Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano was on the Diane Rehm show earlier this week. Part of the interview focused on Joe Stack, the man who flew his small plane into the IRS building Austin, and Napolitano — who clearly wanted to avoid calling Stack a terrorist — offered a slightly odd definition of terrorism.
He used a terrorist tactic… but he’s not necessarily a member of a terrorist group… this is an individual who had his own personal issues and personal motives… he used that [the attack]as a means of carrying out a personal agenda.
[…] The issue is tactics, organization, motives. When you get to the lone wolf, it’s very debatable whether you want to put them in the same bucket [as someone like Timothy McVeigh].
A couple of points here. There’s no universally accepted definition for terrorism, but it’s generally agreed upon that terrorism is the use of terror tactics in service of a political goal. So it’s the tactics themselves — not the degree of organization — that determine if someone is a terrorist.
Second, I’m not sure there’s a clear distinction between Stack and McVeigh, because both were lone wolves. McVeigh had an accomplice, Terry Nichols, but he wasn’t part of any organized terrorist group. Nor was the Unabomber. Nor was John Allen Muhammad, the Beltway sniper. Outside of the 9/11 attacks and the first World Trade Center bombing, most of the terrorist attacks in America over the last few decades were carried out by “lone wolves.”
Readers — what do you think? Should Stack be classified as a terrorist? And more generally — what do you think about the recent anti-government violence, in Austin and at the Pentagon Metro station? Part of a trend?