The Oregon mass killer was a terrorist

UofOChris Harper Mercer took firearms and killed nine people at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, exchanged gunfire with law enforcement, and then he shot himself.

He was a terrorist, says Simran Jeet Singh, at Religion News Service. Singh writes:

In our modern world, “terrorist” is a racially coded word we have reserved primarily for describing Muslims engaged in acts of violence. We are quick to label violence as terrorism the moment we learn that the perpetrator is Muslim, yet we immediately stop short when a non-Muslim commits the same act of violence.

Mercer murdered nine innocent people to further his political ideology and worldview. So why don’t we call him a terrorist? As a nation we can’t continue to have it both ways and expect to adequately address the true threats we face together as a country.

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11 Comments

  1. So there’s no qualitative difference between an individual “one-and-done” terrorist and the sustained campaigns of multi-cell networks like Al Qaida or actual armies of the Islamic State?

    1. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and 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.”

      1. Excuse me for butting in here…but the US Code of Federal Regulations covers administrative law:

        Namely, the legal rules and principles that: (1) define the authority and structure of administrative agencies; (2) specify the procedural formalities employed by agencies; (3) determine the validity of agency decisions; and (4) define the role of reviewing courts and other governmental entities in relation to administrative agencies.

        I think you would find a better defense for your argument in relevant criminal law, specifically the US Patriot Act of 2001:

        The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 defines domestic terrorism as “activities that (A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the U.S. 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 U.S.”

        Legally speaking, determining the type (degree) of crime committed involves both the act itself and the intent of the perpetrator.

        A determination to perform a particular act or to act in a particular manner for a specific reason; an aim or design; a resolution to use a certain means to reach an end.

        But we’re not talking legalities here. We’re talking about media characterizations which appear to slant away from using the terms “terrorism” or “terrorist” when reporting on white men perpetrating mass public killings.

  2. Dammit… I HATE it when I write 90% of a reply and accidentally brush the built in mouse pad on the laptop! *argh!* No idea if an incomplete and only half-formed was just been posted or not. Hmm. Guess I will wait a while and see.

  3. *tick tock* 8 hours later… okay, looks like that earlier post is truly gone with the cyber-wind.

    I’m definitely NOT focused on legal definitions, whether a terrorist is domestic vs. foreign, or their race or religion. My question was and remains: WHY should we use the same term to describe significantly different circumstances, namely the size and effectiveness of an organization?

    If I name myself the Pope of Earth and issue a solo “papal bull” declaring that it is an abomination to leave home for work before noon on Mondays, yet I have no network of fellow ideologs listening, much less following in my footsteps with protests or other political actions, does that put me on the same footing as Pope Francis? Do I really qualify to share the same title as the leader of the Vatican? (The man’s got 3.6 million likes on his Facebook page alone!)

    1. Well…definitions matter. They provide the framework that forms popular perceptions that are influenced to a significant degree by the national media. The Patriot Act definition of domestic terrorism is such a framework. Intent is part of that definition. Size and effectiveness of any organization is not.

      But let’s focus on the “size and effectiveness” issue.
      Is Nidal Malik Hasan, (Fort Hood 2009), any less a terrorist because the organization he was a member of at the time of his crime was the United States Army?
      Same question for Ivan Lopez, (April 2014 Fort Hood).
      Is Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, (Chattanooga 2015), any less a terrorist because he had no formal ties to international terrorist groups?
      Is Dylan Roof, (Charleston 2015), any less a terrorist because he wasn’t a card carrying Klansman?
      Why should Frazier Glenn Miller, jr., (Overland Park 2014), an infamous and outspoken racist, well known to law enforce for decades as a member and organizer of white nationalist extremist organizations, escape charges…as well as media characterization… of terrorism and “self-radicalized” Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (Boston 2013), not?
      If Christopher Harper-Mercer did indeed specifically target Christians, is he any less a terrorist because he had no formal affiliation with anti-Christian extremists?

      Why should motivation and intent have less priority than affiliation when characterizing terrorism?

      These questions become relevant in a country when merely speaking support for any foreign organization the government defines as terrorist can land you in jail, while voicing support for domestic organizations advocating terrorism does not.

      1. It gets way trickier when we’re talking about Americans acting on American soil, doesn’t it? Because if we label individuals terrorists when they have no active ties to a named terrorist organization (foreign or domestic), then we imply that whatever ideology that affiliate with is (at the very least) highly problematic. That brush can smear on a very large scale.

        For example, on a recent campaign stop, Hillary Clinton edged very close to calling the NRA a terrorist organization by comparing it to Iranian extremists and communists. Some folks loathe what the NRA stands for, I get that. But we’re edging slowly closer to crossing a very dangerous line if we automatically designate every solo mass murderer a terrorist. Tens of millions of NRA members are merely exercising their Constitutional right and no more deserve to be considered part of a terrorist organization than does the average Muslim or Christian..

        When it comes to domestic incidents, I believe they deserve a case by case, examination. To take just two of the examples you mentioned…

        From what I recall reading, the older Tsarnaev brother had direct contact and training with a named terrorist organization and then recruited his younger brother. That makes them terrorists both.

        Whereas Nidal Hassan increasingly showed signs of disturbing behavior but nobody in military leadership at Fort Hood had the guts to do anything about this PC hot potato. He increasing talked the radicalized talk but had no actual ties that I can recall. If that’s true then he’s not a terrorist, just another case of mental illness which went untreated too long..

    1. I disagree with a lot of what’s in that post. Especially concerning gun control. But I agree with the notion of strengthening communities. It has to go further, however, than just being a nicer, more connected person. The community itself must adopt a proactive strategy. Threat assessment and targeted intervention, described by Mark Follman here, shows promise. (As long as some boundaries are employed.)

      The notion “nothing can be done” is defeatist. Plenty can be done.

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