Who’s a Terrorist?

An employee told the officer that Kendall came into the restaurant yelling and screaming, “Go back to your country, terrorist,” the affidavit said. The employee asked Kendall to leave. He did, but came back about five minutes later and threw a plastic object at the employee, the affidavit said.[ol]

Jason Kendall, protector versus terrorism

Jason Kendall, protector versus terrorism

I’m tired of the phrase “… investigated as a possible hate crime.”  Look, when someone bashes someone over the head yelling “get back to your own country” it’s not a financially-motivated crime, and it’s not a crime of passion. It sure isn’t white-collar accounting fraud. And, when the perpetrator is yelling out their motivation, it shouldn’t take the full resources of the FBI or police to figure out their motives.

Jason Lee Kendall, 52, went into Middle Eastern restaurant Al Aqsa at about 3 p.m. Tuesday and hit an employee in the head with a pipe after yelling, “Get out of America,” according to a Marion County probable cause affidavit. 

Kendall told an arresting officer he went into the restaurant because he saw a woman inside that he thought was being held as a slave, the affidavit said. The shirt the woman was wearing was a signal, Kendall told the officer, according to the affidavit.

By now you all know I have problems with language, specifically definitions of things.[stderr] In fact, I wrestled with the word “terrorism” for days when I was writing my book on homeland security – the question was “is it possible to define ‘terrorism’ so that the definition is narrow enough that if covers individual or small group actions, but not the actions of a state?”  At that time, the USA PATRIOT Act (which I actually read!) was just coming out, and the old definition of “terrorism” was on the way out, being replaced by a newer, more targeted term.

Back in 1998-9 the FBI awkwardly defined “terrorism” as follows:[fbi]

Domestic terrorism is the unlawful use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual based and operating entirely within the United States or Puerto Rico without foreign direction 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.

International terrorism involves violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or any state, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or any state.  These acts appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government by assassination or kidnapping.  International terrorist acts occur outside the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to coerce or intimidate, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek  asylum.

You’ve got to love that GOV-speak: “or Puerto Rico” and ‘without foreign direction’ – they stopped using that definition and now there are disclaimers:[doj]

The search for a universal, precise definition of terrorism has been challenging for researchers and practitioners alike. Different definitions exist across the federal, international and research communities.

Apparently I am not the only person who has trouble with linguistic nihilism. Of course, the reason is because the pre-9/11 definition of “terrorism” would make the CIA the largest force committing international terrorism in both the 20th and 21st centuries. We need a different definition:[aclu]

A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “”dangerous to human life”” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to:  (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) 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. 

So it sounds like the label “terrorist” fits onto Kendall. That’s based on the semantic interpretation of the last sentence of the definition containing “or” not “and”, i.e.:

intimidate civilian population ||  influence government || assassination or kidnapping

Of course “influence government” and “assassination” covers the CIA’s drone program which has not been determined to be legal and is probably illegal under Executive Order 12333 [wikipedia] which reiterated Executive Order 12036 which reiterated Executive Order 11905.

No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination. [Executive Order 12333]

Terrorism is when they do things to us, that we do to them. If Kendall was brown, he’d be a terrorist.

I was happy to see that the guy in Kansas who shot and killed Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32 is being “investigated as a hate crime”[cnn] by the Department of Justice. Now, I suppose we must ask what a “hate crime” is:[fbi]

For the purposes of collecting statistics, the FBI has defined a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” Hate itself is not a crime—and the FBI is mindful of protecting freedom of speech and other civil liberties.


By the way, the State Department’s annual reports on terrorism [state] require reporting on terrorism where international terrorism is defined as originating from [def] terrorists that are on a list of “terrorists.” Brilliant! That’s how you know what “terrorism” is: it’s on the list.

I am going to try to track the Kansas shooter’s story and see if he’s ever charged with hate crimes, or if it’s swept under the table. Periodically, I do a “where are they now?” search for some news-makers and generally it’s pretty depressing.


  1. jonmoles says

    What, no aside about hate crimes? Or am I spoiling the surprise concerning a future post?

  2. AndrewD says

    Come come, Marcus, you know as well as I do that your Terrorist is my Freedom Fighter

  3. says

    Yeah, we pretty much all know that. I guess I’m preaching at the choir a bit. It’s “back to basics” stuff especially in this age of unlimited government hypocrisy.

  4. says

    I am broadly suspicious of all efforts to criminalize motivations. Cuts a little too close to thought crimes for my taste. Why can’t we just prosecute people for blowing things up?

    Well. Because we actually do want to prosecute thought crimes, but don’t want to admit it.

  5. says

    Andrew Molitor@#4:
    Why can’t we just prosecute people for blowing things up?

    I’m inclined to agree. The reason there is an attempt to criminalize motivations seems to me to be that certain motivations will be excepted, while others criminalized. As long as you’re dropping high explosive on weddings in the name of nationalism and democracy, it’s OK whereas if you’re doing it for other reasons (because you’re brown, or muslim, or whatever) then it’s “terrorism” (unless you’re a white supremacist in which case you’re “crazy”) …

    If we simply looked at the effects of peoples’ actions we’re left with my original position, namely that the CIA is the world’s largest exporter of terrorism.

  6. says

    What, no aside about hate crimes? Or am I spoiling the surprise concerning a future post?

    I’m not sure what I think about that topic, yet. I will probably be thinking about it some but I doubt I’ll do a posting on it. My immediate reaction is pretty close to what Andrew Molitor says @#4: I think that crimes are crimes and delving in to motivation is simply a way of muddying the waters. And when I see waters that are deliberately getting muddied, I get suspicious.

    Per my posting here I think that since there is a notion of “hate crimes” in the law, then law enforcement ought to examine crimes fairly and without bias, to see if they are “hate crimes” And I don’t think they do that.

    I used to live near a “drug free school zone” when I was in Baltimore. I thought that was silly, at the time, because the idea of a “drug free” high school seemed silly and pointless. The legislation was in place in order to make an already criminal activity extra-criminal: pile on more punishment if you get caught. That struck and still strikes me as stupid because it clearly hasn’t got much (if any) additional deterrent value, so then the additional punishment seems to be retributive.

    Retribution, deterrence, justice – when I think about it, I’m so confused I don’t know what I think. The US justice system appears to be equally confused, collectively. It’s full of contradictory ideas (like “repentance” and sentences “without parole”) it’s a horrible mess.
    One thing that makes it messier is when the government tries to forgive its obviously unjust acts using semantic games like they do surrounding “terrorism” – I think that much is clear: you can’t talk about justice when you’re deliberately carving out exceptions for your own actions.

  7. Holms says

    So it sounds like the label “terrorist” fits onto Kendall. That’s based on the semantic interpretation of the last sentence of the definition containing “or” not “and”, i.e.:
    intimidate civilian population || influence government || assassination or kidnapping

    I see no reason to suspect Kendall was attempting either of assassination or kidnapping. Assault and verbal abuse most likely motivated by race? Yes indeed, and therefore I agree that he committed a hate crime, but not terrorism.

    (Note that this is not an objection to the broader point, that CIA etc. engage in what would be considered terrorism if done to America.)

  8. cartomancer says

    Nothing new under the sun.

    The Romans had the same problem with defining “piracy”. People in boats kidnapping others and selling them into slavery was a big problem in the ancient Mediterranean, but it was difficult to differentiate between the ones who were disrupting your trade routes (pirates) and the ones who were stocking your slave markets (legitimate traders). Generally speaking a pirate was anyone with a warship who you didn’t like.

    Pirates were a real problem, but the threat of pirates was even more useful. The Senate appointed numerous generals to conduct an escalating War on Pirates throughout the 70s and 60s BC, which brought great power and influence to Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great in particular. During this period you could pretty much guarantee political and financial support if you said you were going to do something about those awful pirates everyone was afraid of.

  9. says

    I agree that he committed a hate crime, but not terrorism

    Fair enough. A lot hinges on “assassination” and then we’re lost in motives and definitions and everything gets circular.

  10. says

    The Romans had the same problem with defining “piracy”

    “Nautical entrepreneurs”!?
    I believe there was a similar problem with letters of marque: basically “state-sponsored piracy” but that was much later.

    I love the story of Caesar and the pirates. It’s probably marketing, right? Having absorbed the childrens’ story, I “know” that Caesar was tough on piracy, so he’d make a good emperor!

  11. jrkrideau says

    # 7 Holms

    Note that this is not an objection to the broader point, that CIA etc. engage in what would be considered terrorism if done to America.

    I am not American. I consider much of what the CIA and the US armed forces does as either terrorism or war crimes.

    Unfortunately, given the power of the USA we are unlikely to be able to bring the perpetrators to justice.

    If they want to do that within the borders of the USA , shrug… that’s your concern.

  12. jrkrideau says

    Sir Francis Drake was a great hero to the English and a bloodthirsty pirate to the Spanish.

    As an American cabinet secretary put it, “Where you stand depends on where you sit”. IIRC he had just gone from Secretary of the Navy where he was campaigning strongly for new carriers to Secretary of the Treasury where he was strongly opposing new carriers.