“Terrorism in that capital T way”

Just on the heels of my post yesterday, a plane crash in Texas. I wish I’d been home to turn on the TV, because I’m sure there were some media gaffes. A coworker pointed out this article by Brian Stelter in the NYT demonstrating that networks used the word terrorism “with care” in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Stelter writes:

…Mr. Scott on Fox started using the phrase “domestic terrorism,” and he mentioned Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber.

“This appears to be, at this point, some kind of, I guess you would call it, domestic terrorism,” he said just before 1 p.m. Eastern.

The subtext on cable news today is this: what is the definition of terrorism?

At a news conference in Austin during the 1 p.m. Eastern hour, a local police chief said categorically that the incident was not an act of terrorism.

There are “a couple of reasons to say that,” the NBC correspondent Pete Williams observed on MSNBC. “One is he’s an American citizen. But that doesn’t rule out an act of terrorism. Timothy McVeigh, of course, was an American citizen as well, and that was the biggest act of terrorism in the U.S. before 9/11.”

There’s a definite problem with using the word “domestic” in this sense: Nidal Malik Hasan was an American citizen like Timothy McVeigh, but he didn’t get the “domestic terrorist” treatment. No, “domestic” decidedly means “American,” which means “white” (or, I suppose, “black”).

A piece in the Klaxon (which I have never heard of) claims that the Austin crash “defines new domestic terrorism”:

The FBI has defined 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.” The Rand Corporation’s Brian Jenkins has defined terrorism as, “The use or threatened use of force designed to bring about political change.”

By definition, Stack is a domestic terrorist.

In practicum, he is a sad, mal-content saturated in baby-boom victim speak, and absolutely sure that his problems and set-backs have come by the hand of his government.

So, terrorism is political, that makes sense. But wait–the Department of Homeland Security (what do they have to do with this?) says this is not terrorism, according to FOX:

The Department of Homeland Security said Thursday it does not believe the crash was an act of terrorism.

“This is an isolated incident, there is no cause for alarm,” a spokesman for the Austin Police Department said during a news conference.

Terrorism is political but not isolated? So, what defines isolated? Acting alone, or acting with a singular ideology? Nidal Malik Hasan acted alone, but the fact that his ideology is shared by others defines him, but not today’s pilot, as a terrorist? By that definition, Scott Roeder is most certainly a terrorist. So where was the media when he shot Dr. George Tiller in cold blood?

I think the NYT explains it best, in this gem of a quote from Fox correspondent Catherine Herridge: “They mean terrorism in that capital T way.” Ah yes, that capital T terrorism. Why didn’t you just say so?

15 replies on ““Terrorism in that capital T way””

Thanks for your post. This is definitely terrorism, by it’s own definition. Now just imagine if this guy had been Muslim or Arab. The coverage would have been completely different.

Thanks for this post Jill! I definitely feel for the reporters on a day like today. It seems like a cognitive dissonance has arisen around the word “terrorist” since the “war on terror” came into being. Yes, by the book, Andrew Stark was a terrorist. But now we’re dealing with a colloquial definition for terrorism which entails a military response. When the media sees someone of the nationality, political motivation, and detachedness of Andrew Stark – they get confused.

By the colloquial definition “terrorist” better applies to Abdul Mutallab, the underwear bomber. He fits the new label. We can see his motivation within the same context of foreign anti-American extremists. We can accept the idea of treating him as a captured enemy combatant. And we can picture a bombing campaign in Yemen as a rational mature response.

That is crap.

We should refer to Andrew Stark as a terrorist, but not just to affirm the proper application of the word. We’ve seen how the hyped up vernacular around terrorism has polarized our country, and legitimized a group that would otherwise be starving for attention. We need to disarm the word, strip it of its power. It’s been said time and again. This is a chance to take that power away. Re-establish terrorism as a heinous criminal act entailing a rational rule of law, rather than an act of war entailing unchecked aggression in response.

After watching all the major networks, including CNN and FOX , I honestly believe that although the word terrorism was mentioned , all the anchors repeatedly insisted that it was an individual act by a regular guy who had had enough of the irs , Not an act of terrorism.

Terrorism is an act designed to hurt a large number of people motivated by an ideology.This was simply an individual act of murder commited by a man who felt he was denied his inailiable (sp) rights as a U.S. citizen, namely taxation without representation. A personal grudge if you will. A subtle differenceterry Feel free to correct me if i am way off base , i have been there before.

You’re incorrect about the definition of terrorism, which our own FBI defines 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.”

Now, I’m not implying at all that Stack (the pilot) was part of a larger movement or group ideology, but he most certainly committed violence to intimidate a government. Thus, he is a terrorist by definition.

I’m afraid your definition fits more into FOX News’s “Terrorism with a capital T” definition than the actual one.

That said, I think there’s room for reconsidering the definition of terrorism, but as it stands right now, terrorism is a highly racialized term applied unevenly to Muslims, Arabs, and those who might be mistaken for Muslims or Arabs.

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