Friday, March 05, 2010

A Crazed Ideologue By Any Other Name

Yesterday, a lone gunman (John Patrick Bedell), attacked and injured two Pentagon security force officers--and himself died of gunshot wounds.  Turns out, he "worshipped private property rights" and other screeds typically found in the pantheon of anti-government right wing agenda items that seem to rise to the surface during Democratic administrations.  And a couple of weeks ago, Joe Stack, your run of the mill tax protester (and if you've exterened or clerked at a federal court, you know who these people are; I call them "the flag has yellow fringes" people) flew a plane into the IRS building.

In both cases, the news accounts were quick to report, "No link to terrorism" (though in fairness to the news reports, they simply parrot lines from investigators).  This really pisses me off.  Domestic terrorism is defined in 18 U.S.C. 2331(5) (emphasis added):
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.
What am I missing?  When someone with dark skin lights himself on fire, the entire right wing political operation is frothing at the mouth because he wasn't immediately placed in an armored personnel carrier.  When someone with an equally dangerous political ideology kills or injures Americans, we find no link to terrorism.  In fairness, Matt Yglesias had some thoughts on a topic related to this (how we generally remain calm and don't overreact in the face of domestic terror), and the House passed a resolution condemning the Austin attack as terrorism.

My objection is to the initial characterization by law enforcement and the media.  What does it mean "no terrorism link?"  It IS terrorism.  Or are we defining terrorism by religion/national origin?

Edit:  Let's add the Holocaust Museum shooting from last year to the list.  (H/t: James).  

18 Comments:

Anonymous Beetle said...

When I read "no terrorism link," I typically assume they mean organized terrorism. From a law enforcement point of view, a lone nutcase situation has been resolved when the nutcasse is dead or in prison, while "terrorists" require continued effort to head off further crimes. The term is politically loaded, but to police it may be jargon

3/05/2010 11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good readings on precisely this point:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2010/02/19/terrorism/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+salon%2Fgreenwald+%28Glenn+Greenwald%29

I will say that it's not quite clear that terrorism, to law enforcement folks, is intended only to mean people who act in concert with others. All of these lone, non-brown guys didn't actually conspire or work with others to commit the act, but they surely were associated with others who believed what they believed in. I think that's the same level of organization that many supposed al-Qaeda-linked people had. So, I don't think the fact that there was a continual, group effort is a satisfactory basis for defining whether something is terrorism or not.

3/05/2010 11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent points, Armen, and well-put.

3/05/2010 2:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't be silly Armen. White people can't be terrorists. They are simply misguided citizens with bad parents. Only brown people can be terrorists because what one brown person does and thinks is representative of all brown people so of course they are always part of a much larger network of (all) brown people that are out to destroy Amerikkka.

3/05/2010 2:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with 11:35 am. armen asked about "link," and when the killer isn't linked to others with the same ideology, the word terrorist seems less accurate.

btw, Stack and Bedell are hard to characterize. bedell was an extreme "truther" who thought Bush was in on the 9-11. Stack was a 'little guy' populist who had a long running battle that didn't stem from the classic tax protestor view (income tax is unconstitutional), but from a long running dispute about the status of independent contractors. in neither case does anyone think they're linked to killers of the same ideology. so we're not sitting here in terror that a linked group is plotting the same and similar acts.

3/05/2010 2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with 11:35 am. armen asked about "link," and when the killer isn't linked to others with the same ideology, the word terrorist seems less accurate.

btw, Stack and Bedell are hard to characterize. bedell was an extreme "truther" who thought Bush was in on the 9-11. Stack was a 'little guy' populist who had a long running battle that didn't stem from the classic tax protestor view (income tax is unconstitutional), but from a long running dispute about the status of independent contractors. in neither case does anyone think they're linked to killers of the same ideology. so we're not sitting here in terror that a linked group is plotting the same and similar acts.

3/05/2010 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

we've had plenty of white terrorists and the press (and conservatives) haven't hesitated to use that word. case in point: the serial bombers of the 1960s.

3/05/2010 2:34 PM  
Blogger Toney said...

How about Scott Roeder? I'm having trouble determining whether I classify him as a terrorist, or just a plain murderer.

On the one hand, Dr. Tiller's death was inextricably linked to Roeder's political views. On the other, Roeder described himself as "acting in the interest of the defenseless".

I think I lean towards terrorist.

3/05/2010 3:17 PM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

The far-right anti-government movement is "an equally dangerous political ideology" as radical Islam? Huh? That's just facile -- and more ammunition for the right. (I guarantee this blog post will now show up in a Sarah Palin commercial. Armen speaks for all of us Democrats.)

3/05/2010 4:42 PM  
Blogger Armen said...

Earl, you perfectly capture the attitude that's driving me nuts. Terrorism is not Fed Courts. There is no threshold jurisdictional limit.

3/05/2010 4:47 PM  
Blogger Earl Warren said...

Go back and reread your original sentence. A stickler like you for both a) precision in language and b) common sense in politics should see the issue.

3/05/2010 4:50 PM  
Anonymous '93 Alum said...

John Patrick Bedell had a long history of mental illness, with multiple hospitalizations. A reasonable question would be how he got a firearm in the face of laws prohibiting mentally ill from owning firearms. Judging from the newspapers, his mental illness seems to fit in with left wing ideology more than right.

3/05/2010 5:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Armen, I agree with the narrow point that when we experience domestic acts of terror, we should "call a spade a spade." Terror is terror. I also agree that if a domestic "terror" act is committed by a Muslim, it more likely to be labeled terrorism. The Fort Hood attacks (though terrible and unjustifiable) we not "terrorism" in the sense that Major Nidal went after military, not civilian, targets, for example. Yet his act was immediately given the label.

Your insinuation, however, that these actions have anything to do with right wing politics ("screeds typically found in pantheon of anti-government right wing agenda items that seem to rise to the surface during Democratic administrations") is belied by the facts. As several commenters have pointed out, Bedell and Stack had bizarre ideologies that included conspiracy theories about 9/11 and obsession with marijuana mixed with the anti-government feelings.

I'm not trying to say these guys were liberal. I'm just saying that your selectively picking one far right ideological point out of a sea of conflicting evidence suggests that you're trying to use these events to support your own biases about right wing ideologies. You're a reasonably guy. But this is bush league. Are you are sure James didn't hack your account?

You seriously need to correct that first paragraph. It's downright offensive and inane.

3/05/2010 9:17 PM  
Blogger Boomtime said...

Good point, 9:13. Bedell probably committed a terrorist act according to 18 U.S.C. § 2331(5), but the statutory definition does not guide normal English usage.

The OED defines terrorism as a "system of terror," generally as "A policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted." (emphasis added).

Terrorism denotes organized use of terror to accomplish certain objectives. While Bedell violated the anti-terror statute, he was not involved with terrorism.

I don't think a lone murderer--even if politically motivated--can easily qualify for the terrorism label.

3/06/2010 12:09 PM  
Blogger Beetle Aurora Drake said...

Actually, the Fort Hood shooter was initially described by authorities as having no terror link, too. Similarly, Naveed Afzal Haq, who went on a shooting rampage in protest of Jews, was not widely called a terrorist by authorities, either. So the suggestion that lone nutcases are called terrorist or not based on their race (at least by the police) doesn't hold up.

3/06/2010 1:33 PM  
Blogger James said...

I think some posters forget that the largest terror attack in the US pre 9/11 was perpetrated by an American. We could talk about the unabomber, the Weathermen, etc.

Not referring to these sorts of acts as terrorism is a new development, not a logical extension of any real difference between a shoe bomber with no real al qaeda direction and a crazy neo-nazi or right wing anti-govt terrorist, or the elf for that matter.

3/06/2010 5:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Armen, what are you doing today? The Dude won an Oscar last night and gave a very dude-like acceptance speech. We should discuss.

3/08/2010 11:43 AM  
Blogger Armen said...

I can get you a post. Hell I can get you a post by 3 o'clock.

3/08/2010 11:51 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home