Terrorism vs. Domestic Terrorism, is There Really a Difference?

Domestic Terrorism

As the U.S. reels again from another mass killing on November 4th, 2017, this time in a church in Texas by one of our own, the issue of domestic terrorism is once again on everyone’s mind. So why are these individuals considered extremists and not terrorists in the eyes of the law?
Terrorism is the act of intentional, indiscriminate violence carried out to create terror, or fear, to achieve a political, religious or ideological aim. In other words, terrorism requires an act to kill as many people as possible in the name of some belief. However, in the United States, if the individual(s) committing the act of terror is not linked to one of the sixty identified foreign terrorist groups specified by the State Department, the crime is not prosecuted as an act of terror.

As a result, when people are mindlessly murdered on a massive scale, by such people as Timothy McVeigh (1999 Oklahoma City bombing, 168 killed) and James Holmes (2012 Aurora CO movie theater shooting, 12 killed), they are prosecuted for murder and not terrorism. Is there really a difference?

It Isn’t a Federal Crime

After the 9/11 attack, The Patriot Act was passed by Congress in late 2011. Patriot stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”. However, there must be proof linking the accused to one of the identified foreign terrorist groups in order for it to be considered an act of terrorism. Legally, domestic terrorists are labeled as domestic extremist groups.

Where this gets tricky is balancing First Amendment rights with protecting the safety of the public at large. Since domestic terrorists are not linked to a foreign entity, the right to assemble, practice religion and free speech are cited as the reasons U.S. “extremist groups” continue to be protected in America. However, with the mainstream use of social media channels, domestic terrorists, just like foreign terrorists, are stepping up recruitment and public protest activities.

The Ones to Watch

Did you know there have been more U.S. citizens killed by domestic terrorists than foreign terrorists? That’s a fact. These home-grown killers are responsible for mass shootings, car rammings, and other acts of murder to protest the government or a group of citizens (e.g. race, religion or sexual orientation).

The DOJ warns that domestic terrorists organizing online are real threat. One reason is the prediction that the white percentage of the population is expected to shrink over the next several years. In direct response to this prediction, law enforcement thinks that associated extremist groups will feel marginalized, ramping up potential for violent acts against “opposition” groups. This poses the question, where do we draw the line between constitutional rights and protecting the public against acts of domestic terrorism?

Recent reports indicate the DOJ is moving toward making domestic terrorism a federal crime. If there is a federal domestic terror law these types of massive killings would become FBI-led investigations with the creation of deeper, wider data bases to keep track of mass violence. The time to categorize these extremists as terrorists is now.

In the meantime, all U.S. citizens need to watch what our neighbors are doing more seriously. Looking the other way or “minding our business” can mean someone gets hurt or killed.

Collectively we need EVERY American to work daily on “See something…Say Something”

Timothy Dimoff – Speaker, National Expert and Author

Tim Dimoff’s engaging and thought-provoking presentations are sure to enlighten, inform and move you into taking action on such critical issues as workplace risks, substance abuse, security and societal threats. Feel free to contact Tim today to speak at your organization.

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