Can We Call Chattanooga Domestic Terrorism?

On Thursday evening, four marines were shot dead in Chattanooga, Tennessee after a gunman opened fire in two military facilities: a recruiting center in a strip mall and a Naval reserve center, CNN reported. According to police, the shooter, identified as 24-year-old Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, died at the second military facility. U.S. Attorney Bill Killain and FBI spokesman Ed Reinhold have indicated that the shooting will be treated as an act of domestic terrorism. This raises the question what exactly is domestic terrorism? And can we label the Chattanooga shooting as an act of domestic terrorism this early on?

According to the FBI, domestic terrorism in the U.S. Code is defined by three provisions:

1. Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

2. 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

3. Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

The Chattanooga shooting clearly endangered human life and violated federal and state law. It also occurred within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. However, whether or not the shooting was meant to "intimidate or coerce a civilian population," "influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion," or "affect the government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping," remains unclear. The alleged shooter is dead, and his motives for the shooting remain fairly enigmatic.

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It's yet to be proven that the gunman's actions were meant to hurt an entire population, as he seemed interested in attacking only people associated with the military. Whether his acts were an effort to influence and affect the U.S. government remains equally unclear. All that is known at this time is that Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait and was also a citizen of Jordan. However, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen and, according to CNN, it was confirmed that he traveled back to the Middle East in recent years. However, Abdulazeez's childhood martial arts coach claims that the alleged shooter's father told him Abdulazeez moved home a few years earlier.

The information presently available does not necessarily indicate whether the Chattanooga shooting was domestic terrorism. Certain acts of confirmed domestic terrorism in the United States, both in history and in recent years, serve as prime examples for what fits the U.S. Code's standards.

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Most recently, following the Charleston shooting, a debate ensued over whether alleged shooter Dylann Roof's actions could be considered domestic terrorism, and whether Roof could be called a terrorist. In the wake of the shooting, FBI Director James Comey stated the act was not terrorism because "terrorism is an act of violence done ... in order to try to influence a public body or citizenry so it’s more of a political act. ... I don’t see it as a political act." Roof's alleged actions can hardly be considered an attempt to influence or affect the government or coerce a civilian population. Terrorism, as Comey said, is very political. The Charleston shooting better reflects a morbid, racially-motivated hate crime.

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On the other hand, the violent acts of the Ku Klux Klan in the Reconstruction era and throughout the majority of the 20th century often involved arson, murder, lynching, or other forms of violence and intimidated freed slaves and African Americans with threats and violence to keep them from voting. Crimes of the KKK affected voting results by eliminating large numbers of potential voters and inflicted mass destruction via arson and murder. They occurred under U.S. jurisdiction, primarily in southern states.

Anti-abortion violence is also considered to be a form of domestic terrorism, with some of the most prominent acts taking place in the 1990s. In the past, acts of anti-abortion violence have involved murder, assault, arson, bombing, and vandalism. Many heinous anti-abortion crimes were committed by the underground Christian terrorist group, "Army of God." Terrorists targeted abortion clinics and their staffs, or any doctors who supported or performed abortions.

It's very possible that the Chattanooga shooting was meant to influence or affect the U.S. government, in which case it could certainly be identified as an act of domestic terrorism. However, until more evidence and details about Abdulazeez's true motives surface, it's a bit premature for officials to definitively label the shooting as domestic terrorism.

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