Posted by: Opey | May 25, 2007

Who Isn’t a Terrorist?

As I’m sure no one is aware, Wednesday a federal judge in Oregon sentenced a group of environmentalists to 13 years in prison for a series of arsons, their targets including an SUV and a police station. That part of the story is none too surprising. Where my interest is peaked, though, was in the words of the presiding judge, US Circuit Court Judge Ann Aiken. “It was your intent to scare and frighten other people through a very dangerous and psychological act — arson,” Aiken told Meyerhoff. “Your actions included elements of terrorism to achieve your goal.” (Link) OK, lets all just hold up here. A quick check of common sense tells us that many violent crimes like assault, rape, and murder, generally involve some sort of intent to intimidate or scare their victims or those around them. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines terrorism as, “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion.”  Now,  I understand that what the environmentalists did fits the black and white letter of the definition and therefore can fit under current federal terrorism legislation and policy, and I fully believe that punishment was due in this crime or any like it, but come on.  If we start to liberally throw around the term terrorism/terrorist, doesn’t that begin to decrease it’s meaning and have undue consequences for those common criminals charged as terrorists?  In many ways it is the same with hate crime legislation.  Crimes where the sole motive is the racial/gender/sexual/religious hatred of another is absolutely wrong and deplorable, but do we need special legislation to punish them?  Do we not just create further cleavages by making these crimes and their victims different?  Hate, like terror, is at the heart of many crimes, so where do you draw the line.  Motive, of more precisely the specific nature of mens rea, is very difficult to determine at its base sense, much less at a level of determining whether hate or the intent to terrorize was involved.

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