BREAKING NEWS Minnesota will continue to ease restrictions at restaurants, gyms starting Wednesday Full Story
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

The Austin bombings weren't labeled 'terrorism.' Here's why

A man terrifies a city for weeks, detonating explosive devices that kill two people. Then, when corn...

Posted: Mar 22, 2018 11:05 PM
Updated: Mar 22, 2018 11:05 PM

A man terrifies a city for weeks, detonating explosive devices that kill two people. Then, when cornered by police, he blows himself up with one of his bombs. The acts of a terrorist in some Middle Eastern nation? No, the acts of a "very challenged young man" in Texas.

But when a man in a rented truck mows down people on a busy bicycle path near the World Trade Center -- killing eight people -- the attack is almost immediately called an act of terror.

Why are some violent acts labeled terrorism and others not? And does it even matter?

What's terrorism?

It's understandable that last fall's New York truck attack was called terrorism. The suspect, Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, said he was inspired by ISIS, and other ISIS sympathizers have used vehicle-ramming attacks overseas to terrify and kill scores of people in recent years. It was the deadliest terror attack in New York since 9/11.

But people in Austin, Texas, were also terrified over the past three weeks as 23-year-old Mark Anthony Conditt unleashed a wave of deadly bombings. Authorities won't call what Conditt did terrorism, especially since a 25-minute confession video found on his cell phone doesn't shed light on his motive.

"He does not at all mention anything about terrorism, nor does he mention anything about hate," Austin police Chief Brian Manley said. "But, instead, it is the outcry of a very challenged young man talking about challenges in his personal life that led him to this point."

That characterization of Conditt's actions -- that this was just the work of a troubled young man -- angers some people, who say violent acts by people of color are treated as terrorism, while those perpetrated by whites are downplayed as byproduct of troubled minds.

So why aren't the Austin bombings being called acts of terror?

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the world has never really settled on a standard definition of "terrorism." The US Code of Federal Regulations defines it 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."

But it is not a standalone criminal charge.

"There is not a domestic terrorism crime as such," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a Senate hearing in September. "We in the FBI refer to domestic terrorism as a category, but it's more of a way in which we allocate which agents, which squad is going to work on it."

So once again, it all comes down to motive. Was there a political or ideological agenda behind the attack?

In another example, from March 2017, a white man named James Harris Jackson is accused of stabbing to death a black man in New York, saying he did so as a "practice" run for more killings of black people. Jackson was charged with murder in the second degree as a hate crime.

But Jackson also faces a terrorism charge in the case -- murder as an act of terrorism in the first and second degrees.

According to police, Jackson, a Baltimore resident, said he traveled to New York because it is the media capital of the world and he wanted to make a statement.

That was enough to convince Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Jackson should be charged with terrorism.

"James Jackson prowled the streets of New York for three days in search of a black person to assassinate in order to launch a campaign of terrorism against our Manhattan community and the values we celebrate," Vance said.

What's not terrorism?

Some attacks, at first glance, seem like they should be labeled terrorism. But they're not.

In October, Stephen Paddock smashed two windows on an upper floor at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas and fired on thousands of people at a country music festival below. He killed 58 people in the worst mass shooting in modern American history. But neither President Donald Trump nor investigators called the massacre an act of terror.

Trump described Paddock as a "sick man, demented man" but did not answer reporters' questions at the White House about whether he committed an act of domestic terror.

"We have to establish what his motivation was first," Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said at the time. The investigation, which is ongoing, has so far not discovered a motive for Paddock's violent rampage.

Think back to Dylann Roof and the killing of nine people at historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015. Roof, a white supremacist, said he killed the nine attendees of a Bible study at the church because he wanted to start a race war. He was convicted of hate crimes and sentenced to death but never charged with terrorism.

That's despite an outcry from many who said what Roof did was, in their eyes, the textbook definition of terrorism. In an CNN Digital opinion piece, CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen wondered what the United States would have called the attack if Roof had been a Muslim.

"But do the thought experiment: If this attack on the church in Charleston had been conducted by a Muslim man shouting 'Allahu Akbar,' what is already a big news story would have become even bigger, as it would appear to fit so well into the political and media narrative that Muslim militants are the major terrorist problem in the United States," Bergen wrote.

His comments get at what some observers have been saying for years -- some acts of violence are only labeled terrorism if the attacker is dark-skinned and Muslim.

"There's a danger that we only use the word 'terrorism' to refer to a particular racial profile of perpetrator," said Andrew Mumford with the Center for Conflict, Security and Terrorism. "The Charleston example is a really important one ... Sometimes (the label) terrorism is not used when the nationality of the perpetrator does not fit conventional stereotypes."

The discussion reignited this week over the Austin bombings, with even a member of Congress making the charge that there's a double standard.

"Austin bomber is a DOMESTIC TERRORIST, who apparently targeted people of color," tweeted US Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat. "Why can't the White House acknowledge that simple reality?"

Does it matter what you call it?

There are legal distinctions to calling an act of violence a hate crime or terrorism.

And because labeling something as terrorism has legal ramifications, it is not applied lightly.

Federal officials work with a very specific definition of when something is an act of domestic terrorism.

It has to have three characteristics: an act that takes place in the United States, that's dangerous to human life, and is intended to intimidate civilians or affect government policy by "mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping."

Consider the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting in 2009. To the victims at the military base, it was an act of terror when Maj. Nidal Hassan opened fire on his fellow service members, killing 13 people.

But again, even though the attack met some of the criteria, federal authorities never used the terrorism label. Avoiding the label made it easier for them to pursue the death penalty.

At the end of the day, does it really matter if something is or isn't labeled a hate crime or an act of terror? The pain and anguish felt by the survivors of such violence and the victims' families is just as unbearable -- no matter what you call it.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 26273

Reported Deaths: 1126
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin8867641
Ramsey3252140
Stearns205014
Nobles15625
Anoka148878
Dakota141464
Washington68034
Olmsted67211
Kandiyohi5111
Rice4833
Scott4602
Clay44129
Mower4062
Wright3392
Todd3361
Sherburne2482
Carver2322
Benton1823
Steele1670
Blue Earth1480
Freeborn1420
Martin1325
St. Louis11814
Pine930
Nicollet8811
Lyon811
Winona8015
Cottonwood790
Watonwan780
Crow Wing774
Unassigned7511
Carlton750
Otter Tail730
Goodhue715
Chisago641
Polk612
Itasca5610
Dodge530
Chippewa521
Morrison480
Le Sueur461
Meeker460
Douglas450
Becker430
Jackson420
Murray400
McLeod390
Isanti360
Waseca270
Pennington230
Rock230
Mille Lacs231
Faribault200
Swift190
Beltrami180
Wabasha180
Fillmore171
Sibley160
Brown162
Norman150
Pipestone120
Marshall120
Kanabec121
Wilkin113
Cass112
Aitkin110
Wadena100
Pope100
Koochiching90
Big Stone80
Redwood70
Renville70
Mahnomen61
Lincoln60
Yellow Medicine60
Grant40
Traverse40
Red Lake40
Lac qui Parle30
Clearwater30
Roseau30
Hubbard30
Houston20
Kittson10
Lake10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 20767

Reported Deaths: 583
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4541137
Woodbury283737
Black Hawk177548
Buena Vista9971
Linn97179
Dallas94025
Marshall91218
Wapello62814
Johnson6189
Muscatine56541
Crawford5472
Tama41029
Scott38010
Dubuque35521
Louisa34911
Pottawattamie31110
Sioux2980
Jasper26917
Wright2120
Washington1958
Warren1661
Plymouth1462
Story1261
Allamakee1204
Mahaska9912
Poweshiek928
Henry722
Bremer706
Boone700
Des Moines671
Clarke660
Clinton651
Taylor640
Webster621
Hamilton610
Guthrie543
Cedar491
Benton431
Monroe415
Shelby370
Cherokee370
Jones370
Jefferson350
Marion350
Osceola340
Clayton343
Cerro Gordo331
Iowa330
Dickinson330
Buchanan330
Madison292
Lee290
Fayette280
Sac280
Davis280
Harrison260
Monona250
Clay250
Lyon240
Winneshiek240
Emmet240
Lucas222
Hardin210
Grundy200
Mills200
Delaware191
Humboldt191
Floyd191
Franklin170
Appanoose173
Hancock160
Butler161
Ida150
Greene150
Pocahontas150
Page140
Kossuth140
Keokuk140
Audubon131
Jackson130
Carroll130
Chickasaw130
Howard120
Cass120
Winnebago110
Montgomery91
Adair90
Union90
Van Buren90
Adams70
Palo Alto70
Calhoun60
Ringgold40
Mitchell40
Fremont40
Worth30
Wayne10
Decatur10
Unassigned00
Rochester
Few Clouds
67° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 67°
Mason City
Overcast
69° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 69°
Albert Lea
Scattered Clouds
70° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 70°
Austin
Clear
66° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 66°
Charles City
Broken Clouds
72° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 72°
Another round of severe weather tonight
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Latest Video

Image

Gyms, fitness centers set to reopen

Image

Easing restrictions for MN restaurants and gyms

Image

Charles City vigil for George Floyd

Image

Hawkeye Harvest Foodbank partnership

Image

Next phase of Minnesota reopening

Image

Rental Assistance program for Rochester

Image

IA Care Homes Could Reopen to Visitors

Image

'Color Me Mine' Location Closes for Good

Image

Getting Your Fair Food Fix During the Pandemic

Image

Mower Co. Sees Spike in COVID-19 Cases

Community Events