The attack at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston was tragic, there is no arguing that. But, was it terrorism?
If we look at the FBI’s definition of terrorism:
18 U.S.C. § 2332b defines the term “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that:
- Is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and
- Is a violation of one of several listed statutes, including § 930(c) (relating to killing or attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon); and § 1114 (relating to killing or attempted killing of officers and employees of the U.S.).
It seems that only acts conducted against the government can fall under the term terrorism. As the attack was committed on a church and not a government organization it would be difficult to define it as terrorism using this definition. There is more to consider though.
This brings us to the term “domestic terrorism.” Let’s see what the FBI has to say about the domestic version of terrorism:
“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
In the second bullet point we have the answer we are looking for. The phrase, “intimidate or coerce a civilian population,” very much seems like something the shooter was looking to achieve. This act can easily be defined as domestic terrorism.
So, yes, the Shooting at the church in Charleston, NC was domestic terrorism, according to the FBI.
What is “domestic terrorism”? It is a phrase the government uses too expand its capabilities to investigate serious crimes against it and the population of the U.S. on U.S. soil committed by constitutionally protected citizens.
The other thing to take note of, is that the FBI uses this definition not to create a law specifically against domestic terrorism, but to expand their working definition of terrorism. Once an act is labeled as “domestic terrorism” it now falls under Chapter 113B as a terrorist act. This allows for things like property seizure of any person seen as participating in, or supporting the terrorist act.
So, yes the attack in Charleston, NC on the Emanuel AME Church that was designed to intimidate a portion of the population was indeed terrorism.