The Terrorism Scam

It’s become common for a tragedy to be immediately labeled an act of terrorism, usually based upon the deep reasoning, “how could this not be terrorism?” It’s become a word that expresses a depth of anger, of outrage, based upon motives, usually assumed at the point where the word gets pulled out, of someone committing an atrocity for the purpose of sending a message.

If it were thrown about with reckless abandon merely as a rhetorical ploy, or a catharsis because words like murder just don’t carry the gravitas needed anymore, that would be relatively silly but harmless. The problem is law enforcement has latched on to this phenomenon and now seeks to play the useful idiots for all their worth.

When detectives from the New York Police Department’s intelligence bureau arrested Jose Pimentel on Nov. 20, 2011, he was in a Washington Heights apartment putting the finishing touches on a pipe bomb he was building in an Al Qaeda-inspired plot to attack military and police targets in the city. On March 22, 2017, James Harris Jackson was arrested for the racially motivated sword killing of Timothy Caughman. Mr. Jackson, a white supremacist, said he had planned to kill more people of color in New York, hoping to start a race war.

Mr. Pimentel and Mr. Jackson were charged under the New York State antiterrorism law. Enacted shortly after Sept. 11, it allows New York to bring terrorism charges regardless of whether the ideological motive is “foreign” or “domestic” or whether the weapon is a bomb or a sword. This approach is a model for tackling today’s terrorist threat.

The authors of this blatant play for hearts without minds are two NYPD “intelligence” (forgive the oxymoron) officers. The title of this op-ed is “We Work for the N.Y.P.D. This Is What We’ve Learned About Terrorism.” The subtitle is the kicker: “We should not distinguish between ‘foreign’ and ‘domestic’ violence against citizens.”

After grabbing you by the tear ducts, they juxtapose their “model” law, New York Penal law § 490.25, with federal law, their purpose being to note that New York law, enacted after 9/11, makes no distinction between foreign and domestic terrorism. What they neglect to note is that the New York law effectively accomplishes nothing more than a sentencing enhancement.

1. A person is guilty of a crime of terrorism when, with intent to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a unit of government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a unit of government by murder, assassination or kidnapping, he or she commits a specified offense.

The offenses are “murder, assassination or kidnapping.” They were all crimes before. They are still crimes. The “crime of terrorism” is committing these crimes with specific intent. The upshot in New York is that it elevates the harshness of the punishment. For example:

(d) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, when a person is convicted of a crime of terrorism pursuant to this section, and the specified offense is a class A-I felony offense, the sentence upon conviction of such offense shall be life imprisonment without parole; provided, however, that nothing herein shall preclude or prevent a sentence of death when the specified offense is murder in the first degree as defined in section 125.27 of this chapter.

This, the “intelligence” officers argue, is the model for a nation.

The requirements to be charged as a terrorist in current federal terrorism statutes and those of many states do not match today’s threat. The most often used federal law, “Providing Material Support to Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” requires a documented connection between the suspect and a terrorist group, as designated by the secretary of state, such as ISIS or Al Qaeda. Other federal terrorism laws that do not require such a connection are so specific about the type of weapon used (for example, a bomb or a chemical, biological or nuclear device) or the intended target that mass casualty attacks against civilians by “domestic” terrorists using assault weapons or vehicles don’t count as terrorism for charging purposes.

In the first instance, “material support,” the crime created was new, designed to criminalize Americans who aided terrorist organizations, at the time an amorphous but very serious concern. We were facing a novel threat and trying hard to figure out what to do about it. In the second instance, the crime addressed a new fear of attack, such as anthrax or dirty bombs, that dealt with traditional state-level crimes such as murder, but seemed to demand a federal remedy rather than be left in the hands of local yokels to address.

That does not make sense in a country where we have seen a constant stream of such terrorist attacks to advance wide-ranging political agendas. While 34 states and the District of Columbia have their own antiterrorism laws, many have the same pitfalls as federal law.

To what end? What difference does it make if federal law doesn’t provide a generalized crime of terrorism and covers domestic and foreign acts. In every instance, the underlying conduct is already a crime. It’s just not a crime plus the word “terrorism.” What does throwing the word “terrorism” atop the flaming pile of tragedy contribute? Nowhere in the op-ed do the pair offer a reason, but then, that’s not the purpose of their ploy, and they are playing it as hard as they can.

Make no mistake, they have learned from each other: James Alex Fields’s vehicle attack at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 that killed Heather Heyer and injured 28 others was a page out of the ISIS playbook. Mr. Fields was charged with a hate crime, but not as a terrorist.

Tug, tug, tug. Yank.

We also need to eliminate any legal or moral differentiation between equally violent ideologies in drafting and applying our terrorism laws. Today’s violent actors include familiar threats such as white supremacists and Qaeda foot soldiers, but also followers of new ideologies, like incels — involuntary celibates — a movement linked to mass attacks resulting in numerous deaths.

The arguments for why it matters that a mass murderer be denominated a “terrorist” range from the vapid belief that it will cause the government to put greater resources toward a crime to the insipid, “but it IS!!!” But there is a far more nefarious piece that law enforcement sees, the foremost example of which is Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and its love child, FISC, the secret court where foreign terrorist plots are foiled. Then there black sites, extraordinary rendition and enemy combatants who may or may not be waterboarded.

Recognizing that deployment of the word “terrorism” overcomes all reason, this is the perfect time to put the syllogism in play.

Something must be done
This is something.
This must be done.

Will we fall for it? Again?

16 thoughts on “The Terrorism Scam

  1. Guitardave

    ” the secret court where foreign terrorist plots are foiled.”
    ….I wonder if they make hats in their spare time…

  2. paleo

    “That does not make sense in a country where we have seen a constant stream of such terrorist attacks… but also followers of new ideologies, like incels — involuntary celibates — a movement linked to mass attacks resulting in numerous deaths.”

    I’m reading this stuff and wondering if I’m missing the news of this constant stream of terror attacks. Is the media too focused on Trump and Sharpies to report this stuff? And Incel Terrorism? Is that actually a thing?

    So I clicked through to the NYT incel article – written a year and a half ago as it turns out – and that article mentions two attacks that killed 16 people. Perhaps the Intelligence Officers meant to say “numeric” instead of “numerous”.

    And of course a governmental body on the Other Coast just named a political advocacy group as a Terrorist Threat.

    So all of this this is just more of our Betters vastly overstating threats so as to persuade us that we will be better protected if we give them more power and money. Will we fall for it? Probably. When was the last time we declined to fall for it?

      1. paleo

        Note how easily both of us assume that their interests and our interests are not aligned, which is the opposite of how it’s supposed to work.

        1. Norahc

          Or maybe NY will follow San Francisco and declare the NRA a terrorist organization. Imagine what. the NYPD could do then.

    1. B. McLeod

      It is exactly the prevalence of dozens of different nutball ideologies that keeps “terrorism” from having any chance at non-futility. So many violent nutballs making so much noise, and no possibility that society could actually make a deal with all of them, even if such were deemed desirable. So, society simply became inured to the violence ages ago, and every one of these people is wasting their time, and if that fact doesn’t discourage them, an enhanced sentence seems unlikely to accomplish much either.

  3. B. McLeod

    It is a peculiar underlying premise that a malum in se is all the more so if linked to a particular “extra-bad” intent. The supporting “reasoning” supposes that an actor such as the Las Vegas shooter, who kills a lot of people purely for shits and grins, but not because he “hates” anyone or intends to further a “terrorist” agenda, is morally superior to, and less worthy of punishment than, an actor who kills a lot of people out of “hate” or to further a “terrorist” agenda. This does not particularly make sense to me, as it would rationally follow that the person who commits mass murders for no reason at all is actually more dangerous to society than people who commit mass murders out of warped motives.

  4. ShootingHipster

    “What does throwing the word “terrorism” atop the flaming pile of tragedy contribute?” Makes it easier to claim there’s a “constant stream of such terrorist attacks.” And if things get really slow they can always keep the wheel turning by finding a hapless halfwit to set up in a terrorist plot.

  5. Jonathan G Osepchuk

    Logically, one would expect this discussion to focus on the arbitrariness with which ‘hate, terrorism’ etc. is defined, the practical infeasibility of defining anti-non-leftist hate/terrorism crimes, and the outlook for Antifa to battle with Antiantifa, but only members of the latter are considered eligible for special hate/terrorism penalties.
    The key issue here is not merely some hard-nosed ‘police people’ yearning for additional penalties.
    The key issue is facilitating arbitrariness — whether it is possible to create a system by means of which the PC hierarchy template can be overlaid over crimes in general, so that antifa and other leftist-favored groups can operate with relative impunity while their opponents are locked up lengthily as arch-terrorists. This is an important issue, comparable to the news media’s “fairness doctrine”, which had huge repercussions for a long time.
    I believe the writer/commenters at this site are generally smart, but I think everyone has been distracted by the amusing appeal of multimedia comments to the detriment of focusing on core issues.

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