TAMPA, April 16, 2013 – Conservative critics immediately criticized President Obama’s initial statement about the Boston Marathon bombing because he did not classify the crime an act of terrorism.
“We still don’t know who did this or why, and people shouldn’t jump to conclusions before we have all the facts. But, make no mistake; we will get to the bottom of this,” said the president.
This libertarian doesn’t get to say this very often about any president, but Obama was right. The bombing was a heinous crime, but there is no way to know if this was an act of terrorism until it is determined who perpetrated it and, more importantly, why. That’s because a mass murder is not necessarily an act of terrorism, unless it is carried out for a political purpose. According to Title 22, Chapter 38 of the United States Code,
“…the term ‘terrorism’ means premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents;”
Definitions vary internationally, but virtually all definitions distinguish terrorism from other crimes against life and property by its political motivation. When perpetrated by foreign agents, acts of terrorism are viewed as quasi-acts of war, carried out by enemies of the state who may not represent a foreign government but nevertheless believe themselves to be at war with the target country. Examples would include the perpetrators of both World Trade Center attacks.
When perpetrated by domestic agents (“homegrown terrorists”), they are similarly viewed as quasi-revolutionaries, who may not intend to overthrow the government but nevertheless believe they are at war with it. Timothy McVeigh fit this description.
The distinction is important because, right or wrong, governments respond differently to acts of terrorism than to other crimes. When one citizen murders another, even many others, the government views itself as an impartial third-party to the crime, whose job is to determine who perpetrated it and meet out justice. It may often do it ineffectively, but at least that’s its intention.
Not so with an act of terrorism. The state views an act of terrorism as an attack upon itself. It is not a third-party to the crime and it is demonstrably less impartial about meeting out justice. Even laws on the books support this. There is a penalty for murder, but a more severe one for murdering a policeman or other agent of the state.
Worse yet, the state is much more likely to punish the innocent following an act of terrorism than after an ordinary crime. Yes, innocent suspects are sometimes harassed and even wrongfully convicted and punished in connection with the state’s prosecution of ordinary crimes. However, the reaction to an act of terrorism is usually punishment for everyone, often in the form of permanent violation of basic liberties.
The state’s reaction to 9/11 was ten years of war abroad and egregious incursions into basic liberties at home. It reacted like a blind, cornered animal, lunging and snapping at anything and everything within reach, whether a credible threat or not. Predictably, this reaction for the most part injured the innocent and was completely ineffective against the guilty.
Iraq is now a theocratic Islamic state with strong ties to Iran. The Taliban is poised to return to power in Afghanistan the moment that U.S. troops withdraw, rendering ten years of war there for the most futile. The entire adventure in the Middle East has failed to make U.S. citizens freer or the world more secure.
At home, the TSA still routinely fails its own tests and maintains a 100% fail rate against actual terrorists seeking to bring dangerous articles aboard planes. Surveillance cameras on every street corner have so far failed to yield any evidence that will help identify and apprehend the perpetrators of yesterday’s crime. Tapping our phones, reading our e-mails and flying drones over our houses hasn’t made us any safer, either. It’s just crushed our most basic rights.
If the terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 really hated us for our freedom, they’ve won.
The Boston Marathon bombing may very well turn out to have been carried out by Islamic terrorists. It may have been carried out by domestic tax protestors. It may have been someone having a reaction to the many psychotropic drugs that pervade society, most of which list homicidal tendencies among their side effects. Or it may have just been a deranged person hearing voices. We don’t know.
I am glad that President Obama hesitated to immediately call the crime an act of terrorism and am disappointed that the government caved under the pressure to classify it as such before anyone can really know.
The first impulse for any caring person is to want to do something about what happened. Some want to help the victims, others want to hunt down the perpetrators. That’s human nature and there is nothing wrong with it. There is plenty one can do. One can send cards to the victims or contribute to funds which will help them defray funeral and medical expenses.
What we don’t want to do is hit the gas pedal on another “War on Terror.” It cost us dearly the first time and didn’t do a thing to make us safer or freer. Let’s learn from our mistakes. Investigate the crime. Find the perpetrators. Bring them to justice. But don’t let the state destroy justice in the process.
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America. He writes weekly columns on his blog and his weekly column in the Washington Times has been featured on The Daily Caller, The Huffington Post, Daily Paul, LewRockwell.com, 321 Gold! and Peter Schiff’s EuroPac.net. Tom has been a guest on Fox’s Freedom Watch with Judge Andrew Napolitano, Adam Vs. the Man, Free Talk Live, and numerous other programs.