Terrible, yes, but was it terrorism?

I’m loathe to post a video from Fox, below, but even a broken GOP propaganda organ occasionally delves into interesting questions, even if they normally give skewed answers. To wit: A discussion about whether the Boston Marathon bombing was “terrorism.”

Which raises the question: How do we define “terrorism”?

In the old days, it often had a foreign connotation. But Timothy McVeigh was American, and the Oklahoma City bombing was an act or terrorism.

It also tended to mean an attack on civilian targets, but not always. The attack on the Pentagon on 9/11 was no less an act of terror than the attack on the World Trade Center.

Boston-Globe-front-pageDoes it matter how many die or how many are injured? Not really. If Al Qaeda tries to blow up the White House and the bomb’s a dud, or only injures one person, it was still a terrorist attack – just one that fizzled.

Of course, I’m concluding all of this without even defining what constitutes “terrorism.” So I turned to my friend, the Google, and it led me to the CIA’s definition:

Q: How do you define terrorism?

A: The Intelligence Community is guided by the definition of terrorism contained in Title 22 of the US Code, Section 2656f(d):

  • The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.
  • The term “international terrorism” means terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country.
  • The term “terrorist group” means any group that practices, or has significant subgroups that practice, international terrorism.

Hmm.  Politically-motivated makes sense – though was the Kennedy assassination terrorism?  I don’t think so.  Let’s turn to the National Institute of Justice at the Department of Justice.  NIJ first quotes the US Code, then adds this:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Both definitions of terrorism share a common theme: the use of force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal. In most cases, NIJ researchers adopt the FBI definition, which stresses methods over motivations and is generally accepted by law enforcement communities.

Really?  What if I punched someone at the White House because I wanted them to speed up their work on immigration reform?  That would be the use of the force intended to influence or instigate a course of action that furthers a political or social goal.  But punching someone isn’t terrorism.

I wonder if the definition doesn’t need to include deadly violence, perhaps with the intent of inflicting mass deadly violence.  But that’s still not enough.  Was Sandy Hook terrorism?  I don’t think he had a political goal (I don’t think so), and I think that has to be part of the equation.  Doesn’t it?

Is it a terrorist attack if some nut blows up Congress simply because he’s a nut, and not because he’s trying to influence legislation – if he’s simply nutters, is it terrorism?

When abortion providers are shot by pro-life extremists, is that terrorism?  When eco-extremists burn down neighborhoods of new houses, is that terrorism?  (They’re called eco-terrorists, so maybe.)

When that crazy guy went to the religious right group with a gun, and a bunch of Chick-fil-A sandwiches, and shot a security guard in the arm, was that terrorism?  Would it have been terrorism had he killed everyone in the building?

I think what bothers me with how the word “terrorism” is used nowadays is that sometimes the term is awfully politically expedient – we call someone a terrorist, or an act terrorism, in order to influence the public, rather than simply because the act or the person met our definition.  Because we don’t really have a definition.

The ACLU weighs in with another definition, and the problem it poses:

Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52) expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “”domestic,”” as opposed to international, terrorism.   A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “”dangerous to human life”” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to:  (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) 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.  Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and if they do not, may be regarded as international terrorism….

The definition of domestic terrorism is broad enough to encompass the activities of several prominent activist campaigns and organizations. Greenpeace, Operation Rescue, Vieques Island and WTO protesters and the Environmental Liberation Front have all recently engaged in activities that could subject them to being investigated as engaging in domestic terrorism.

One recent example is the Vieques Island protests, when many people, including several prominent Americans, participated in civil disobedience on a military installation where the United States government has been engaging in regular military exercises, which these protesters oppose.  The protesters illegally entered the military base and tried to obstruct the bombing exercises.  This conduct would fall within the definition of domestic terrorism because the protesters broke federal law by unlawfully entering the airbase and their acts were for the purpose of influencing a government policy by intimidation or coercion.  The act of trying to disrupt bombing exercises arguably created a danger to human life – their own and those of military personnel.

I’ve written this past week that the Boston Marathon bombings were terrorism.  But at the same time, I’ll be interested to hear why the bombers did it.  Then again, blowing up bombs at a civilian event, even if you’re just nuts, sure sounds like terrorism.

What’s your definition?  And do we even need a definition?  Though a lawyer would probably say, yes, since being designated a terrorist carries some legal import, in terms of how you’re handled and what you’re charged with.  I may need to seek out some experts and quiz them further on this one, as it’s a fascinating question, and I’m just not sure I’m liking the answers I’m getting.

CyberDisobedience on Substack | @aravosis | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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57 Responses to “Terrible, yes, but was it terrorism?”

  1. Researcher says:

    Sweetie, I am completely surprised by your simple definiton of terrorism. Since months I’m reading essays of scientists writing about terrorism and the difficulty of finding a definition of terrorism. They’ve all been wrong.. and I’ve lost so much time for finding a good definition. In fact it’s so easy:

    “Terrorism is criminality designed to make people feel terror.” (Sweetie)

    I suggest you to take a look at the following: ” The study of terrorism: Definitional Problems” by Brian Michael Jenkins. You easly find it in the Internet, it’s just ten pages long. Or: Go into a library and read what Gabriel Weimann or Bruce Hoffman are writing about terrorism, maybe this opens your mind a bit!

    P.S. Sorry for my english, but I’m not a native speaker

  2. Dene Venter says:

    The definition of ‘mass murder’ is technically 5 or more people murdered. The term ‘mass murder’ seems to have con notates with millions or hundreds of thousands. A weapon of mass destruction is similarly ambiguous, however, generally speaking a weapon of mass destruction seems to infer a nuclear warhead or something similar, so the charges are ambiguous at best, nonetheless they are ‘mass murderers’. It would be better if the charges laid against them were to include conspiracy to murder and mass murder. Simple. Amy Elizabeth Biehl was murdered in South Africa in 1993. In 1998, all her accussed were pardoned by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission when they stated that their actions had been politically motivated. As a matter of interest if an American citizen is murdered outside of the borders of America and the murder is decidedly politically motivated, in terms of the definitions given by the CIA, FBI or ACLU, how does one decide between an act of war or something more trivial? Given the layout of the street plan, a simple dirt road, the car that Amy was driving would at that juncture have had to slow down where her assailants were waiting for her. More so three years prior to that they knew who she was and more so that she was an American citizen.

  3. Sweetie says:

    “If you mean culture in the sense of an entire country or city, probably none.”

  4. goulo says:

    ME attacking YOU?

    All I said was that the mere fact that the suspects were Muslim does not justify calling the crime “terrorism”. In response, you go off on an angry tangent about Greenwald and you seem to be aggressively insisting that because mainstream Islamic culture is currently more heterosexist than mainstream Christian culture this … somehow (by unexplained logic) … invalidates the point that merely because a Muslim commits a violent a crime does not mean the crime is terrorism.

    You also seem unwilling to answer my questions but instead you repeatedly demand (you give imperative orders like “Answer the question.”, while I’ve tried to always ask you courteously “Can you give examples” etc) that I answer yours. You don’t seem to be interested in any sincere civil discussion about why people automatically assume an act of violence by a Muslim is terrorism when they don’t assume that about acts of violence by other people.

    You only seem to want to angrily hammer your point that Islam is anti-gay, and that Greenwald doesn’t bash Islam’s heterosexism enough to suit you, even when he’s writing about something which has nothing to do with gay issues.

    You simply mockingly dismiss (in a sort of “No true Scotsman” fallacy) the individual Muslims who are NOT anti-gay, and you even harshly dismiss them as comparable to Jewish Nazis. You repeatedly ignored my questions about how that’s any different from Christianity Christianity, so I have no idea why you apparently don’t similarly mock pro-gay Christians who work to get Christian groups more gay-friendly and argue against interpreting the anti-gay parts of the Bible literally, argue against all the anti-gay teachings by church leaders, popes, etc.

    And (most fundamentally) you seem continually unwilling to explain what in the world all this big tangent about religious heterosexism has to do with assumptions of terroristic intent in the Boston bombings, or why in the world Greenwald not saying what you want him to say about Islam somehow invalidates his argument about assumptions of terrorism. You never refute the actual argument; instead you just keep making the ad hominem claim that he’s not objective and not sufficiently anti-Islam.

    So I guess we are doomed to go around in circles until we stop, so I’m stopping. Good day to you.

  5. Sweetie says:

    “If you mean culture in the sense of an entire country or city, probably none.”

    Then you have no business attacking me for my analysis, as it is perfectly legitimate.

    Trying to sugarcoat Islam’s heterosexism won’t work. There are Christian nations that are far better on gay rights, and more debate over how anti-gay Christianity is. Nonetheless, religion is dangerous because it’s not rational.

    Atheism does not mandate heterosexism. Greenwald had the responsibility to discuss that in the context of attacking “new atheism” on the grounds of irrationality toward Islam.

    I am not interested in “pro-gay Muslims” any more than I’m interested in Jewish Nazis, as long as Islam, like Nazism, is expressly anti-gay. I have yet to see any real evidence to the contrary. A person can find an organization for anything, but that hardly comes close to obviating.in this context.

    If it is true that the Korean and Islam in general (including Sharia Law) is compatible with a theological world view in which gay people are fully equal to heteros, then I will be thrilled. I doubt very much that I will be thrilled any time soon, though.

  6. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I hear you, and don’t take it personally because I know it’s not just you — I still argue against the loosening of the definition. I understand its use in the legal sense — McVeigh did indeed cause some mass destruction — but in a legal sense “two for flinching” is probably assault. In common usage “WMD” has connotations beyond “took some fertilizer and added a whole lot more fertilizer.” Bush scared the crap out of the gullible by saying that Saddam had the means to build WMD; if he’d unveiled satellite photos of a silo full of fertilizer that would have been the end of the invasion. (Well.. the optimist would hope.) I think saying that these guys had WMD is just misleading, based on how (I think) the term is generally interpreted. Maybe it’s just me.

  7. Ninong says:

    Yes, I used the term “weapon of mass destruction” because that was all over the news yesterday morning shortly after he was charged. Federal court was convened in his hospital room. You might remember that Timothy McVeigh was charged with the exact same crime: Use of a weapon of mass destruction and conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction. McVeigh was one of three people executed in the US under federal law in the past 50 years.

    In a military sense, we think of a weapon of mass destruction as a nuclear device or poisonous gas but apparently a trunkload of ammonium nitrate made the cut as well. I guess you could make a pressure-cooker bomb powerful enough to kill a hundred people or more if you knew what you were doing.

  8. MyrddinWilt says:

    Given that Rupert Murdoch has five direct reports facing prosecution for serious charges that could bring up to ten years in prison each in the UK, it seems quite right and proper to exercise caution in citing reports from other parts of his empire. The New York Post consistently got the story wrong from the start publishing what are now known to be completely wrong reports.

    Biased and unprofessional pretty much sums up Fox News.

  9. SkippyFlipjack says:

    Couldn’t they get a life sentence in a state case as well? I figured they were going the federal route just to have access to the death penalty, so they can execute him in the public square and let the cheering masses feel happy about life.

  10. SkippyFlipjack says:

    I didn’t realize you were citing the charges. Just because he was charged with using WMD doesn’t make it true; I think that’s trumped up for legal or political reasons. The brothers are murderers and terrorists; that should be enough.

  11. MyrddinWilt says:

    Lovely, the term is not defined in the act. Quite possibly rendering it ineffective.

    People always accuse the government of having a bill ready in its back pocket to roll out whenever there is an attack. But the drafter of this title was clearly either incompetent or in a big hurry.

    The connection to interstate commerce is also rather tenuous. The Boston marathon is an international event with runners from abroad and from other states. But that is the only element that the attack appears to qualify under.

    Looks to me like the case for making a federal case out of the attack is actually a bit shaky. And if this is a state matter there will be no death penalty. So prosecutors might have quite an incentive to make a plea deal on the federal charges resulting in a federal life sentence which has no possibility of parole rather than a state prosecution.

  12. goulo says:

    If you mean culture in the sense of an entire country or city, probably none. (Nor did I claim there were. On the other hand, all those things are not realistically possible in most Christian cultures either. This is not an Islam-specific problem.)

    Now I would like the reciprocal courtesy of a couple of direct answers from you:

    1. Do you sincerely believe that there are not individual pro-gay Muslims and pro-gay organizations? I’m still surprised that you seem so sure that all Muslims are anti-gay. You can easily find counter-examples.

    Since you seem unwilling to use Google yourself for some reason, I’ll give you the first few random links I found:
    Really, you can easily find more. Just try it. The only thing you have to lose are your hostile prejudices.

    2. Given that the so many Christian organizations (e.g. major ones like the Vatican as well as small fringe ones like Phelps) are also anti-gay, do you similarly consider that “All of Christianity is anti-gay”? If not, why not?

    3. Does someone’s being anti-gay mean that they no longer deserve constitutionally guaranteed legal rights in legal cases which don’t even have any particular connection to gay rights? If so, does the same hold for people who are bigoted against Christians, or against blacks, or against atheists, or against people of a particular political party, or against foreigners, or against … ? Given that most people have some kind of nasty bias against SOME group or another, does that mean that most people don’t deserve legal rights?

  13. Sweetie says:


    “So, where is there even one Islamic culture where gay people can hold hands in public, marry each other legally, and adopt children?”

    Answer the question.

  14. goulo says:

    Googling for gay positive muslim I immediately easily found several pages about gay-positive Muslim organizations. I’m sure you can as well.

    This reminds me of commenters at right wing sites who claim “no Muslim organization ever denounces attacks by Muslims”, because they haven’t bothered to research and find out that of course Muslim organizations have denounced attacks by Muslims, that there were vigils in Iran after 911, etc, – many people prefer instead to avoid information which would conflict with their belief that all Muslims are inherently dangerous, violent, malicious, etc.

    You seem to be consciously or unconsciously equating Muslims in general with the subset of radicalized Middle Eastern violent terrorist Muslims. One might as well assume that all Christians are abortion clinic bombers, for example. I could similarly look at, e.g., Christianity in Uganda with its “kill the gays” law and conclude that Christianity in general is murderously anti-gay.

    Note that neither I nor Greenwald is claiming that all or even most Muslims or Muslim leaders are gay-positive. (Neither would I assert that most Christians are gay-positive, though they seem to have evolved further than Muslims on gay rights.) Like I said, I personally find religion ridiculous and unnecessary, but clearly it exists and seems important to many people, and I don’t see the use of demonizing everyone in a religion just because some members or even established institutions of a religion do bad stuff. How is that any different from someone outside the US claiming that all US people are war-mongers, don’t care about the poor, etc?

    BTW I’m not sure why you require gay-positive Muslim groups to be in the Middle East, by the way; most Muslims don’t live in the Middle East (e.g. the country with the most Muslims by far is Indonesia), and in particular the suspect in this Boston case is not from the Middle East.

  15. Ninong says:

    The United States of America v. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev: Code Section 18 U.S.C. s 2332a(a) Use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction; 18 U.S.C. s 844(i) Malicious Destruction of Property Resulting in Death.

    He is charged with “unlawfully using and conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction (namely, an improvised explosive device) against persons and property within the United States…”

    I’m only reporting what he has been charged with. He has been charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction.”

  16. SkippyFlipjack says:

    You lost me at “weapon of mass destruction”. It was an anti-personnel ordnance, not a weapon of mass destruction. You’re not the only one calling it that, unfortunately.

    Look at it this way — if Bush’s troops had uncovered twenty of these pressure-cooker-and-nails contraptions in a secret room in Saddam’s palace, would you have said that they’d found WMDs?

  17. Sweetie says:

    Oh, and you can cite even one prominent Islamic organization in the Middle East that explicitly argues for appreciation of gay Muslims.

  18. Sweetie says:

    “Um, no, it’s not, and I’m kind of amazed you seem to take that as a given.”

    So, where is there even one Islamic culture where gay people can hold hands in public, marry each other legally, and adopt children?

    As for the rest of your post, I’ll respond to it once you give me some substantive information to back up your rhetoric.

  19. karmanot says:

    “Republicans suck at national security!” Not only that they suck at economic policy, having brought us two depressions.

  20. Ninong says:

    They used a weapon of mass destruction, resulting in the death of four people (counting the MIT officer) and the injury of at least 170 more. I think it’s clear they were politically motivated and wanted to express their contempt for the foreign policy of the government of the United States in it’s involvement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. In other words, they considered US foreign policy to be anti-Islam.

    They intended their actions as an act of war against the United States (that’s my guess of what was in their minds). They wanted to intimidate the population and embarrass the government. I think that amounts to domestic terrorism. However, I do not like the idea of this president, or any president, having the power to declare any American citizen an “enemy combatant” for any act committed on American soil. As long as we can capture him here in this country, he’s a criminal, but not an enemy combatant. If he flees to Yemen or Pakistan where we having little or no chance of ever bringing him to justice, then maybe he’s an enemy combatant and maybe it’s okay to drone his ass. However, I don’t think we should have droned his 16-yr-old son, too.

    This whole enemy combatant issue is a Republican canard to try to appear stronger on national security than Obama. They’re not. Republicans suck at national security!

  21. psyspace says:

    If the perpetrators in Boston were right-wing white gun nuts…I doubt that this forum would be wasting time on a semantic arguement…”does it meet the definition of terrorism.”

  22. goulo says:

    You wrote: “All of Islam is anti-gay, is it not?”
    Um, no, it’s not, and I’m kind of amazed you seem to take that as a given. You keep talking about logical fallacies, yet don’t see that you’re fallaciously stereotyping an entire group?

    It’s no more true than “All of Christianity is anti-gay” or “All of Judaism is anti-gay”. (Do you also believe those statements? I can’t tell. I assume you know enough Christians in real life to realize that many of them are not virulent jackasses like the gay-bashing Christians whom the media so often reports on.) If you really believe all Islamic people are anti-gay, I’m boggled and I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I don’t see anything wrong in the Greenwald quotes you mention. He explicitly acknowledges that there are asshole violent Muslims – what more do you want him to say? You seem to want him to treat Islam as uniquely evil unlike other religions, as if there aren’t also asshole violent Christians, or Jews, or whatever. I honestly don’t see your point. He’s pointing out that there is extreme prejudice against Muslims (what you mockingly call “‘poor Muslims’ rhetoric”, as if it’s somehow stupidly quaint to care about other perfectly innocent people’s civil rights) and you seem to take issue with that because… why? I don’t get it.

    Do you believe that all Muslims should be treated as suspicious criminals and you disagree with Greenwald for saying they shouldn’t be?

    The americablog comments lately are starting to be disturbingly sweepingly Islam-bashing, like comments I stumbled upon at breitbart a couple days ago. (And I say this as an atheist who finds all religions rather pointless and ridiculous, but who has met plenty of nice people of various religions, including Islam.) There’s a bit of a villainizing vibe like after 9/11.

  23. Sweetie says:

    According to you. Where’s your evidence?

  24. Sweetie says:

    Your comment has nothing to do with what I said.

  25. Sweetie says:

    He attacked “new atheism” on the grounds that it endorses irrational anti-Muslim animus without actually addressing the anti-gay animus of Islam. He tried to evade this, as usual with the following:

    “Of course one can legitimately criticize Islam without being bigoted or
    racist. That’s self-evident, and nobody is contesting it.”

    Funny how not once has he ever criticized Islam for its anti-gay animus.

    “And of course there are some Muslim individuals who do heinous things in the name of their religion – just like there are extremists in all religions who do
    awful and violent things in the name of that religion, yet receive far
    less attention than the bad acts of Muslims (here are some very recent examples).”

    All of Islam is anti-gay, is it not? The “few bad apples” argument doesn’t apply. Nor does the “everyone else does it” tu quoque fallacy apply.

    “Yes, ‘honor killings’ and the suppression of women by some Muslims are heinous, just as the collaboration of US and Ugandan Christians to enact laws to execute homosexuals is heinous, and just as the religious-driven, violent occupation of Palestine, attacks on gays, and suppression of women by some Israeli Jews
    in the name of Judaism is heinous.”

    Again with the tu quoque.

    “That some Muslims commit atrocities in the name of their religion (like some people of every religion do) is also too self-evident to merit debate, but it has nothing to do with the criticisms of Harris.”

    It has everything to do with a discourse pitting atheism against Islam. Atheism doesn’t mandate anti-gay animus. It doesn’t mandate heterosexism. Islam does.

    Note that he also didn’t even address gays under Islam when answering a question directly about that:

    Questioner: “Not sure how U.S. invasion of Iraq obviates or justifies repression of
    women, gays and free thinkers throughout Muslim world Glen. Can you

    “No, I can’t – because I never said or implied that and don’t believe it. What I did say is that if oppressive treatment of women by some Muslims means that Islam is evil, then the aggressive attack on Iraq that obliterated a country of 26 million people must prove that the West, the US and Christians are at least as evil (to say nothing of the endless list of other acts of violence, aggression and militarism from those same factions). But for people like Harris, those standards never get applied to his side. And that is the point.”

    More tu quoque and ad hominem nonsense. Attacking Harris is attacking the low-hanging fruit. It has nothing to do with atheism. It’s a sideshow designed to present, yet again, the “poor Muslims” rhetoric Greenwald is so fond of.

    If you’re going to talk about persecution of Muslims and try to tie atheism into it, then you should at least mention the extremely significant fact that atheism does not require heterosexual supremacist ideas. Islam, on the other hand…

    Glenn Greenwald is a gay man. He has the responsibility to address this issue. Even one column would be something. Just one! Even a paragraph.


  26. I suppose terrorism is like pornography; ya know it when ya see it.

  27. akaison says:

    Then every act of criminal activity, if it causes terror, is terrorism. You go to the local corner store, and kill someone, that’s terrorism too because the neighbors were scare of you.

  28. cole3244 says:

    domestic terrorism, something we are either unable or afraid to say, on many more occasions than this i might add.

  29. akaison says:

    No, that’s not the definition of terrorism or else its a meaningless definition and over broad.

  30. akaison says:

    Objectivity is looking at the definition to see whether an act meets the metric of that definition. Glenn is thinking as a lawyer, which is what will decide this, rather than the mob mind set that says we can’t change the definition just because we feel it. What you describe isn’t the rule of law.

  31. akaison says:

    The suspect can’t be tried on what I believe the definition is now. He can only be tried on what the definition was before he committed the act.

  32. karmanot says:

    Couldn’t agree more!

  33. Bill_Perdue says:

    Terrorism is attacks on civilians. Examples include Dresden, Hamburg, Yokohama, Nagasaki, Gaza, Tokyo, Hiroshima, Darfur, Sarajevo, Panama City, Dhofar and the genocidal wars of aggression against Vietnam and Iraq

    The worst terrorist in recent history is Bill Clinton. His embargo on Iraq targeted and murdered half a million children with an embargo on food, sanitary supplies and medicines. Bill Clinton is a monster.

  34. karmanot says:

    Lindsay may be walking into a trap of his own making. Some surveillance scan may pick up his internet order for a Mr. Man blow-up doll and the cat is out of the bag.

  35. BeccaM says:

    True, that’s one thing I’ve noticed: If the gov’t wants to suspend your civil and constitutional rights, anything you’ve done becomes classified as ‘terrorism.’

    Hell, these days an accusation of ‘material support for’ is considered grounds for becoming an UnPerson.

  36. BeccaM says:

    Can anybody here name the ‘political motivation’ in the Boston Marathon bombing? I’m not talking guesses or the fact that Tamerlan seemed to be increasingly sympathetic with Islamic extremist philosophies.

    Were there any phone calls or emails taking credit for the bombs? Any leaflets left at the site? Any demands? One of the hallmarks of the terrorist act is it usually includes demands of some kind, a clear message. The IRA made it clear their goal was the Brits out of Ireland. McVeigh and Nichols were angry at the feds, and apparently wanted to spark a militia uprising. 9/11 and the Cole attack were, according to Bin Laden, because he and his group were opposed to “infidels” in Islamic holy lands, namely Saudi Arabia, U.S. support of Israel, and the sanctions against Iraq.

    Do we have anything substantive from the Tsarnaev brothers? By most accounts, neither was especially political at all. Dzhokhar was a fairly typical college student and his older brother apparently kind of a wife-beating dick in general.

    At this point, I think the only way we’ll know if this was intended to be merely the beginning of a campaign of terrorism versus a pair of amateur wannabes more interested in mayhem and kicks is if the FBI is able to turn up writings or something to indicate these brothers — or perhaps just Tamerlan, with his idolizing brother in tow — has goals larger in mind than simply blowing up a bunch of people.

    If the FBI can turn up something, anything to indicate there was a concrete political goal or objective, even if it was not yet communicated — well, then I’d retract my quibbles here.

    In closing: I’ve said before that I believe we were as likely as not to find these two had more in common with Klebold and Harris, the Columbine guys, than with Al Qaeda. I’ll modify that somewhat: Another possibility is that Tamerlan Tsaraev might’ve been another Jose Padilla — a wannabe terrorist, but by all accounts not actually a member of any terrorist organization.

  37. goulo says:

    Can you give any examples of this asserted bias? I certainly don’t recall him ever denying that people terrorize gays in the name of Islam (as well as in the name of Christianity, as well as in the name of just being a jackass, for that matter), nor defending any religious people (Islamic or otherwise) who use religion as a justification for heterosexism.

    In any case, it seems neither here nor there with respect to whether someone exploding a bomb for no stated reason is automatically labeled a terrorist, or automatically labeled a terrorist if they are Muslim.

  38. Sweetie says:

    Terrorism is criminality designed to make people feel terror.

    It’s not complicated.

  39. Sweetie says:

    Greenwald has a problem with objectivity, though. He refuses to deal with the fact that people terrorize gays in the name of Islam on a routine basis.

    Gays who, unlike him, don’t have the luxury of living in Brazil.

  40. Sweetie says:

    Hate crimes are terrorism.

  41. Terrorism is whatever the government chooses to call it when it wants to charge you..

  42. you can’t tell someone they need to grow up and immediately follow it with sophomoric insults.

  43. karmanot says:

    To me what John is presenting is an important clarification between criminal activity, which requires response from standing internal law procedures, or terrorism, which requires an entirely different response. The latter, as we’ve seen under the Bush administration and continued even more vigorously by Obama has greatly infringed on common standing law and has given the executive branch nearly absolute power in deciding matters of law under the rubric of war. This development threatens to demolish fundamental Constitutional civil rights and is slowly turning toward executive fascism as the norm in dealing in matters of ‘constant war.’ Theoretically, it’s possible that a commenter here on America Blog may say something that would be construed as aiding and abetting the enemy, be declared a terrorist sympathizer and be disappeared into one of America’s foreign gulags.

  44. karmanot says:

    Said a rat nibbling on cheese from the big table.

  45. karmanot says:

    Then there is the case of America declaring war on itself by proxy to destroy Iraq and confiscate its resources without the slightest regard for standing international law or any consequences for the war criminals that brought into history a another monumental American failure, probably even greater than Viet Nam.

  46. Randy Riddle says:

    Actually, the better question is “Was the Boston Marathon bombing an Act of War?”

    In the US, we’ve fallen into a trap, created by the hard-right, confusing something that’s a crime – like two alienated loners bombing a public event or an extremist anti-abortionist and homophobe planting bombs or shooting doctors – with acts of war that have the involvement and blessing of a foreign government.

    Crime is dealt with through our system of courts and justice. War is dealt with by throwing down bombs and troops somewhere and taking enemy combatants as prisoners.

    FoxNews is just trying to confuse the issue – terrorism is a crime. That’s all it is.

  47. John Aravosis, I’m loathe hear you say you are “loathe to post a video from Fox”. You need to grow up. I can’t believe how you are even reaching anyone at all with your blog considering how puerile and unprofessional your reporting is.

  48. Wow, seriously. The “RARR TERRORISM” response gets uprated, the “Let’s wait till we know what’s actually going on” response gets marked down. Good job.

  49. PSrod says:

    What else could anyone not call it but terrorism? Was Timothy McVeigh a terrorist after bombing Oklahoma City? It is what it is: Terrorism plain and simple-no spectrum of possibilities.

  50. Snaggletooth says:

    If you believe that this discussion makes us look dumb, you’ve already been lost to the dark side. There is a legal difference between being charged as terrorist and being charged as a murderer. For the rule of law to matter we must correctly bring charges based on what he’s actually guilty of and not some gut feeling. If a guy steals a candy bar, you don’t charge him with grand theft auto…

  51. Snaggletooth says:

    The key thing being overlooked in your examples about terrorism is “violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets” clause from the intelligence community. That definition makes any protest at a military installation not a terrorist threat. If a military base is not a combat target then I don’t know what is. Although I would argue the pentagon attack would still be terrorism because it was a passenger plane.

  52. goulo says:

    Given that we have no clear information about their motivation(s), I don’t see how this is “by almost any definition” terrorism.

    As Glenn Greenwald notes in
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/22/boston-marathon-terrorism-aurora-sandy-hook :

    “All we really know about them in this regard is that they identified as Muslim, and that the older brother allegedly watched extremist YouTube videos and was suspected by the Russian government of religious extremism (by contrast, virtually every person who knew the younger brother has emphatically said that he never evinced political or religious extremism). But as Obama himself acknowledged, we simply do not know what motivated them”

    “It’s hard not to suspect that the only thing distinguishing the Boston attack from Tucson, Aurora, Sandy Hook and Columbine (to say nothing of the US “shock and awe” attack on Baghdad and the mass killings in Fallujah) is that the accused Boston attackers are Muslim and the other perpetrators are not. As usual, what terrorism really means in American discourse – its operational meaning – is: violence by Muslims against Americans”

  53. I suppose there might be a spectrum of possibilities rather than hard and fast categories. But I would argue that planting a bomb for the mere personal desire to cause mayhem, like a murderous kid planting a pipe bomb at his school, is not terrorism because there is no ideology at work. At first I thought the Boston Marathon bombings were like that, but that’s looking less likely.

  54. Psyspace says:

    I’m afraid that it is that arguing points such as this makes us liberals stard to look pretty ridiculous. Yes, by almost any definition this was terrorism…move on to the important issues such as how we treat individuals accused of terrorism and the rule of law in the United States.

  55. Hue-Man says:

    Are peope any less terrorized by this story on the local morning news? “5 dead after shooting in Seattle’s Federal Way suburb” http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/04/22/17857229-5-dead-after-shooting-in-seattles-federal-way-suburb-police-say

    Meanwhile, Lindsay Graham and others are calling for even more intrusion into Americans’ personal lives, all in the name of preventing “terrorism”. Given that all eletronic communications and telephone calls are already being snooped on, does he want to install surveillance cameras in every room of everyone’s homes? How about a name change to “United Stasi of America”?

  56. FLL says:

    It was certainly terrorism if the older brother, Tamerlan, made personal contact with individuals in the Caucasus region on his trip last year and developed a plan to harm the American nation as a whole.
    I think it would be unlikely for someone to develop a plan with others only through the Internet and social media, that is to say, without any face-to-face contact.

    However, I also think it is possible to engage in terrorism if someone acts strictly alone. The real guide is the person’s goal. Most people regard terrorism as violence that is meant to terrorize an entire ethnic, racial or religious community–or an entire country–rather than being directed only at specific individuals. By that definition, KKK members, even if acting alone, have been the most common terrorists in U.S. history. A century and a half of terrorism on the part of the KKK, actually.

  57. MyrddinWilt says:

    There are three important definitions

    The first and simplest is the casual armchair quarterback definition of “really bad” see Lindsay graham for plenty of examples of a know nothing trying to sound tough

    The second is a template for categorizing attacks to help predict further attacks and catch the perps. Here I have been warning that calling the attack terrorism only confuses and misleads. This was not a pair of future Bin Ladens, they were just Harris and Kleybold wannabes. Spree killers looking for a thrill

    They hire definition is the legal one and for that we have to look at the laws in question. It is not a separate category in most countries because making a separate category is what the terrorists want. Bobby sands starved himself to death demanding to be categorized as a political prisoner. HMG refused to give him the pleasure.

    If us pols would take some time to look at non us terrorism and what approaches have worked they might give up the grandstanding (yeah likely)

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