Is a particular act an act of terrorism? Is a particular person a terrorist?
People want the label applied to acts and people that are readily and resoundingly vilified. It hardly matters if the person is an actual official terrorist. If they killed someone and you are really really mad at them you want them to be a terrorist. Or, if they are just scary. Like the elderly black homeless man in this story, labeled by the Iowa Farmers as a terrorist because it was impossible for him to squeeze his wheelchair through a door gracefully.
We yell at each other about whether or not a person will be labeled as a terrorist, and it is often said that if a mass killer is found out to be brown, he’ll be labeled as one, but if he is found out to be white, his actions will be attributed to mental illness. And so on.
People also want the label to be applied instantly, just as the news of some horrid event is coming out. No matter what. Call the terrorist a terrorist NOW or you, too, are a TERRORIST.
Here’s the thing. What a terrorist is, or what terrorism is, has an official definition. There are probably going to be unclear cases, but the term terrorism has a meaning and it is important to get this right even if getting it right somehow goes against the sensibilities of the Extremely Annoyed. Also, since there is a real definition and details matter, it is absurd to demand that the label be used instantly. It takes time. And, we can wait. There is no gain in instant labeling of a terrorist. Police and investigators would do the same things in either case in the initial stages of an event.
The FBI gives these two definitions of terrorism:
International terrorism: Perpetrated by individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with designated foreign terrorist organizations or nations (state-sponsored).
–for example, the December 2, 2015 shooting in San Bernardino, CA, that killed 14 people and wounded 22 which involved a married couple who radicalized for some time prior to the attack and were inspired by multiple extremist ideologies and foreign terrorist organizations. Continue reading Is this terrorism?