Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a 33 count indictment against Dylann Roof on federal hate-crime charges for the June 17 killing of nine African American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina This leaves a bigger question that was asked by Jenna McLaughlin at “The Intercept,” why wasn’t Roof charged with terrorism?
Some media outlets, lawyers, public figures and activists have called for Roof to be charged not just with a hate crime, an illegal act “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias,” but with the separate label of domestic terrorism. Critics contend that the label of terrorism is too often only applied to Islamic extremists, and not white supremacists or anti-government anarchists. Many were outraged after FBI Director James Comey balked at the term during a June 20 press conference, telling reporters he didn’t see the murders “as a political act,” a requirement he designated as necessary for terrorism.
Roof’s crime certainly seems to fit the federal description of domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as “activities … [that] involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law … appear intended to (i) 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.” [..]
It turns out there was one major obstacle in charging Roof with domestic terrorism: The crime does not exist. [..]
Even when the USA Patriot Act, post 9/11, redefined terrorism to include domestic crimes, the provision simply allowed the government to investigate more broadly what it called “terrorism.” Actually charging someone with domestic terrorism remains a separate matter. Even criminals who use bombs or send money to ISIS – or Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – are not charged with the crime of terrorism. [..]
But shootings, regardless of motivation, intention or number of deaths, likely don’t count. “It doesn’t seem like a shooting would fit,” says Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Or else a lot of crime would get caught up” in the terrorism net, she tells me.
There are, however, “aggravating factors” to be considered during sentencing, which prosecutors usually list on a formal indictment, and which can be used to determine whether the death penalty is justified, and those include “substantial planning and premeditation,” to”cause the death of a person” or “commit an act of terrorism.”
In Roof’s case, the DOJ did not mention terrorism as an aggravating factor, but did reference (pdf) “substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person” for several of his charges.[..]
Lynch did not explain why “terrorism” was not listed as an aggravating factor in Roof’s indictment, though she did emphasize that the DOJ views hate crimes as “the original domestic terrorism.” She noted that Roof’s case, including his “discriminatory views towards African Americans” and his decision to target “parishioners at worship,” made his crime a clear-cut case of a federal hate crime. [..]
Lynch was asked whether or not there should be a federal domestic terrorism penalty to help bridge the gap between crimes like the shooting of five military personnel in Chatanooga, Tennessee – which was immediately branded as terrorism, by law enforcement and media alike – and Roof’s case, which was not. Lynch acknowledged the argument that leaving out the word terrorism may cause people to feel like the government “doesn’t consider those crimes as serious.”
Ms. McLaughlin is incorrect in her statement that “domestic terrorism” does not exist in the law. This FBI’s definition of 18 U.S.C. § 2331 which defines “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism”:
“International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
Appear to be 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 outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.*
“Domestic terrorism” means 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.
18 U.S.C. § 2332b defines the term “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that:
Is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and
Is a violation of one of several listed statutes, including § 930(c) (relating to killing or attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon); and § 1114 (relating to killing or attempted killing of officers and employees of the U.S.)
And just as a note, to those in this piece who don’t think that guns are not “dangerous weapons,” well, they are
By his own statement and the fact that Rev. Clementa Pinckney was an elected state official, Dylann Roof’s acts, under this definition, is clearly an act of terrorism.
The argument against the charge of terrorism by a young white man who was clearly influenced by the politics of racial hatred is specious. It is clearly indicative of the Obama administration and its Justice Department think that black lives do not matter as much as instilling the fear in US citizens of attacks by those who have been influenced by Islamic extremism. Racism is political and it is an extremist view and it is endemic in this country. it is long past time that the law is brought down to bear on the greater threat that racism is to Americans and our democracy.