How Exactly Are Acts of Violence Defined?


© LA Times-FBI Agents in Austin, Texas worked from one blast to another to capture serial bombing suspect Mark Anthony Conditt

Last week our attention turned to Austin, Texas as it suffered a series of bombings. Authorities have been hesitant to define bomber Mark Anthony Conditt or his deeds. You can bet questions regarding his intent are foremost among those investigators are trying to answer. Was this terrorism? Hate-crimes? Or was Conditt just a, “…very challenged young man,” as Austin police-chief Brian Manley said? [1]

Many would see bombings like his as acts of terror and they would identify Conditt as a terrorist. Law enforcement has been reluctant to use these words. Let’s make this simple as can be: Merriam-Webster defines terrorism as, “…the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.” [2] A terrorist, unsurprisingly, is, “…an advocate or practitioner of terrorism as a means of coercion.” These definitions are tautologies, but they are as straight-forward as they come. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations defines terrorism with a bit more nuance, “…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.” [2]

My Rise-to-Peace colleague, John Sims, aptly pointed out in the wake of the Parkland shooting that the FBI sees terrorism, first, in one of two categories: domestic or international. Next, what’s noteworthy is that terrorism, “…is not a standalone criminal charge,” but one used to determine how government resources and personnel will be allocated. [2]

Key political staff, such as White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have avoided calling Conditt a terrorist. Secretary Sanders tweeted there was, “…no apparent nexus to terrorism at this time.” [3] Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas (R), similarly refrained from referring to Conditt as a terrorist and said, “The definition of a terrorist is tied to the mindset of the person who committed the crime.” [3]

Are the definitions themselves, or the bureaucratic actions such words trigger, the reasons we haven’t deemed Conditt a terrorist? Were the events done as a means of coercion and in furtherance of political or social objectives? The investigation remains in its infancy so it’s too soon to tell whether Conditt was or was not politically motivated. Authorities were quite transparent about locating a 25-minute video on Conditt’s cell-phone of Conditt himself explaining how he made his bombs. Was there more to the video? Austin police-chief, Manley said, “We are never going to be able to put a rationale behind these acts.” [4] At this early stage, why does he seem so sure?

© Getty Images- Serial-bomber Mark Anthony Conditt, 23, left two dead and four injured after a series of attacks in Austin, Texas

There will be those who see Conditt as a terrorist until they are shown otherwise. My Rise-to-Peace colleague, Maya Norman, pointed out, semantics matter: How we define politically-charged terms and why matters. As permutations of violence in our midst seemingly undergo a weekly mitosis, we must be fair about how we’re defining each act and why.

Sources

  1. https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/22/us/terrorism-definition-trnd/index.html
  2. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorist
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/03/22/austin-bomber-challenged-young-man-or-terrorist/?utm_term=.8d2a8f412f53
  4. https://nypost.com/2018/03/21/austin-bombing-suspect-left-25-minute-video-confession-cops/
Austin Ludolph

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