Defining terrorism

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In publications by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), “domestic terrorism” is defined as the use of force or violence “committed against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

Given the FBI’s definition, Montana clearly suffered a terrorist attack when unknown persons firebombed two medical marijuana clinics on the eve of a Billings City Council vote to place a moratorium on the licensing of new clinics.

Yet, a search of news articles related to the incident failed to yield a single news story that included the words “terror” or “terrorism.” Furthermore, according to a spokesperson at the FBI office in Billings, the FBI is not involved in the investigation and does not consider this an act of terror.

Similarly, when anti-tax activist Joseph Stack flew his single-engine plane into the IRS building in Austin, Texas, in February, the mainstream media and authorities quickly denied any connection to “terrorist activity.”

Meanwhile, recent amateurish, unsuccessful attempted bombings on Christmas Eve and in Times Square last week have dominated the mainstream media and garnered top-level counter-terrorism resources.

All this raises important questions that we as citizens should be asking. Is the definition of what constitutes a “terrorist act” being applied evenhandedly by the media and law enforcement agencies? Are all crimes that technically fit the legal definition of terrorism being treated as such, or only those committed by dark-skinned people of Middle Eastern or African descent?

Derek Goldman

Missoula

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