What Is Domestic Terrorism? The Definition May Help You Better Understand The Orlando Shooting

Update: In a press conference Monday morning, Orlando police confirmed that 49 people had been killed and 53 injured early Sunday morning atOrlando's Pulse gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. After opening fire on the crowd, an individual named Omar Mateen had taken hostages and was ultimately killed in a stand-off with police; Mateen had called 911 and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State shortly before the massacre. Orlando mayor Buddy Dyer declared a state of emergency, and the massacre is being investigated as an act of terrorism.

The victims' names were released by the city of Orlando on its website as their next of kin were informed. Here are some ways to help the Orlando shooting victims and their loved ones; you can also donate to the victims' fund, as well as express your solidarity with the LGBTQ community byposting a tribute online. You can also attend a vigil near you to honor the victims.

Earlier: On early Sunday morning, the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando became the biggest mass shooting in U.S. history. With 50 people deceased and more than 50 in the hospital, the stats are heartbreaking. According to the Orlando Police Department, the incident is being investigated as an act of terrorism. Orange County sheriff Jerry Demings said, "This is an incident, as I see it, that we can definitely classify as a domestic terrorism incident." So, what is domestic terrorism? The FBI defines the phrase as an incident that meets the following criteria:

  • 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.

Similarly, the RAND Corporation defines "domestic terrorism" as

violence against the civilian population or infrastructure of a nation—often but not always by citizens of that nation and often with the intent to intimidate, coerce, or influence national policy.

In other words, both of these definitions sum up incidents where an individual or group attacks a population through intimidation. The phrase "domestic" means it takes place on U.S. soil, usually by citizens of the country. According to the FBI, the difference with "international terrorism" is that those incidents take place not in U.S. territories, or the attacker "transcend national boundaries" — meaning someone comes from somewhere else.

Gerardo Mora/Getty Images News/Getty Images

As for what happened in Orlando, this seemingly meets the criteria, since it was an intentional act of violence on U.S. grounds, by a U.S. citizen. There was also hostage situation involved, which fits the definition of using intimidation. According to NBC News, the shooter has been identified as Omar Mateen. Mateen was a U.S. citizen, whose father told NBC News, "This has nothing to do with religion." He believed the incident may have been connected to his son getting angry after seeing two men kissing a few months ago. Considering Pulse is a popular gay club, many believe that the incident was intended as a hate crime, but it's unknown as of yet if that was the case.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Florida's governor Rick Scott is describing the incident as an "act of terror." He reportedly told CNN,

It’s clearly an act of terror when someone walks into a nightclub and basically murders all these individuals. This is an unbelievable tragedy for my state.

Regardless of whether you can it domestic terrorism or a hate crime — maybe even both — it's undeniably heartbreaking. Here's a list of ways you can help victims in Orlando, as well as things you can do to support stronger gun control.