Terrorism: A word that brings to mind terrible connotations and affects the lives of many, but what does it mean? The answer is that the definition varies depending on the person you ask.
According to Vox, citizens and members of the legal system have too many definitions of terrorism, rather than a clear-cut explanation or description.
The media affects how people define terrorism, particularly in that they work to repeat the phrases used by politicians and law enforcement, whose language is often tailored to produce an intended effect.
For instance, policymakers will use the phrase “acts of terrorism” when referring to crimes conducted by members of the Muslim community, a word choice that, when repeated, creates a subconscious connection between Islam and terrorism.
During George Bush’s presidency in the early 2000s, he characterized Iran and Iraq as an “axis of evil” to the American public to gain support for his actions.
Though terrorism occurs frequently outside of the Muslim community — most recent shootings have been orchestrated by white males — many people still think of Islam first when they hear of mass shootings, bombings or waves of violence.
Last week, Austin police chief Brian Manley classified the Austin bombings as “domestic terrorism,” a surprisingly definitive statement that broke from the norm of using vague phraseology to describe similar acts.
In fact, following the San Bernadino shooting in 2015, the FBI began investigating the incident as an act of terrorism, but, when asked whether the act was terrorism or not, a spokesperson responded that it was too soon to say so.
In a statement on Austin’s public radio station KUT-FM, Manley affirmed his earlier claim, saying, “I agree now that he was a domestic terrorist for what he did to us,” but mentioned he did not want to exercise the legal definition to the ongoing investigation.
Jennifer Williams explores in her article, “Are the Austin bombings terrorism? It depends who you ask,” three different angles that analysts, law enforcement and politicians look at when determining whether an act constitutes terrorism or not.
Analysts envision terrorist organizations as having a specific aim in mind of what they hope to achieve. If we follow this definition, we cannot classify the Austin bombings as an act of domestic terrorism because Conditt never expressed his motive for creating the explosions.
From the legal perspective, in order to label a crime as domestic terrorism, it follows three guidelines:
Incident intimidates a group of people, affects the government’s policies by coercion, or impacts the government’s conduct through assassination, kidnapping, or mass destruction
Crime occurs within U.S. territories
Act threatens life and violates federal/state law
If a legal team can prove the Austin bombings were acts of terrorism, then there is tangible proof backing up Manley’s statement.
Until then, there is no way to be sure based on the information given in the investigation.