Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism

Rob Tisinai

May 6th, 2014

What should we call perpetrators of hate crimes? “Hate criminals” hasn’t caught on. “Perpetrator of a hate crimes” is a mouthful. So what’s an alternative?

I vote for “terrorist.” Or, if you prefer, “domestic terrorist.” It’s blunt. And it has  legal justification.

I’ve spent too much time on message boards correcting our opponents’ understanding of hate crime legislation and explaining that bias crimes don’t just affect the immediate victim, but intimidate victimize an entire class of people. I’ve had the best luck with anti-gay conservatives by laying out a scenario where someone is targeting elderly women on their way home from church. A pattern like that, or even a single attack backed up with some graffiti, could intimidate a whole community of elderly women from attending services. That expanded group of victims is why hate crime legislation — which doesn’t actually make anything illegal — is justified in giving heavier penalties to traditional crimes when they’re committed out of bias.

That’s where domestic terrorism comes in. It has a legal definition in the US:

(5) the term “domestic terrorism” means activities that—

(A) involve acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State;

(B) 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

(C) occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.

(A) applies. (C) applies. And (B)(i) is exactly what we’ve been talking about. (The “or” at the end of (ii) indicates that any of those subbullets are sufficient.)

This works for the man who tried to burn down a bar full of gay patrons — even if, mind-bogglingly, he’s been charged with neither a hate crime or terrorism. And it works for those vandalize homes with graffiti saying, “You are not welcome here,” and “We cannot coexist with Third World scum.”

“Terrorist” (or, as W would say, “trrrrrist”) is a word conservatives love. But just as they’ve co-opted much of our language, I feel comfortable doing the same to them. Every time one of our opponents makes a mocking comment about hate crimes, I’ll have no trouble doubling down and calling these “perpetrators” exactly the name they deserve. Terrorists they are, and terrorists they should be called.

Eric Payne

May 6th, 2014

I like it. It’s succinct.

But getting an expanded view of “domestic terrorist” through this Congress (or any foreseeable Congress) that could be seen — by those who label themselves as “Conservative Christian” — as giving gays “special rights”?

Fat chance.


May 6th, 2014

I agree, Rob. I’ll say domestic terrorist whenever appropriate.

Eric, Rob’s point is that you don’t need to expand the definition of domestic terrorism. The definition already includes hate crimes meant to frighten a group.


May 6th, 2014

I disagree very much. Labelling someone a “terrorist” invokes a whole other set of rules and suspension of rights. The US is currently (and has been basically since WWII…Cold War…War on Terror) in a war stance where we routinely suspend rights for the sake of the country. There are major consequences to applying such a label that I don’t think are necessarily warranted by the actions you describe.


May 6th, 2014

Have to agree with Dennis on this one.

While I like the ‘idea’ presented. Before reading the article, ‘domestic terrorism’ prompted visions of Boston, Oklahoma, and 9/11, not Wyoming.

I think the term already has its own baggage.


May 6th, 2014

Societal terrorist or community terrorist might be more apt.

Rob Tisinai

May 6th, 2014

That’s an interesting alteration, Sandhorse. I’m open to other suggestions.

Rob Tisinai

May 6th, 2014

Dennis, you’ve got a great point. The danger of co-opting a term is that you end up dragging all the baggage associated with it. I’m wondering what you think of Sandhorse’s idea.

Mark F.

May 6th, 2014

Rob, you could argue that criminals who target people at random, thereby terrorizing the entire population, are worse than those who target particular groups, and therefore just terrorize a portion of the population.

That said, the attempted murder of hundreds of people seems to merit more than a 5 year jail term.


May 6th, 2014

Rob, I’m not seeing the “acts dangerous to human life” in your graffiti example.

Timothy Kincaid

May 6th, 2014

Some good points.

I’m not good with adopting “terrorist” with any adjective. It hints that constitutional rights can be ignored. “But they’re terrorists” seems to cause politicians, the population, and the judicial system to forget that they’re also people with rights to things like trials and justice.

And both Mark and Baker also make good points.

That being said, 2.4 days per intended victim doesn’t feel much like a deterrent.

Rob Tisinai

May 6th, 2014

Hi Baker, you’re right, the grafitti alone would not be able to qualify.

Priya Lynn

May 7th, 2014

I think the terrorist label is apt, and I’ll definitely be using it in the future.

Regan DuCasse

May 7th, 2014

The messaging about hate crimes, tends to only be between the victim and perpetrator.
The difference in a hate crime is that the victim of is, is at risk of bias from those adjudicating a crime.

But only when a gay person is the victim are they UNSYMPATHETIC, no matter the circumstances for the crime against them.
It’s the gay victim whose life and situation is put under biased scrutiny and eventually and ludicrously can the perpetrator claim THEY were the victim and justifiably committed homicide.

In WHAT other crimes does the victim get treated that way by not just the perps, but the police, the investigators, the judge AND jurors?
And under what other circumstances can, no matter how brutal the crime and innocent the victim, does the perpetrator against a gay person get no time, or so little as to make accountability non existent?

This is where the quality of the discussion of hate crimes must lie.
It’s not about just the bias of the criminal, but everyone else who is supposed to get justice for the victim.
And it’s hate crimes laws that need to be implemented to assure justice for gay victims.

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