Terrorism Is Terrorism

There was still one word missing from Trump's statement today
08/14/2017 08:03 pm ET Updated Aug 14, 2017
Pool via Getty Images

President Donald Trump today finally acknowledged the root cause of the horrific terrorist attack in Charlottesville last week. He specifically called out neo-Nazis and white supremacists for the evil they truly represent. This is all to his credit, although it did take him an unconscionably long time to make such a statement. But there was still one word missing from his statement: terrorism.

Driving a car into a crowd of people with murderous intent solely for what those people believe is indeed terrorism. There simply is no other label that fits. Terrorism is the threat or the use of force or violence to achieve political goals. That’s what this was, plain and simple. Nobody has any problem with labelling a car or truck attack terrorism when it happens in Europe by a fanatical Muslim, and nobody should shy away from using the label right here in America ― no matter what the ideology or political goals behind such an attack are.

I wouldn’t even soften the term by adding a qualifier. “Domestic terrorism” simply means terrorism without an international component, so the term does fit, but it seems somehow watered-down to me. “Domestic” as a word can either be neutral (a domestic airplane flight versus an international one) or positive (when referring to a home, as in domestic furnishings) or euphemistic with slightly negative overtones (calling a maid “a domestic” or “a domestic worker”). When used with terrorism, however, domestic seems to lessen the impact. And “terrorism” or “terrorist” should have the maximum impact possible. But that’s really just a semantic quibble, I suppose.

Thankfully, the mainstream media seems to have had an epiphany in reaction to the Charlottesville attack. People from across the ideological spectrum are trying to shame President Trump into using the word terrorism to describe what happened in Virginia. Right-wing Republicans and lefty Democrats are both singing from the same songbook on this one, and it has forced the media to weigh in as well. This is pretty easy to do, since Donald Trump in particular has been such a strong proponent of using the term “radical Islamic terrorism.” His whole point in this stance was not shying away from identifying terrorism for what it is. Which is why his continued refusal to use the term for what happened in Charlottesville is so noticeable.

I am pleased to see the media making this distinction, personally. I’ve been trying to shame them into using the terrorism label for a while now, in fact. Two months ago there was a terrorist attack on a baseball game, and I was astonished how few people in the media were calling it what it so plainly was ― a terrorist attack. Back then I wrote:

It does not matter what the gunman’s views are. It does not matter if they are anti-abortion or religiously-motivated or act out of a misguided sense of partisanship. In the end, it’s all terrorism. It doesn’t matter whether the targets are doctors who perform abortions, or members of the U.S. military, or members of Congress. It’s all terrorism.

The mainstream news media gets confused over this, but they really shouldn’t. ‘Terrorism’ is supposed to mean (by their definition, going on when they use the term) international terrorism, usually Muslim. Al Qaeda is a terrorist organization. So is the Islamic State. Lone-wolf terrorist attacks in America are usually also identified correctly, when Islam is the motivating factor. Sometimes the term “domestic terrorism” is used, but in different ways. But homegrown politically-motivated acts of violence somehow cause the media to shy away from the terrorism label for some inexplicable reason.

This is why I support the change in media attitude that seems to have happened over the past few days. Perhaps it was because the ideology was far right instead of on the left this time. Perhaps it was because ramming a vehicle into a crowd has international terrorism precedents (the truck attack in Nice, France, most notably). However, I would venture to guess that the media is more comfortable with the terrorism label this time around because some Republicans showed some real leadership in demanding a president of their own party use the word terrorism. The journalists can pose their questions simply by referring to a Republican senator’s tweet, in other words, which makes it easier for them because they cannot be labelled biased by just reading these words and then asking: “Do you agree?”

Buried in today’s news was a story of the F.B.I. arresting a man in Oklahoma who tried to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb in front of a bank. That one is pretty easy to call terrorism, especially given the history of terrorism in Oklahoma City (Timothy McVeigh’s truck bomb). But it is heartening to see the media applying the term terrorism to the horrific events in Charlottesville as well.

Terrorism is terrorism. Period. The methodology doesn’t matter. Whether the terrorist’s choice of weapon is a truck bomb, a gun, a knife, fists, or a speeding vehicle, it’s all terrorism. The ideology doesn’t matter, either. Whether the person is motivated by racial hatred, religious hatred, single-issue hatred, or naked partisan hatred is immaterial, because terrorism is terrorism no matter what the motivating factor happens to be. So I am heartened to see so many people from across the political spectrum plainly call the Charlottesville attack terrorism. There are really only two people left who need to do so, at this point. Attorney General Jeff Sessions so far has not indicated that domestic terrorism charges will be brought against the driver (and any accomplices he may have had), although he finally did announce a federal investigation into the attack. And President Donald Trump also needs to use the term as soon as possible to send a strong message as well. Terrorism is terrorism, and that message really needs to be unequivocal, from the president on down.

Chris Weigant blogs at: 

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