — 11/12/2009 @ 10:33 pm

  15. Leviticus,

    In law, the typical standard is the prudent man standard. Thus, we ignore overly emotional people who are unduly scared by events, as well as overly stoic people who are rarely scared by events, and focus on the reasonable man who is reasonably and appropriately scared by events.

    IMO a reasonable man would be concerned, scared and at times even terrorized by the thought that there are people like Hasan who live among us and want to attack us just because we are not Muslims.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/12/2009 @ 10:52 pm

  16. DRJ,

    That seems as reasonable a standard as one could ask for, but I still think intent is a more effective indicator than result when defining terrorism. Again: a reasonable man may have experienced fear when the administration raised the terror alert levels after September 11. The actions of the administration would then have directly caused fear in the population – but neither of us would say that the administration was engaging in “terrorism”? Why not?

    John Hitchcock,

    You say this was certainly a terrorist attack, but you don’t explain your reasoning/standard. Why was the Fort Hood shooting a terrorist attack, but not, say, the Columbine shooting?

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/12/2009 @ 11:15 pm

  17. Leviticus,

    I think both were terrorism. Both were designed to inspire terror, and it would be reasonable for people in those locations to be fearful. Ditto regarding the Beltway snipers, who randomly and publicly targeted people for no apparent reason other than to inspire fear.

    The problem with terrorism is the same as hate crimes — it’s hard to draw the line and say where the crime becomes hate or terrorism. But there are times in law and life when we have to make judgment calls, and this is one of those times.

    As for the government, it’s actions after 9/11 may have inspired fear in people but was it fear from the government or a heightened awareness about the threat the government was attempting to protect us from? Granted, some people may have feared the “fascist Bush government” more than the threat of another terrorist attack, but IMO the prudent man would reasonably fear terrorists more than the government. Other than 9/11 conspiracy theorists, people accept that terrorists and not the government killed Americans on 9/11 and that terrorists are the greater threat.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/12/2009 @ 11:46 pm

  18. To echo DRJ’s statement, in part: Columbine was indeed a terrorist attack. The actions and intents were the same: to cause fear and terror (along with doing as much carnage as possible).

    Comment by John Hitchcock — 11/12/2009 @ 11:58 pm

  19. And, to be clear here, “hate crimes” need to be banished. If you murder someone, you die. If you murder a person of a specific race because you hate that race, you die. If you murder a person of a specific religion because you hate that religion, you die.

    This “PC” hate-crimes legislation is very wrong. And, to codify “terrorism” is equally wrong. Criminal actions need to be prosecuted in criminal courts and actions of war need to be dealt with under the rules of war (and not in civilian criminal courts). And, in the case of Fort Hood, that needs to be handled under UCMJ and not in a civilian court of any sort.

    Again, the actions define the event, not the results of those actions. As a wise man once said, “I cannot define obscenity but I know it when I see it.”

    Comment by John Hitchcock — 11/13/2009 @ 12:04 am

  20. FWIW, I don’t think that non-military folks are at all safe from murderous Sudden Jihad Syndrome types just because Hasan chose military folks.

    Alasdar: I think that if Hasan’s motives had been those of a spy/saboteur a la WWII he easily could have been — and may have, for all I know, been — more effective in serving them otherwise.

    From what we know, he appears to be a murderous jihadi. In the legal system, it doesn’t much matter if, in addition, he could be charged with and convicted for terrorism crimes — and those on the left who read a whole lot into the failure, so far, to charge him with such crimes are reading far too much into it.

    Comment by Joel Rosenberg — 11/13/2009 @ 4:21 am

  21. You charge him with the crime that results in the most serious penalty that you believe you can prove in a court of law.
    It does no one a favor if he goes free due to over-reaching (see case against Bear-Stearns traders).

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! — 11/13/2009 @ 11:51 am

  22. “I think both were terrorism. Both were designed to inspire terror, and it would be reasonable for people in those locations to be fearful. Ditto regarding the Beltway snipers, who randomly and publicly targeted people for no apparent reason other than to inspire fear.”

    – DRJ

    See, I don’t think that either the Fort Hood shooting or the Columbine shooting were terrorism, because I don’t think they were designed to inspire fear (though my opinion on the former could certainly change as more information comes out about Hasan and his frame of mind) – at the moment, I think those shootings were the work of desperate psychotics bent on escape (in Hasan’s case) and revenge (in the case of Harris and Klebold). But I do think the Beltway sniper shootings were terrorism – from a totally subjective standpoint (based on the methodical, random nature of the shootings, and the fact that they were spaced out over time) they seemed designed to instill fear in the populace.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/13/2009 @ 12:10 pm

  23. But again, I still haven’t heard a lot of alternate definitions suggested/supported.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/13/2009 @ 12:13 pm

  24. Leviticus,

    There have been many papers and books written about international efforts to define terrorism. Here is a brief paper that discusses several of those efforts. This is one of the earliest efforts that I think still works:

    Criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons, or a group of persons or the general public.

    One issue that arises is what constitutes an act “against a state”? Some might disagree but I think that not only includes acts directed against government institutions but also against society’s institutions — like the Columbine school and the public gathering places targeted by the Beltway Snipers.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/13/2009 @ 12:33 pm

  25. Here is the U.S. definition of domestic terrorism as set forth in United States Code, Title 18, Section 2331 (18 USC 2331):

    (5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

    (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

    (B) appear to be intended—

    (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population;
    (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or
    (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

    (C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/13/2009 @ 12:37 pm

  26. Thanks, DRJ. Interesting stuff.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/13/2009 @ 2:01 pm

  27. In DRJ’s 12:37pm, it is the presence of (i),(ii) and (iii) that sets random but abhorrent actions outside of the definition of terrorism.

    I personally define terrorism as the execution of asymmetric warfare by a group or individual seeking to shift power in his/their favor. What differentiates it in my mind from a rebellion (i.e. The American Revolution) is that the ultimate goal is not the establishment of a sovereign entity, but the increasing accumulation of the enemy’s power, land and finances.

    There have been several stories of connections between the Ft. Hood freak and various religious/political organizations that seek to influence the US through violent intimidation. If those connections are established, then I would call this an act of terrorism.

    The Columbine shootings were motivated and carried out to fulfill a disturbed suicide/revenge disorder on the part of the attackers. They did not seek to influence the State or education system.

    Thanks to DRJ for the definition, and to Leviticus for the great question.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/13/2009 @ 10:54 pm

  28. People who cause disruptions with threats of violence are often charged by local police with making a terroristic threat. Similarly, children who bring weapons to school are charged with terrorism.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/13/2009 @ 11:26 pm

  29. Terrorism is violence against innocents for political reasons.

    Comment by gahrie — 11/14/2009 @ 10:16 am

  30. DRJ – 11:26pm

    Yes, but I believe those charges are incorrect. There is a considerable difference between threats emanating from an individual who has an isolated motivation vs. threats by individuals or groups that are a part of a larger idea.

    This is due to the fact that although physical threats can cause ‘terror’ in the recipient, the elimination of an individual threat versus a threat emanating from an organization or idea require completely different courses of action.

    Once you isolate an individual, no matter how dangerous, you have effectively eliminated the threat. A well or loosely organized ideology that is a threat, however, cannot be eliminated as easily. You can be afraid of individuals, but you are really not terrorized unless the elimination of the threat is open-ended and beyond your control. I am not as worried about individuals bombing planes as I am about someone affiliated with Al Queda. While individuals may want to bomb a plane for personal reasons, the only airline related mayhem recently has come from those affiliated with radical Islam.

    When the goal of destruction isn’t personal, but is to further a cause, the methods of attack expand exponentially.

    On a different note, I also feel that the inability for most people to ascertain true risk contributes to the confusion of actual terrorism with isolated frightening events.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/14/2009 @ 10:38 am

  31. “I personally define terrorism as the execution of asymmetric warfare by a group or individual seeking to shift power in his/their favor. What differentiates it in my mind from a rebellion (i.e. The American Revolution) is that the ultimate goal is not the establishment of a sovereign entity, but the increasing accumulation of the enemy’s power, land and finances.”

    – Apogee

    That’s an interesting definition, too. So would you define groups like the PLO or the Tamil Tigers or the IRA (back in its heyday) as terrorist organizations? They seemed to be fighting more for the establishment of sovereign entities than for increases in power/land/finances (or so they claimed, anyway). And some of their tactics certainly seemed designed to inspire fear. I, for my part, would call those specific tactics terrorism.

    What do you mean by asymetric warfare, by the way?

    “Terrorism is violence against innocents for political reasons.”

    – gahrie

    I’m not sure – that may be too broad, unless you want to include things like isolated assassinations as terrorism (which would be a legitimate argument, certainly).

    On the other hand, it might be too narrow: it might be hard for me to call something like the 9/11 attacks terrorism, under that definition, because I think the 9/11 attacks were violence against innocents for religious reasons, not political ones. I know the two can sometimes overlap, but I don’t think there was any real political component to the 9/11 attacks. And I most certainly think they were terrorism.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/14/2009 @ 12:50 pm

  32. Leviticus – groups like the PLO or the Tamil Tigers or the IRA (back in its heyday) as terrorist organizations? They seemed to be fighting more for the establishment of sovereign entities than for increases in power/land/finances (or so they claimed, anyway)

    Which is why you don’t listen to their claims, and instead watch their actions.

    Arafat provided the necessary information when Bill Clinton called the PLO’s bluff. By walking away any claims of intent for sovereignty were exposed as a ruse. There is no corresponding effort by the PLO or Hamas to develop a working economy, despite the capabilities to do so. This is, IMO, because the conflict is essentially a business, and a profitable one for a very few people – the very people who are capable of ending it.

    As for the Tamil Tigers…

    Just what Marxist system granted its own sovereignty has flourished? The Tamil Tigers claim for simple existence was a similar ruse as Marxism does not compete well. The 20th century proved that beyond a doubt.

    Leviticus – I know the two can sometimes overlap, but I don’t think there was any real political component to the 9/11 attacks.

    Islam is politics. There is no separation.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/14/2009 @ 7:06 pm

  33. You can make a legitimate argument against the PLO acting to establish a sovereign entity (and you do), but I don’t think you can make a similarly legitimate argument against the Tamil Tigers. The differentiating factor between revolution and terrorism, by your definition, isn’t whether or not an established sovereign entity will flourish – it’s whether an established sovereign entity is the goal of the conflict. And that still leaves the Tamils and the IRA.

    “Islam is politics. There is no separation.”

    – Apogee

    Explain, if you would. Are you referring to the geopolitical ramifications of a religion that advocates the killing of infidels?

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/14/2009 @ 7:43 pm

  34. Islam’s history has been that of a political religion. Islamic based societies treat religious edicts as law. With the exception of Turkey, which until recently adamantly enforced a Mosque/State separation, all Islamic rule emanates from a connection to the religion.

    Just like any idea sold as a pathway to paradise for man, with the specifics of a small group of elites exercising control, it is always manipulated for political and financial gain. To ignore the political and profit potential of a religious war is naive. There is power and money involved, or the ‘struggle’ would die a quick death.

    You have a good point in that my definition is too narrow to cover the IRA and the Tamil Tigers. The amount of infighting in both of those groups throughout their histories convinces me that their ‘leadership’ would have been far worse at the collection of trash and maintenance of sewer lines than in the stirring of emotional furor over their cause. But you are correct that, technically, they were both attempting to establish specific sovereign entities.

    Perhaps they are terrorist organizations because they use specific terrorist and other reprehensible tactics. (Like child soldiers for the Tamils)

    My problem with labeling specific tactics as terrorism is that, at least to me, there seems to be a difference of intent with terrorism versus atrocity that renders terrorism more problematic.

    For example, if the connections to outside organizations are confirmed, I would consider the Ft. Hood freak a terrorist, while the two Columbine murderers are not. Same tactic, but there’s definitely a difference.

    I also brought up asymetric warfare because it is a military description of conflict between weak and much more powerful combatants. Terrorist tactics, or terrorism, seems to only be labeled as originating from the weak combatant. The same tactics from the stronger combatant almost always seem to be labeled atrocities.

    It’s a good question and it’s making me think.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/15/2009 @ 9:03 am

  35. “Perhaps they are terrorist organizations because they use specific terrorist and other reprehensible tactics. (Like child soldiers for the Tamils).”

    – Apogee

    I think that’s closer – again, I’m coming from the position that terrorism is a matter of intent. So, when the Viet Cong throw a grenade into a crowd with the intent of killing American soldiers, that’s not terrorism. But when they kill random hamlet officials to keep the populace from collaborating, that is terrorism. And I think that any organization that engages in any terrorist tactic merits the terrorist label.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/15/2009 @ 2:18 pm

  36. Apogee:

    Once you isolate an individual, no matter how dangerous, you have effectively eliminated the threat.

    So how do you view the individual who is motivated to act based on what he’s read about a movement, who may have talked to others about his beliefs and may even have received some assistance or training, but who ultimately acted alone as a suicide bomber or shooter? By your definition, isn’t it true that person would not be a terrorist because he ultimately acted alone?

    I don’t think it’s that easy to draw the line.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/15/2009 @ 2:30 pm

  37. Leviticus:

    So, when the Viet Cong throw a grenade into a crowd with the intent of killing American soldiers, that’s not terrorism. But when they kill random hamlet officials to keep the populace from collaborating, that is terrorism.

    And if they don’t know for sure who’s there or don’t care, then what?

    Comment by DRJ — 11/15/2009 @ 2:32 pm

  38. As long as their intent is something other than “cause fear”, it’s not terrorism in my opinion (though it’s still reprehensible). I’m trying to keep the term relatively specific.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/15/2009 @ 3:35 pm

  39. Okay. Let’s say the intent of an act is to create public dissatisfaction with the way a war is being waged, so the government will give up and take its troops home … but not out of fear but because of disillusionment.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/15/2009 @ 7:50 pm

  40. If the intention of an act was to spur “disillusionment”, I’d have a hard time calling it terrorism.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/15/2009 @ 7:58 pm

  41. But isn’t that what happened in Vietnam and Iraq? The growing list of American casualties didn’t cause fear in the general American population — we weren’t threatened domestically — but Americans became disillusioned and demoralized as the war progressed. I view that as both a war strategy (to inflict casualties on the troops and impair their ability to complete their mission) and a terrorism strategy (to demoralize the population at home).

    Comment by DRJ — 11/15/2009 @ 10:01 pm

  42. And it’s hard for me to see bombings directed at American troops in Iraq as “terrorism”. As ignorant and evil as I believe the motives behind such attacks to be, I cannot really call them “terrorist” attacks because I do not believe they’re intended to cause fear in any given populace.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/15/2009 @ 10:47 pm

  43. I mean, I don’t particularly like the analogy, but would you call the tactics of the French (or Polish) Resistance “terrorist” tactics if they were merely designed to get the Germans out of France (or Poland)?

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/15/2009 @ 10:49 pm

  44. So, Leviticus, if someone goes into a Democrat office and shoots up the place yelling “God is Great”, that isn’t terrorism?

    Comment by PCD — 11/16/2009 @ 6:58 am

  45. In my eyes, it depends on the person’s intention.

    And why should it matter whether it’s the office of a Democrat or a Republican? A shooting is terrible regardless of partisanship, PCD, and no place to play politics. I’m shocked you don’t realize that. You should really step back and evaluate your priorities.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/16/2009 @ 10:37 am

  46. Leviticus,

    I don’t think my examples are terrorism, either, but you’re the one who claims the test is subjective intent, so it’s your burden to explain what is and isn’t terrorism under your theory. You’ve stated that it’s only terrorism when the person intends to ’cause fear’ and that other intents — such as to demoralize or disillusion people — are not a basis for terrorism.

    Thus, under your theory, I don’t see how we can say people who burn luxury homes and cars are eco-terrorists. As I understand their intent, it’s not specifically to cause fear (they typically act during the night to target vacant homes and empty cars on car lots) but instead to demoralize builders and automobile dealers by causing severe economic loss. Since their intent was not to cause fear, they wouldn’t be terrorists by your standard, right?

    As I said above, if I had the choice, I wouldn’t focus on terms like terrorism, hate crimes or similar terms that try to distinguish some bad acts from others and to punish one more than another. But it’s a close call, because we’ve rarely had to deal with domestic terrorists before. Once we decide we need to treat some crimes as worse than others — as we do with hate crimes and terrorist events — then I think we need an objective standard based on overt acts to measure it by, and not try to get inside a person’s head to decide what he meant.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/16/2009 @ 12:32 pm

  47. I think that the basic test of terrorism is attack against a soft target (unarmed civilians) in order to influence the behavior of a hard target (government).

    Comment by nk — 11/16/2009 @ 2:28 pm

  48. DRJ,

    You are of course correct about the difficulty of measuring subjective intent in order to apply a “terrorism” label, and while I would still think an act true terrorism only if it were designed to instill fear, I would certainly admit the necessity of some sort of operational standard for use in legal contexts. I think I’ve failed to emphasize that, thus far, but I do agree with you on that. I also agree that defining certain types of crimes as worse than others (as with hate crimes and terrorism) is a difficult thing, and that perhaps (given a lack of satisfactory alternatives) the definition advanced by Apogee (#27) and nk (#47) is the best operational definition we’re going to get. The one caveat I would add is that so long as we’re using an operational definition (that is, a definition designed to circumnavigate the Doldrums of Intent), it would be wise if we took the term “terrorism” with a grain of salt, acknowledging that is has the potential to be overly broad (even if it is necessarily so).

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/16/2009 @ 3:37 pm

  49. DRJ – how do you view the individual who is motivated to act based on what he’s read about a movement, who may have talked to others about his beliefs and may even have received some assistance or training, but who ultimately acted alone as a suicide bomber or shooter?

    That’s my point. The presence of outside motivation and organization of a substantial nature (not just a few friends) renders the actions of the individual as those of an affiliate, not a lone actor. Even a loose, uncoordinated affiliation is more to worry about than a lone individual, IMO.

    Leviticus – my concern about the term terrorism is that incorrect or over-use will render the term meaningless. For example, the term ‘racist’ (Go JD!) has become meaningless, and really only signifies that the user of the term doesn’t have an argument anymore.

    Take nk’s definition of terrorism:
    the basic test of terrorism is attack against a soft target (unarmed civilians) in order to influence the behavior of a hard target (government).
    So that makes Curtis LeMay a terrorist? Errol Morris thinks so.
    I disagree. But without a suitable definition of terrorism, it moves one step closer to a subjective and emotional pejorative.

    When playground bullies are terrorists, we’re all terrorists, which really means none of us are terrorists.

    I’ve always had and continue to have a great suspicion of those who wish to un-moor our language from any meaning. I believe that it is exactly those same individuals who wish to confound the discovery of their subjective intent, and the negation of meaning is only a tool used for distraction.

    Unmasking intent is possible, but it takes an extensive examination conducted over time.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/16/2009 @ 7:42 pm

  50. “Leviticus – my concern about the term terrorism is that incorrect or over-use will render the term meaningless. For example, the term ‘racist’ (Go JD!) has become meaningless, and really only signifies that the user of the term doesn’t have an argument anymore.”

    – Apogee

    That was what I was originally talking about with my dad – this notion that we risk removing the meaning from the term if we over-use it. But I think even the primary definition I’ve been advocating – any act designed to instill fear – might be overly broad, because of the playground bully example you bring up. If a playground bully were trying to scare his classmates into giving him their lunch money, that would be terrorism (using the definition I’ve set forth throughout this thread) and that obviously can’t stand.

    So, what do we do? It seems like the three of us (you, DRJ, and I) are sticking with this thread fairly ardently: should we try to come up with definition that’s acceptable for all three of us? Set out our starting parameters and then try to fine-tune them until we’ve got a definition we’re all satisfied with?

    No pressure, obviously, but it might be an interesting exercise, and it would be a little more systematic (and we’re basically doing it anyway). I feel like I keep accidentally repeating myself, is all, and this might mitigate that.

    My parameters would be “An actfirst and foremost intended to instill terror in…” but beyond that

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/16/2009 @ 8:06 pm

  51. but beyond that I’d be open to further specification (which I think may be necessary).

    Sorry. Accidentally hit “submit” too soon.

    You’re right about being able to discern intent through extensive examination, by the way. I kinda forgot how critical that particular process was to a great deal of our criminal proceedings.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/16/2009 @ 8:08 pm

  52. I’m happy to stick around but I’m not hopeful about a shared definition. First, I’ll have a hard time signing on to something that is based on intent but that’s the core of your definition. Second, there are a lot of definitions (I linked some above) that have been promulgated by various U.S. and international organizations. I think it would be more productive to talk about why they work or don’t work. For instance, I agree with the second sentence of this statement by Apogee:

    The presence of outside motivation and organization of a substantial nature (not just a few friends) renders the actions of the individual as those of an affiliate, not a lone actor. Even a loose, uncoordinated affiliation is more to worry about than a lone individual, IMO.

    But I’m not sure I could sign on to the first sentence. Where do you draw the line? Why doesn’t having a “few friends” help cause it to be a terrorist conspiracy, unless what you meant is that their participation was negligible.

    Criminal law courts frequently need to decide whether a conspiracy exists. Thus, rather than inventing a new terrorism rule, I’d explore whether it might work to adopt the rules that determine when conspiracies exist.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/16/2009 @ 10:14 pm

  53. Take nk’s definition of terrorism:
    the basic test of terrorism is attack against a soft target (unarmed civilians) in order to influence the behavior of a hard target (government).
    So that makes Curtis LeMay a terrorist?

    Comment by Apogee — 11/16/2009 @ 7:42 pm

    A necessary test is not a sufficient test. So how about: An attack against a soft target (unarmed civilians) in order to influence the behavior of a hard target (government), by a non-state actor, is terrorism. When done by a state actor, it is “total war”, also defined as a war crime?

    Comment by nk — 11/16/2009 @ 10:41 pm

  54. And, yes, it’s a damn good thing we were the ones who won in WWII and and an even better thing for our enemies. When did we lose that? Vietnam? Did Kosovo seal the deal with the devil? Or was it Iraq 1?

    Comment by nk — 11/16/2009 @ 10:46 pm

  55. Would it always have to be a government target under your test, nk? I don’t disagree but I want to make sure that’s what you mean.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/16/2009 @ 10:57 pm

  56. “I think it would be more productive to talk about why [previously promulgated theories] work or don’t work.”

    – DRJ

    That’s fine with me. I think that will ultimately help me to come to a useful definition in the same way.

    What about this one, then (this is the one you italicized in #24): “Criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons, or a group of persons or the general public.”

    You would object to the terms “intended” and “calculated”, I presume, and prefer a standard based on the actual results of particular actions? And I would object to the notion that terrorism may only be directed against a state – in fact, it’s hard for me to think of an example of how terrorism could be directed at a “state” at all (outside of attacks on military personnel, diplomats, etc.), rather than at citizens of a state (or is that the same thing?)

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/16/2009 @ 10:58 pm

  57. Would it always have to be a government target under your test, nk? I don’t disagree but I want to make sure that’s what you mean.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/16/2009 @ 10:57 pm

    I think that terrorism must be attacks against non-military/paramilitary targets. Not non-governmental. I would consider the bombing of a post office or VA hospital an act of terrorism.

    Comment by nk — 11/16/2009 @ 11:12 pm

  58. Uh oh, you meant who is intended to be influenced? Yes, I think it must be a government or an institution in a much superior position of power and invulnernability vis a vis the actual victims of the terrorist violence.

    Comment by nk — 11/16/2009 @ 11:19 pm

  59. nk – So you would never consider environmental-related acts to be terrorism if they were directed against non-governmental entities like loggers, homebuilders and car dealers, right? Would those same acts be terrorism if they were directed against property of the U.S. Forest Service or the FBI?

    Leviticus – I need to think about it but the addition of “or calculated” may cure the problem I have with an intent-based test. To me, determining whether something is “calculated to cause terror” is a primarily objective test that we measure based on whether a reasonable person would find the act caused terror.

    Of course, we have many crimes that are intent-based. For instance, we typically require a showing of intent to prove murder, but intent can be inferred. I’d agree to an intent element if it were a similar test, but my impression is you require the criminal/terrorist has expressed an intent to cause fear. Are you willing to accept the criminal law standard that lets intent be proven by objective acts?

    Comment by DRJ — 11/16/2009 @ 11:47 pm

  60. “Are you willing to accept the criminal law standard that lets intent be proven by objective acts?”

    – DRJ

    Yes, tentatively. I’ll have to think about it a little more, but if we can prove that someone intended specifically to murder (rather than injure or terrorize, say), I think we can legitimately prove that someone intended specifically to terrorize (rather than injure or murder).

    Generally speaking, what are said criminal law standards? I’m just curious – I’m graduating in the spring, and I think law school’s the next thing on the list.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/17/2009 @ 12:36 am

  61. This Wiki page is a good place to start thinking about criminal intent.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/17/2009 @ 12:42 am

  62. 59.nk – So you would never consider environmental-related acts to be terrorism if they were directed against non-governmental entities like loggers, homebuilders and car dealers, right? Would those same acts be terrorism if they were directed against property of the U.S. Forest Service or the FBI?

    Never is far too long a time.

    I think we need to draw a line somewhere. Otherwise, the Black Hand, shaking down Italian street vendors for a dollar a day, where my alma mater is now, would be considered terrorists.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 4:13 am

  63. Generally speaking, what are said criminal law standards? I’m just curious – I’m graduating in the spring, and I think law school’s the next thing on the list.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/17/2009 @ 12:36 am

    In Illinois, intent is a permissible inference that can be drawn by the trier of fact from the record as a whole.

    So, for example, if you point a gun at someone, you can be guilty of aggravated assault, a misdemeanor punishable by no more than 364 days in jail, or the trier of fact can infer a specific intent to kill and you can spend up to sixty years for attempt (sic) murder.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 7:31 am

  64. Sixty years in prison.

    And, no, don’t go to law school. Or medical school, either. Go West and be a cowboy. Ride in old trucks, wear Lone Star belt buckles and such. You’ll be much happier.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 7:34 am

  65. For the next twenty years or so, anyway. You are a young man and your bones will tell you (at about forty or so) whether you should stride a saddle or ride a desk.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 7:38 am

  66. Unless a horse rolls over on you and crushes your chest with the saddlehorn.

    But it will have been worth it.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 8:37 am

  67. Heh. Well, I kinda skipped a step when I said law school was “the next thing on the list”. I’m thinking of taking a year off to work outside somewhere – maybe fighting fires for the Forest Service or something. We have bad fire seasons out here.

    Comment by Leviticus — 11/17/2009 @ 9:22 am

  68. Do it. Being a Forest Ranger, I mean. You will not regret doing it, you will regret not doing it.

    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 10:20 am

  69. 45, No, I purposely stated Democrat. Really, the Democrats are the 5th column for terrorists, and AlQaeda would not specifically kill Democrats, and Democrats like you know that. I wanted to see if I could shock some sense into you, but I failed.

    Comment by PCD — 11/17/2009 @ 11:45 am

  70. DRJ – But I’m not sure I could sign on to the first sentence. Where do you draw the line? Why doesn’t having a “few friends” help cause it to be a terrorist conspiracy, unless what you meant is that their participation was negligible.

    Because I view a terrorist act as more than a criminal act (which affirms my view of the idiocy of attempting to ‘try’ KSM in federal court). Great question, because it took me down a different path. How is terrorism different than mass-murder?

    If it wasn’t an agreed military tactic already in the lexicon, I would be more likely to group the term with the utterly ridiculous ‘hate crime’. But, because ‘terrorism’, like porn, is something everybody seems to know when they see it, drawing the line becomes extraordinarily important.

    I just don’t feel that terrorism is a crime. To me it’s an act of war, and the punishments for such should be meted out by the military.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/17/2009 @ 11:56 am

  71. Apogee,

    I agree in theory but domestic terrorism is a problem. It’s difficult in practice to treat something that happens within the U.S. borders as a war crime instead of a legal matter.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/17/2009 @ 7:22 pm

  72. DRJ – It’s difficult in practice to treat something that happens within the U.S. borders as a war crime instead of a legal matter.

    Yes. Agreed as well. For some reason I inherently view domestic terrorism as something different, and perhaps deserving of a label that would have been used in the past, such as open rebellion, or an act of treason. I know I react differently when reading accounts of domestic terrorism.

    The thought that comes to mind when I hear of domestic terrorism is: waste. I never felt that a group of militia members could ever accomplish anything more than killing innocents. The term domestic terrorist possesses a ring of futility to me. (and perhaps that’s why the terrorist term is almost always associated with the weak component of asymetric warfare)

    So taking into account events within the U.S. borders, how would you describe the capture of Fort Sumter in 1861? It is a military target, but did the secessionists commit a criminal act? How about the raid on Harper’s Ferry? At the time the surviving raiders were hung for treason, but with the hindsight of the Civil War, it could be argued as a precursor to the eventual hostilities.

    Thanks for your input.

    Comment by Apogee — 11/17/2009 @ 9:32 pm

  73. Well … let me start by saying I’m old but not that old, so I’ll have to give you my second-hand and not very informed opinion.

    My guess is Ft. Sumter may have been seen as an act of war after-the-fact. There were other rebellious acts in that era in several states, most of which were handled as criminal matters although sometimes with military assistance. That’s one reason why I think domestic rebellions, terrorism, etc., create difficult issues. It’s crime when authorities can handle it; It’s war when they can’t.

    Comment by DRJ — 11/17/2009 @ 10:01 pm

  74. I think the Kansas-Missouri Border Wars prior to the War of Southern Rebellion qualified as terrorism. Both sides terrorized the citizens, who at that time were the government, in order to influence them about slavery as a legal institution.

    Comment by nk — 11/18/2009 @ 4:55 am

  75. Perhaps we need to resurrect an out-of-style term:
    Brigandage?

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! — 11/18/2009 @ 12:04 pm

  76. Isn’t Brigandage just the archaic term for Chicago-style politics ?

    Comment by Alasdair — 11/18/2009 @ 2:27 pm

  77. Comment by DRJ — 11/17/2009 @ 10:01 pm

    IIRC (being older than dirt, I remember it like it was yesterday), SC had already seceeded from the Union. Therefore, when the attack occurred, it would have been an Act of War by one sovereign entity against another; thereby provoking the War of Northern Aggression (Heh!).

    Comment by AD - RtR/OS! — 11/20/2009 @ 11:37 am

  78. (Disclosure-I didn’t read all of the above.)

    I think there is a problem with the idea of de facto separation of the “lone gunman” from “an organized plot”, etc., in the definition of what is terrorism. I think the identified leaders of jihadist terrorism promote the idea of individual martyrs taking up the cause without any direct connections to others. What greater cause of terror than fearing if today will be the day that someone decides to engage in a suicide gun battle. It is very easy to be a successful terrorist if surviving for the next attack is not a goal. If there were 10 people who went off like Hassan over the next 6 months, without any coordinated effort other than shared religiopolitical convictions of jihadism, would you really argue that they were not terrorist attacks? And for Hassan, apparently there is considerable evidence that he was in some level of organized contact with others.

    Acts out of personal revenge for person gain may be horrendous and cause terror, but I would not call them terrorism. Terrorism, whether by a group or individual, has an element of political/social motivation that reaches beyond the realm of individual goals. I am not aware that Columbine was intended to “make any point” other than two disturbed and hateful youths wanted to end their lives and take others with them.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 11/20/2009 @ 9:06 pm

  79. And, no, don’t go to law school. Or medical school, either. Go West and be a cowboy. …and such. You’ll be much happier.
    Comment by nk — 11/17/2009 @ 7:34 am

    There’s an old country song, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys, make them grow up to be doctors and lawyers and such…” During my residency and my friend’s law school days we would reverse it.

    Comment by MD in Philly — 11/20/2009 @ 9:10 pm

  80. MD in Philly – Terrorism, whether by a group or individual, has an element of political/social motivation that reaches beyond the realm of individual goals.

    Agreed, and well stated.

    Leviticus?

    Comment by Apogee — 11/21/2009 @ 8:49 pm

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