Citizens Attack: What is Domestic Terrorism?

Citizens Attack: What is Domestic Terrorism?

( – There’s been a lot of talk about domestic terrorism in the last few years, with both ends of the political spectrum gleefully throwing the term at their opponents. In many cases, if becomes glaringly obvious that the people using the term “domestic terrorism” don’t actually know what it means. In fact, it’s very simple.

There are two definitions of domestic terrorism, one that’s used by intelligence and counter-terror agencies around the world, and one that only appears in the 2001 USA Patriot Act. Unfortunately, they don’t agree with each other, and this can cause confusion.

According to the Patriot Act, domestic terrorism is simply defined as terrorist acts that “occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the US.” Under this definition, any terrorism in the US is domestic terrorism. This isn’t a very useful definition — but in its defense, it only exists to authorize law enforcement investigations.

The more commonly accepted definition is the commission of terrorist acts in the perpetrators’ homeland. This actually covers the majority of terrorism globally. The Taliban and Islamic State mostly operate in their own countries. The IRA, the Basque ETA and Italian Red Brigade all committed most of their crimes against their own compatriots.

Most US agencies use this definition. For example, the FBI defines domestic terrorism as acts of terrorism carried out by “individuals and/or groups inspired by or associated with primarily US-based movements.”

There’s one thing that domestic terrorism is not, and that’s a crime under US law. Despite a definition of it written into United States Code, there is no criminal offense of domestic terrorism. International terrorism is an offense, but domestic terrorists are charged with the specific crimes they committed, for example, murders, assaults, arson or bombings.

In the simplest terms, if an American citizen commits a terrorist act within the US, they’re a domestic terrorist. Strip off the political point-scoring, and it’s actually a very simple concept.

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