By MAX ABRAHMS April 15, 2014 –
This weekend, three people were killed in violent incidents outside Kansas City. From the earliest reports, the killings bore all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack.
There is still no consensus over the definition, but terrorism usually denotes a nonstate actor attacking civilian targets to spread fear for some putative political goal. And here we had a 73-year-old lone wolf opening fire on a Jewish community center and retirement home on Passover eve yelling “Heil Hitler.”
With time, it’s become even clearer that the alleged perpetrator is a terrorist. As founder of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and the White Patriot Party, Frazier Glenn Miller has a long history of militant anti-Semitism. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as a “raging anti-Semite” known for posting online rants, like “No Jews, Just Right.” The Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights has also noted, “His worship for Hitler and Hitlerism is real.” According to the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, Miller is “one of the pioneers in the modern hate world, he’s been entrenched in the hate movement his entire adult life.”
And yet, the word terrorism wasn’t mentioned “in a single bit of news coverage,” as one observer noted. Why?
In this March 29, 2013 photo, a worker helps monitor water pumping pressure and temperature, at an Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. hydraulic fracturing and extraction site, outside Rifle, in western Colorado. Hydraulic fracturing, or ‘fracking,’ occurs after oil and gas wells are drilled and frequently in between drilling phases. The process uses millions of gallons of water mixed with smaller amounts of fine sand and chemicals to split open oil- and gas-bearing rock often located more than a mile underground. Fracking typically occurs in conjunction with other modern drilling techniques, such as directional drilling.
For starters, the local police were at first reluctant to acknowledge the apparent political motive — namely, anti-Semitism. To their credit, they have subsequently described the shootings as a possible “hate crime.” These are acts of violence committed on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or disability. And like terrorism, they are meant to terrorize a third party beyond the immediate victims themselves — in this case, the broader American Jewry.
But what does it take for a hateful act to become a full-fledged terrorist attack? You might think the distinction hinges on lethality. A year ago this week, though, the Boston Marathon bombings killed the same number of bystanders, and Americans had little trouble fingering the incident as terrorism. And over the years, the Klan has killed many more Americans than has Al Qaeda, and the group has certainly fanned its share of fear.
Max Abrahms is professor of political science at Northeastern University and a term member at the Council on Foreign Relations.