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Is the Charleston Shooter a Terrorist?

The attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Church has shocked the nation, and yet raises questions and controversy at the same time.

One main controversy and question is: Should Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old white man who admitted to killing nine people in the Charleston, South Carolina church yesterday, be called a terrorist? Or did he just commit a “hate crime”?

Many people in the United States only see acts of violence by Islamist extremists or Muslim people as “terrorism”. Yet the there is domestic terrorism-who remembers the Unabomber? As per the FBI website, domestic terrorism is defined as activities with the following three characteristics:

  • Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
  • Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to 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; and
  • Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

It seems that we can all agree on the first and the third points, and even the other definition of Roof’s actions as a “hate crime” seem to justify his actions as described in the second point, “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”. Roof had admitted to a friend six months ago that he planned to “start a race war”, which also seems to address the second point in the definition.

But why are certain people in the United States finding it difficult to define this as domestic terrorism? It’s hard to say. Perhaps, as Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, commented to the New York Times : “If the same violence is committed by a white supremacist or apartheid sympathizer and is not a Muslim, we start to look for excuses – he might be insane, maybe he was pushed too hard.”

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch and South Carolina officials are referring to the murders by Roof as a hate crime. Many on social media called out the terminology as a double standard.

No matter what we call it, Roof has admitted to the killings, been identified by witnesses and shown on video entering and leaving the facility. It is hard to imagine how he could not be prosecuted for all nine murders.

Our sympathies go out to the families of the nine victims.