In the weekend following the arrest of three Kansas men on the charges of domestic terrorism, media members chose their words carefully. While they have not hesitated to describe the official charges leveled against the perpetrators, there has been a clear reluctance to apply the label of “terrorist” to these men.
Instead, headlines from the Washington Post, CBS News, Chicago Tribune, Business Insider, Fusion, Mother Jones, and Buzzfeed all identified them as militia members, specifying the nature of their para-military organization, The Crusaders.
This raises the question, when is it appropriate to call someone a terrorist? Would the actions of these three men: writing a hateful manifesto, intending to cause a “bloodbath,” and inciting a religious war, qualify as such?
The term is associated with fear-inspiring violence. And in the minds of the American public, the term has also become shorthand for “Muslim.”
In this election in particular, one candidate has insisted upon the use of the moniker of “radical Islamic terrorists,” claiming that failure to identify our enemy under this label makes us weaker.
“We will defeat Radical Islamic Terrorism, just as we have defeated every threat we have faced in every age before.
But we will not defeat it with closed eyes, or silenced voices.
Anyone who cannot name our enemy, is not fit to lead this country. Anyone who cannot condemn the hatred, oppression and violence of Radical Islam lacks the moral clarity to serve as our President.”
While it is worth discussing whether calling anyone a terrorist is even necessary, we should use this moment as an opportunity to judge our journalistic fairness. According to the experts in law enforcement, the acts of the “militia-men” in Kansas very squarely fit within a textbook definition of terrorism.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines domestic terrorism as violent acts which, “appear intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping.
If a person is violent, with the intention of intimidating a group of people based on ideological grounds, are they not a terrorist? Why are we reluctant to call these men terrorists, even when that is the very crime they are accused of?